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Distributive Justice

Like procedural justice, this type of justice is pursued in every constitutional democracy, and it pertains to the government’s enactment of laws to distribute benefits to the people under its authority. Distributive justice certainly is achieved when equals receive the same allocation of benefits. For example, public programs that provide social security or medical care to all elderly and retired persons are examples of distributive justice in a constitutional democracy. Public schools, which all children have an equal opportunity to attend, are another example.

When the government of a constitutional democracy protects individuals’ rights to liberty, order, and safety, individuals can freely use their talents to produce wealth and enjoy the results of their labor. Thus, they are able to provide for their basic human needs and to satisfy many, if not all, of their wants. But some persons in every democracy are unable for various reasons to care adequately for themselves. Therefore, the government provides programs to distribute such basic benefits for disadvantaged persons as medical care, housing, food, and other necessities. These public programs for needy persons are examples of distributive justice in a constitutional democracy.

In the various democracies of our world, people debate the extent and kind of distributive justice there should be to meet adequately the social and economic needs of all the people. Should the regulatory power of government be increased greatly so that it can bring about greater social and economic equality through redistribution of resources? Countries that provide extensive social and economic benefits through the redistribution of resources are known as social democracies or welfare states. The consequences of distributive justice in a social democracy, such as Sweden, are to diminish greatly unequal social and economic conditions and to move toward parity in general standards of living among the people.

However, the achievement of this kind of social justice requires a substantial increase in the power of government to regulate the society and economy. Thus, as social and economic equality increase through government intervention in the lives of individuals, there is a decrease in personal and private rights to freedom. People in democracies throughout the world debate whether justice is generally served or denied by big public programs that extensively redistribute resources in order to equalize standards of living among the people.

John Patrick, Understanding Democracy, A Hip Pocket Guide