THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Framework of Economic Justice: The Input Principle

Today’s blog posting is a selection from the book, Economic Personalism, which you can get free from the CESJ website, or from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.


Msgr. Taparelli

As we discussed in the previous posting on this subject, social justice is the particular virtue directed to the common good.  It is therefore the class of justice within which economic justice — the particular virtue directed to the economic common good — functions. Economic justice is thus the application of social justice to a particular part of the common good, viz., the economy.

Perhaps confusing matters, social justice also operates as one of the three principles of economic justice. Social justice serves as the balancing and corrective principle of a universally participative and just market economy.

To explain, in common with Taparelli and his principle of social justice, Kelso and Adler presented their breakthrough as principles (guiding concepts or rules) and not particular virtues (which require an action directed at a particular object). This is understandable, given Adler’s classical orientation toward the individual virtues, and takes nothing away from the fact that they gave substance and structure to the term “economic justice.”

Louis O. Kelso

This was a profound breakthrough in moral philosophy in and of itself. CESJ later refined Kelso and Adler’s principles by identifying them as particular virtues within the framework of social virtue as presented in the social doctrine of Pius XI and analyzed by Father William Ferree. As noted briefly in the previous chapter, then, the principles of economic justice are,

·       Participative Justice, or the input principle,

·       Distributive Justice, or the out-take principle, and

·       Social Justice, or the feedback and corrective principle.

Before going further, a caveat is in order. The principles of economic justice must be understood as components of a coherent system. No part or principle can be taken in isolation or exaggerated without regard to the others.

Like the legs of a tripod, if even one is missing or flawed, the whole structure collapses. Taken together, the three principles of economic justice provide the framework for the most just and stable forms of the economic order.  Today we are looking at the input principle, Participative Justice.

Mortimer J. Adler


Participative justice is the particular virtue relating to the natural equality of every human being as a human being. In terms of economic justice, participative justice involves the production side of an economy. That is, how each person and family contributes to the production of wealth, thus earning a proportionate (just) share of the wealth that is distributed (i.e., distributive justice). (Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler, The Capitalist Manifesto.  New York: Random House, 1958, 78.)

Kelso and Adler appear to have been the first to introduce a specific concept of participative justice, defining it as:

[The requirement] to organize the economy in such a way that every man or family can use his or its property [in both labor and capital] to participate in the production of wealth in a way that earns a living for that man or family. (Ibid.)

They point out that the right of every person to produce the wealth he needs, relates to all other natural rights, starting with the right to life. The right to participate in economic production,

. . . derives immediately from the most fundamental among all of man’s natural rights — his right to life or existence. The right to life involves more than a right not to be murdered or maimed. Since a man cannot live for long without having the means of subsistence, the right to life is meaningless unless it involves a right to acquire subsistence by rightful means. (Ibid.)

It doesn't matter if you own the robot . . .

The right to earn a subsistence through participation in the production of wealth, Kelso and Adler explain, can be violated in several ways: 1) denial of one’s life, liberty and property (the right of control over one’s labor and capital, and the right to the full fruits of what one produces through one’s labor or capital), or 2) where one’s property in labor or capital is rendered ineffective under prevailing economic conditions as a means for earning a living (such as occurred when the invention of automobiles eliminated the demand for buggy whips).

This leads to their critical insight that having property only in one’s labor, may become insufficient for earning a decent living, particularly as technology renders certain forms of labor obsolete:

Hence in an industrial economy, and especially in one that is technologically advanced, the right to obtain subsistence by earning it involves more than the right to work and the right to a just return for work done. It involves the right to participate effectively in the production of wealth by means consistent with the existing state of technology and with the greatest technological advances of which the economy is capable. (Ibid., 80.)

Participative justice does not guarantee equal or predetermined results. It does, however, require that society’s institutions (or those charged with the care of those institutions) guarantee every person the equal human right to make a productive contribution to the economy, both through one’s labor (as a worker) and through one’s productive capital (as an owner). Participative justice provides equal opportunity to every person to participate with his labor or capital as needed to produce goods and services in a free market system.

Thus, this equal opportunity-based principle of participation — participative justice — rejects monopolies, special privileges, and other exclusionary social barriers that inhibit or prevent economic self-reliance (the means to sustain life) and personal freedom (liberty).