The Imprints’ Archive

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 12, 2019

Almost ten years ago, Chris wrote a blogpost announcing that the last issue of Imprints had been sent to the subscribers. Political philosophers beyond a certain age had greatly enjoyed the articles, bookreviews and interviews published by Imprints, but it was not possible to continue. But we should not forget – and this post is merely a reminder for us not to forget – that the entire Imprints‘ Archive is online.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I went to a lecture by Elizabeth Anderson in Amsterdam, who – to my surprise – during her talk endorsed limitarianism. Chris remarked on FB that this was a departure from her earlier views in which she merely supported sufficientarianism. The 2005 interview with Anderson in Imprints seems to support Chris’ observation, since she said (p. 15) the following:

‘Some people care about getting lost of this stuff [that doesn’t matter from a political point of view]. Once citizens’ satiable interest in securing social equality are satisfied, and he system secures for all a decent chance to get more, the state has no further interests of justice in micromanaging how the gains from cooperation are divided.”

In my 2 published papers on limitarianism (one open access here), I offered three reasons to endorse a limit to how much one can have: (1) at some point, additional money doesn’t add to the flourishing of a person, and can be spent on meeting unmet needs of others; (2) it can undermine political equality; (3) it is justified to take away the excess money of the superrich based on grounds of climate justice.

Reading the Imprints‘ interview, Anderson would have agreed already in 2005 with (2), but (3) was not an issue she was considering, and she would reject (1). Yesterday in Amsterdam, I understood her as accepting (1) too, and that was also how I always understood her famous 1999 article ‘What is the Point of Equality?‘ Not sure she has anything on this in print yet, and we may have to wait till her book on the two traditions on work ethos will be published, but it was interesting to hear her say this.



engels 10.12.19 at 4:17 pm

The 2002 symposium on the ‘justice’ of the war in Afghanistan is a lucent window into the academic spirit of its age


John Quiggin 10.13.19 at 1:11 am

Thanks for this, Ingrid

I dug out my 2005 paper on The equity premium and the socialist case for public ownership

Here’s the conclusion, optimistic but still justified, I think

Privatisation was the emblematic policy initiative of the reaction against
socialism and social democracy in the 1980s. Conversely, arguments for
public ownership of business enterprises have been downplayed or
abandoned by many on the Left. In effect, large sections of the Left have
conceded defeat on this critical issue.
The analysis presented in this paper suggests that this concession was
premature. Public ownership of a range of large-scale infrastructure
enterprises can increase the net wealth of the public sector and facilitate
the achievement of social and environmental objectives. Moreover,
despite being treated as unthinkable in most policy discussion, public
ownership retains strong public support, and this support has been
enhanced by the failure of privatisation.
The time is now ripe for a reassertion of the case for public
ownership, beginning with advocacy of re-nationalisation as the
preferred policy response in cases where privatisation has failed, as in
the case of British Rail. More generally, it is time to advance once again
the case for a mixed economy, with a substantial role for publicly owned
enterprises and public provision of essential services.


John Quiggin 10.13.19 at 1:15 am

As regards your arguments for limitarianism, I think (1) ought to be accepted by any utilitarian (at least if you replace, “doesn’t add” to “has a negligible impact on”), and similarly (3), if I understand it correctly. (2) is also right, but contingent on the way politics is organized, I think.


Ingrid Robeyns 10.13.19 at 7:14 pm

Yes, John, I agree, but most non-economists are not utilitarians :) So it would be interesting to analyse whether other ethical theories would also endorse limitarianism (and for most, it would depend on empirical conditions being met, but that’s not exceptional for a mid-level principle).

That’s really cool that you had this paper on public ownership in Imprints. I agree that this conclusion is still justified – and I would hope that the clear failures of some sectors that have been privatised would increase support for putting more public ownership back on the political agenda. Not sure there is reason for optimism, though…


John Quiggin 10.14.19 at 4:51 am

Ingrid: I agree that limitarianism has potentially broader appeal, outside economists and Australians :-) (we tend to be pretty consequentialist in our thinking). I imagine some firms of virtue ethics would support quite tight limits, but I’m sure other CT posters and commenters are better informed than me.

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