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Roemer on Equality of Opportunity

Hild, Matthias and Voorhoeve, Alex (2001) Roemer on Equality of Opportunity. Social Science Working Paper, 1128. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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We critically discuss John Roemer’s normative criterion of equal opportunity and advance opportunity dominance as an alternative criterion for the evaluation of policies. For Roemer, strict equality of opportunity obtains when people, irrespectively of circumstances beyond their control, have the same ability to achieve advantage through their free choices. To implement this idea, Roemer sorts people with similar circumstances into types and takes their free choices to be represented by their behaviour relative to other members of the same type or, as Roemer calls it, by their ‘relative effort’. He then proposes that society should maximize the average advantage of all those whose circumstances cause them to be least well–off relative to others who have expended the same degree of relative effort. We argue that typing and the relative effort metric conflate the factors for which we do and do not want to hold individuals responsible, whenever these factors are statistically correlated. Moreover, Roemer’s rule for policy selection burdens the concept of equal opportunity with foreign distributive principles. Pointing to an inconsistency in Roemer’s argument, we also note that his selection rule violates his own requirement of Pareto-optimality. In response to these difficulties, we advance the criterion of opportunity dominance which is Pareto optimal, maintains conceptual purity and does not conflate the factors for which individuals should and should not be held responsible. This criterion determines a set of candidate policies that are undominated in opportunity and from which a final policy must be selected by additional, conceptually distinct principles of distributive justice.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Additional Information:We thank Brian Barry, Alex Brown, Jerry Cohen, John Roemer, Peter Vallentyne, and Jo Wolff for helpful discussions. Predecessors of this paper were presented at the London University Graduate Conference, the Warwick Conference on Political Theory and the Analytical Philosophy National Postgraduate Philosophy Conference in Reading the participants of which we also thank for their comments.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Subject Keywords:equality of opportunity, fairness
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:1128
Classification Code:JEL: D63
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170802-171353717
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:79803
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:07 Aug 2017 18:02
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:24

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