Social justice is generally defined as the need to address social inequities, although the proposed means of doing so are quite diverse and have ranged from progressive taxation to state communism. The concept of economic justice has more to do with the equality of opportunity rather than outcome: whether societies offer all their members an enabling environment to engage freely in productive activities of their choice and to be rewarded according to their initiative, talents, and efforts. Has the world made much progress in either?
The report of the UN’s International Forum for Social Development notes that in recent decades “economic justice has unquestionably grown as the basic principles and practices of the market economy have become more prevalent and pervasive” and “few dispute the fact that economic freedom represents a basic human right.” However, economic inequalities among people are also on the rise. This begs the question to what extent the principles of market economy have truly been implemented and, more broadly, what conditions are necessary for both social and economic justice to advance. Obviously, unequal access to information, education, or health care has a lot to do with inequality. But unequal opportunities for participation in civic and political life, i.e. the lack of liberal democracy, is another prime reason.
In the long term, social justice and economic justice are only possible in the context of democracy.