Urban inequality and justice

08-03-2016 | Publication

Urban-economic inequality is commonly considered to be increasing and a phenomenon that needs to be combatted. However, discussions about it are sometimes rather unsystematic, unsubstantiated and alarmist. This compromises policy effectiveness.

In this paper we put forward a decision-making framework that can be used to provide structure to the discussion and to derive policy options from.

It first deals with some definitional issues by distinguishing inequality from related but distinct concepts such as poverty, segregation and justice. In addition, it discusses measurement challenges.

As investigating urban inequality is not value-free but can be approached from different angles, the paper elaborates on three alternative normative perspectives that relate (in)equality to (in)justice.

  • The first considers economic inequality to be undesirable from an instrumental view: it impacts negatively on economic growth, social cohesion or other societal goals.
  • The second argues that relative poverty (economic inequality) in itself (intrinsically) is irrelevant and not unjust but that the focus should be on absolute poverty.
  • The third and final perspective takes issue with the material emphasis of one (relative poverty) and two (absolute poverty) and raises awareness for the importance of capabilities: people can do different things with the same amount of money because of their differences in capabilities.

Each normative perspective leads to its own policy options within different policy categories (people-based/place-based and picking winners/saving 'losers'). Through providing conceptual rigour, illustrating the way concepts can be measured and distinguishing between competing normative perspectives, a policy menu is sketched.