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Measuring Social Justice: A Serious Challenge

Authors: Lena McNally & Johannes J Knecht

Measuring Social Justice

In the previous article in this series, we already saw that the concept of justice is hard to grasp, at least when viewed from the history of ideas or philosophical reasoning. The concept is broad and sometimes even diffused. Nevertheless, various institutions and organisations aim to measure the level of (social) justice in a particular nation. It is these indexes that often form the ground to talk about the issue or to evaluate whether one is making a difference through the policy changes proposed or the activities developed.  

In the current article, Lena McNally dives into two of these indexes: the EU and OECD Social Justice Index and the Global Justice Index. The paper contains an overview of the methodological groundings of both indexes (how do they come to their conclusions and what data is included) and offers a couple reflections.  

McNally observes that the indexes provide a significantly different set of outcomes, following a distinctly different methodology, with the Nordic countries scoring very well in the EU and OECD Social Justice Index, whilst China, India, and Vietnam score highest in the Global Justice Index. The article suggests a couple reasons of why this difference might have occurred, but the most significant conclusion is that, when speaking about social justice, it is paramount to have a clear understanding of the basis of these claims: what is considered justice in this case. Both indexes define that fundamentally differently and thus end up with distinct conclusions.  

This paper highlights the importance of clarifying what we consider to be just: it is about making sure people do not fall below the poverty line, ensuring the possibility of personal growth and the utilisation of opportunity, or is there something else? To push the question one level deeper: what are the assumptions made about reality that have led to these convictions: is the state and its stability the driving force, is it the anthropocentric wish for self-determination, or are there other grounds or foundations a concept of justice could be grounded on? 

For those interested in the way concepts of justice translate to the practicalities of, for instance, a social justice index, this article is very much worth a read. The next and last paper in this series will elaborate on the Christian answer to this question from a Biblical and Theological perspective, so stay tuned. 

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About the Authors:

Lena Mc Nally has completed a Bachelor’s degree in law and holds a MA in European Union Studies.

Johannes J Knecht completed his BA in Theology and Biblical Studies at the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit (Belgium). He completed his MPhil and PhD in Systematic and Historical Theology at the University of St Andrews (UK). Besides his work with the Quo Vadis Institute, Jasper also teaches Christian doctrine at WTC Theology (UK).

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