Some of the celebrities who are wealthy enough to move to Australia during a pandemic.

S ome say money doesn’t buy you happiness. But it may buy you freedom. Zac Efron, Mark Wahlberg, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Natalie Portman, Ed Sheeran, Tony Hawk—as we write this post scores of well-heeled celebrities are moving to Australia during a global pandemic. Australia is freer than home right now; so they are paying for freedoms most of us aren’t privileged enough to afford. Isn’t that unfair?

Well, that depends on what conceptual work we want freedom to do in our notion of distributive justice.

Many people would argue that we’re all free to get rich; but, for uncountable reasons, it doesn’t happen. No matter how we organise our socio-political systems, there is just no society in which everyone has access to all goods and services. Inequality is unavoidable.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of luck involved in people’s lives (e.g. inheritance, the neighbourhoods we grow up in … ). Thus ‘the game’ is rigged: it discriminatorily prices unlucky people out of things.

In Freedom and Money philosopher G.A. Cohen argues having money is like having freedom tickets (like arcade tokens), without which we’re unfree to do certain things (play more games), perhaps very important things like accessing healthcare:

‘To have money is to have freedom, and the assimilation of money to mental and bodily resources is a piece of unthinking fetishism, in the good old Marxist sense that it misrepresents social relations of constraint as people lacking things.’

But, practically, we know there’ll always be some resource inequality. Where do we draw the line? When is inequality fair?

According to John Rawls, as long as fundamental rights and liberties are protected and not ‘gambled’ through the notion of money, resource inequality is permitted—but it must benefit the least-advantaged. Furthermore, public offices must be open to all.

Norman Daniels distinguishes between freedom and ability, with the latter being more important. I may not be free to order yet another takeaway tonight—I’m too poor—but I do have the ability to.

What do you think?