Sometimes people justify inequity through an appeal to metaphysics. By “metaphysics” I don’t mean anything terribly fancy or well-thought out — any appeal to the basic nature of reality is metaphysical. So for example people might say “Why is it ok that successful hedgefund manager H has five houses while social worker S was just evicted along with her three children” by saying “H has a right to the money he made.” That is a metaphysical appeal — it assumes that human beings have rights to the money they make; that this a fact about human beings and the universe or reality.
Compare the following. Supposing we are members of a simple society of hunters and fishers. We make the rule “whoever catches an animal must share it with the rest of us, but whoever catches a fish can keep it for himself.” This rule works pretty well — people are incentivized to catch fish for their own household in their own free time but also to participate in the communal hunts for caribou and occasionally polar bear.
Now suppose one day a hunter named Richie brings down a whale. We are all a pre-scientific bunch of hunter gatherers so our word for fish includes whales. This whale though is a hundred times bigger than the largest animal. Richie keeps the whale. It’s so much that he is able to trade chunks of whale meat for nets and harpoons. Before long Richie has much, much more than anybody else and this leads to a feedback loop where his having more leads to him having even more. Our society becomes riven by hatred and despair. Why even work, the children wonder. We will never be as rich as Richie.
Now supposing somebody made the following argument against Richie: “Richie does not deserve all the power he has because WHALES ARE NOT FISH. He should have divided it up with everyone because whales are animals and you divide animals.”
This argument I think is okay, but it is unlikely to get Richie to surrender his wealth. Because Richie, or a philosopher whom he can hire wit his whale meat could say “How do you know whales are not fish? Sure they are warm blooded and halibut are cold-blooded, but so what? I say that the criterion of fishness is an ecological one — any animal adapted to swimming in the ocean — is a fish. I grant you that if you judge by DNA a whale is closer to a bear than it is to a salmon, but I do not grant you that that is the only way to judge. I judge instead by closeness of ecological niche. A whale is a fish. I am entitled to my riches. Thanks for playing.”
A better argument is “We only came up with the rules for dividing animals and keeping fish for ourselves because it made our lives better. There is no metaphysical basis for it other than — people should do well rather than poorly. Your choice to keep the whale for yourself was a bad one and led to bad consequences. THEREFORE whales will not be judged as fish.”
A similar argument I think could be advanced to those who say Hedgefund Managers have a right to limitless wealth while others live in fear of making the next rent payment. We only said people have a right to their wealth because it made the world a better place. If it leads to suffering we need to re-evaluate it.