The concept of justice, which is fundamental to human relations and values, is very multifaceted. From an economic point of view, social justice or distributive justice is of particular importance, by which a just distribution of resources, opportunities and rights is meant and which can be achieved primarily through state activities and institutions. Nevertheless, the construct of social justice is quite blurred, as it subsumes very different concepts of justice, such as

  • Performance justice: The share of an individual in society's prosperity (e.g. salary or income) depends on his or her personal contribution or expenditure. In this respect, material inequality is an essential element of performance justice and should motivate individuals to make an effort and contribute to social prosperity.
  • Needs-based justice: The allocation of resources is not (primarily) made dependent on the performance of an individual, but on his or her needs. In particular, at least the minimum needs should be met. From this concept of justice follow measures such as social assistance or minimum wages.
  • Equal opportunities aims at offering people the same starting chances as far as possible. They should be able to improve their living situation through their own efforts without being (too) disadvantaged by external conditions such as the low educational level of their parents. Equal opportunities can be achieved through comprehensive early childhood support, high state investment in education or a high inheritance tax.

Concepts of justice usually refer to a social group, usually the current population of a country. Depending on the issue at hand, however, other reference standards may be more ethically appropriate, for example by taking into account the entire world population (global justice) or future generations (intergenerational justice, sustainability).

Beyond the primarily state distributive justice, questions of barter justice also arise in numerous economically shaped life situations (e.g. purchase, rental and employment contracts) on the level of individual action. Such transactions are considered fair if they are entered into voluntarily by persons capable of making decisions, who have the relevant information and act in a well-considered manner. As a rule, people tend - contrary to the assumption of self-interest maximisation - to exchange justice within the framework of their individual ethical convictions. One reason for this is that they internalize the norm of reciprocity and have an aversion to inequality. Furthermore, regulations on legal capacity, immorality, nullity, voidness, contestability, fraud, etc. contribute to the establishment of transactional justice at the institutional level.

With regard to economic education, questions of justice are of considerable importance, both as a standard of orientation for one's own actions and for evaluating social challenges and institutions. In this respect, students should be familiar with different concepts of justice, be able to identify the respective interests and develop differentiated concepts of justice.

The category of justice is immanent to many economic issues, for example: Social policy, tax policy (including income and wealth tax), subsidies, development aid, foreign trade policy (protectionism vs. free trade), dealing with external effects, competition law (including unfair competition), maximum and minimum prices, wages, co-determination, employee protection, consumer protection.