Just Work for All

The American Dream in the 21st Century

A book about the theory and practice of justice at a time of rising inequality and declining hope for a better future. As economic, technological, and political trends propel many countries further and further from a Smithian Well-Ordered Society (SWO) of rapid, broad-based gains from economic growth toward a Winner-Take-All Society (WTA) of slower growth, rising inequality, and declining absolute mobility, this book calls for renewed political and policy commitment to Just Work. Just work concerns the dignity of work and those who perform it, including the widely held conviction that individuals should be able to exchange hard work for at least a middle-class life for themselves and their families. By contrast with middle-income, middle-class is a context-relative normative standard that includes people’s status, power, and share of the benefits of economic growth.


Such a commitment is essential to combat the negative moral externalities of an economy where the fruits of growth are increasingly claimed by a relatively small portion of the population: slower growth, rising inequality, declining absolute mobility, dying communities, the erosion of social solidarity, lack of faith in political leaders and institutions, ethnic and nationalist backlash, the rise of authoritarian politics and parties, and the rapid rise in what economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case call deaths of despair. Covid-19 threatens to pour gasoline on these winner-take-all fires, further concentrating economic and political power in the hands of those best suited to withstand (and even profit from) the pandemic-driven economic crisis. In this book, I provide a model for understanding the American Dream and making it a reality in a post Covid-19 economy.

Available from Routledge Press.

This book presents a clear vision of what it takes to revive the American Dream in times of a pandemic, highlighting the fissures that tear at the social fabric today. Preiss’s insightful analysis shows why regular and dedicated work no longer guarantee access to a decent life, and lays out a path for reform. Just Work for All is not a utopia, but offers a feasible alternative given real people’s convictions and motivations. A necessary and important read not only in the American context, but for any advocate of social justice today.

            Peter Dietsch Professor 

            Department of Philosophy, Université de Montréal 

            Author of Catching Capital

For those of you hungering to break free of the narrow disciplinary debates over the past and future of American inequality, this book fits the bill like no other. It mixes essential ingredients from philosophy, economics, politics, history, and sociology, and it seamlessly weaves together an analysis of multiple dimensions of inequality. The book is clear and accessible, and, most importantly, offers an innovative, and, in my view, accurate and insightful understanding of how we arrived at this unfortunate juncture in history, and how, realistically, to escape it. 

            Leslie McCall Presidential Professor of Sociology and Political Science

            Associate Director of Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, CUNY

            Author of The Undeserving Rich; Inequality, Opportunity, and Risk; and Inequality:

            Gender, Class, and Race in the New Economy

Reviews of Just Work for All

From Perspectives in Politics

"In debates between liberal egalitarians and libertarians, realism and idealism, and "capitalism" and "socialism," we have lost sight of just work in contporary political theorizing. In this respect, the problem lies with us as political philosophers. Preiss elegantly demonstrates that the reigning conceptual frameworks of justice do not capture the consensus that already exists around how to alleviate the vicissitudes of our winner-take-all economy...

Preiss's study begins and ends with specific policy propositions that would be able to generate enough support if they were articulated within the paradigm of just work. Yet these proposals do not capture its main contribution: the American Dream as a theory of justice, a theory that captures shared public intuitions without compromising philosophical rigor."

From Organization

"What is remarkable about Preiss's Just Work is its breadth of vision and program. He details a broad practical agenda and also engages in careful dialogue with John Rawls, Gerald A. Cohen, and others. His argument unfolds and illuminates. Preiss marshals sociological and economic evidence to assess philosophical claims and does so with a sense of humor throughout."

Just Work in the Media

American Conservative

Status Matters: Restoring an American Philosophy that Puts the Dignity of Workers and the Health of their Communities at the Center of Economic Policy

All Things Co-op Podcast from Democracy@Work

Rhodes Center for International Economics & Finance Podcast (Brown University)

Ethics and Public Policy Working Group

Author Meets Critics with Jonathan Wolff, Suresh Naidu, and Ryan Muldoon

New Books Network Podcast

American Compass

The Collapse of the Smithian Well-Ordered Society (And What to Do About It)


Just Work for All: The American Dream in the 21st Century

Preiss argues convincingly for putting the principle of “just work” at the forefront of our policy debates. The increasing disconnect between America’s public narrative about the kind of society we are – our guiding moral and political philosophy – and the winner-take-all reality, he shows, makes this an urgent priority. This is an excellent book that weaves philosophy, economics, and politics together masterfully.

            Dani Rodrik Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy

            Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

            Author of The Globalization Paradox; Economics Rules; and Straight Talk on Trade

The American Dream of broad-based prosperity is undercut by a winner takes all (WTA) economy where rent replaces reward and concentration trumps opportunity. Joshua Preiss shows us how focusing on access to the game is insufficient when the rewards for playing it are so skewed. Instead, we must focus on making work ‘just’ - which means being brave enough to tackle the causes of structural inequality and making the work of many pay enough to sustain a middle-class life in a WTA world. 

            Mark Blyth The William R. Rhodes ’57 Professor of International Economics

            Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University

            Author of Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea and (with Eric Lonergan)


This book offers a deeply thoughtful analysis of one of the most significant societal challenges of the 21st century -- how to lean against the forces of the winner-takes-all economy and ensure that our gains in prosperity are shared more widely across society. Josh Preiss offers specific and actionable proposals to create a more just, equal, and inclusive post-Covid world. 

            Anton Korinek Associate Professor

            Department of Economics and Darden School of Business

            University of Virginia

In times of the Covid pandemic, this book, which puts the question about work center stage, couldn’t be timelier.

            Lisa Herzog Associate Professor

            Department of Philosophy and Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

            University of Groningen

            Author of Inventing the Market and Reclaiming the System

An exemplary public philosopher, Joshua Preiss dares to imagine a more just future amidst pandemic and economic collapse. At the core of his vision is just work centered on human dignity and responsibility. Fluently combining careful normative theory, economic history, the latest political philosophy, the history of ideas, and civic religion, he shows that an economy that delivers just work and a humane society is within reach. This is an invitation to renew the American Dream. 

            Eric Schliesser Professor

            Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam

            Author of Adam Smith: Systematic Philosopher and Public Thinker

Joshua Preiss

Professor of Philosophy

Director of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Pandemic Ethics

A podcast where I discuss the defining ethical challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic with renowned experts in bioethics, philosophy, public health, economics, law, public policy, and beyond. Guests include Jonathan Wolff, Katharina Pistor, Joan Tronto, Florencia Luna, Dedrick Asante-Muhammed, and Daron Acemoglu.


My research is in moral and political philosophy, applied ethics, public policy, political economy, and the philosophy of economics. Press the the button for information on previous publications and a preview of forthcoming work.

Copyright © All Rights Reserved