17. Distributive Justice and the Welfare State


I want to pick up where I left
off on Monday speaking about Rawls’s two principles of
justice. And as you will recall,
I mentioned that Rawls really changed the subject with respect
to what the metric of justice is.
That rather than focus on
utility somehow measured, or welfare as it’s sometimes
called, instead Rawls embraces the
resourcist idea of focusing on certain basic resources.
The assumption being that no
matter what your particular goals in life turn out to be,
no matter what your particular life plan turns out to be,
and those are not things we know because we’re behind the
veil of ignorance, you’re going to want more
rather than less in the way of liberties,
more rather than less in the way of opportunities,
and more rather than less in the way of income and wealth.
Something I didn’t mention
that’ll come into play in today’s lecture is that Rawls
has to, of course, deal with the fact
that the moment you have a theory that affirms more than
one value you have to think about,
well, what happens when the values conflict?
What if maximizing liberties
can only come at the expense of opportunities or,
if you like, distributing income and wealth
in a way that you regard as fair or just conflicts with what you
say about the distribution of liberties.
Any time you have more than one
value you have to deal with the possibility of conflict among
them. And he does deal with that.
He has an appeal to what he
calls a lexical ranking which is short for the more cumbersome
term lexicographical ranking. And what that means is that
anytime you want more rather than fewer in the way of
liberties, you want more than fewer in the
way of opportunities, and you want more rather than
less in the way of income and wealth,
but in anytime there’s a conflict something higher in the
lexical ranking trumps what’s lower.
So that if the only way you
could get more rather than less income and wealth was to
compromise people’s liberties, you wouldn’t do it.
So that’s the notion of a
lexical ranking. You want to maximize each item
in the lexical ranking subject to the constraint that it does
not come at the expense of maximizing something that’s
higher in that lexical ranking. Okay, and then we talked about
his first principle, and I gave you the illustration
of religious freedom as the kind of thing he’s thinking about
when he talks about distributing all liberties in a way that
gives people the most extensive possible freedom compatible with
the like freedom for all. And this is not to be confused
with the idea of neutrality. We worked through that.
And so we gave the example of
whether to have if you were comparing,
say, a fundamentalist regime with a regime that has a
disestablished church, the reason for preferring the
regime with the disestablished church is that the most
disadvantaged person in that regime,
namely say the fundamentalist, is less disadvantaged than the
person who does not affirm the established fundamentalist
beliefs of a fundamentalist regime.
So you always compare the
least–and I know it’s a cumbersome way of putting it but
there’s not an elegant way of putting it.
What you want to do is compare
the condition of the most adversely affected person in
each situation and say, “Which would you rather
be?” basically, and you’re going to
always pick the one that minimizes the harm to the least
advantaged person. So the standpoint of justice is
the standpoint of the least advantaged person,
but this isn’t a bleeding heart point,
but rather a self-interested point because you don’t know who
you are behind the veil of ignorance.
Okay, now, let’s talk about his
second principle which is, in fact, divided into two
principles, so he really has three principles.
The first part of it he says,
“Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged
so that they are both attached to offices and positions open to
all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.”
That is, you’ll see 2b.
That’s not a typo.
I’ll come to 2a in a minute.
For some reason,
known only to John Rawls, he put 2a before 2b,
but he meant to put 2b before 2a in the sense that 2b is
lexically prior to 2a. So that’s why I’m doing 2b
first. And that 2b is what governs the
distribution of opportunities. And he’s essentially saying
“fair equality of opportunity.”
What does that mean?
It means no apartheid.
It means, for instance,
we still today have a system in America where
occupation-by-occupation women earn about eighty-six percent of
what men earn in exactly the same occupation.
So there’s gender
discrimination in remuneration for employment,
so we would say, “Those systems are
illegitimate.” Systems which reward women less
than men on a systematic basis wouldn’t be chosen.
You would never choose a system
that privileges one gender because you don’t know whether
you’re going to turn out to be the women or the men.
You would never accept the
system of job reservation such as apartheid because you don’t
know whether you’re going to be black or white,
and not knowing you always look from the standpoint of the most
adversely affected person, and so you would say no to
apartheid. You would say no to a system
which privileges one gender over the other.
And then you can see,
I think, how their lexical ranking would come into play
because let’s suppose you have a status quo in which,
as I said, women on average earn eighty-six percent of what
men earn in the same professions,
and somebody comes along and says, “Well,
so we need an affirmative action program to remedy
that.” Then the question would be,
but does the affirmative action program conflict with anything
protected by the first principle?
And those opposed to it would
say, “Yes,”
and those in favor of it would say,
“No,” and that’s what you would be
arguing about. Because it might be the case
that if the only way in which you could achieve affirmative
action actually interfered with the liberties protected by the
first principle then you would say,
“Even though it’s necessary from the standpoint of
the second principle, we won’t do it.”
And if we had more time we
could have gone into the New Haven firefighter’s case,
and maybe we can do some of this in section,
that the Supreme Court dealt with last summer where
essentially they said some version of the fact that the
affirmative action program to achieve promotions in the New
Haven Fire Department interfered with basic freedoms that Rawls
would have put under the first principle.
And of course the other side
made the opposite claim. But that is essentially how it
would be argued about. So I think that the principal
of fair equality of opportunity is relatively straightforward in
its own terms. The animating thought is that
not knowing who you’re going to be,
you would never agree to a system that systematically
disprivileges some group for fear that you’re going to turn
out to be in that group, okay?
So it’s relatively
straightforward. But now I want to come to 2a,
which is probably the argument in Rawls’s book that’s attracted
the most attention, and that is that–it’s actually
third in his lexical ranking, and that is the claim that
income and wealth is to be distributed “to the
greatest benefit of the least advantaged individual.”
To the greatest benefit of the
least advantaged individual. This is not a principle that
Rawls invented. It’s an old principle of
welfare economics which used to go under the label maximin,
not maximum, maximin, m-a-x-i-m-i-n,
short for maximize the minimum share,
maximin, maximize the minimum share.
Rawls calls it the difference
principal, but it’s the same idea as maximizing the minimum
share. And the intuition behind the
difference principle is exactly the same intuition that we’ve
been talking about by reference to the general conception of
distributive justice, which is, remember,
distribute all goods equally unless an unequal distribution
works to everybody’s advantage. And you get from everybody’s
advantage to focusing on the condition of the worst off.
Why?
Because of this argument that,
well, if you’re the worst-off person and you can affirm
something then everybody else will affirm it as well.
If you’ll choose it when you’re
the most adversely affected you’ll also choose it if you’re
the second, or third, or fourth,
or fifth most adversely affected person.
Now, there’s actually a
complexity when you start to think about the distribution of
income and wealth that has not come up in the consideration of
the other two principles, which I’ll just mention,
and then say a couple of things about,
and then move on and we’ll come back to it later.
And that is,
well, but what if there was a principle that gave a very small
benefit to the person at the bottom,
but at a huge cost to the middle class?
Would you choose it,
because what are the odds that you’re going to turn out to be
the person at the very bottom? And we think about this for a
variety of reasons. It might be a trickle down
argument, or Bentham’s claim that the rich will burn their
crops before giving them to the poor, or some other argument.
But if you could achieve a very
minor increment to the condition of the person at the bottom at a
huge cost to the middle class, you wouldn’t necessarily want
to do that. And so Rawls has two points to
make about that, neither of which is entirely
satisfying. The one is his argument about
grave risks, and it works like this.
It’s the claim that,
well, one of the things we know,
and this is a perfectly uncontroversial claim,
one of the things we know is that even when there’s moderate
scarcity that doesn’t mean there won’t be some people who are in
grave danger. That is to say there’s no
necessary relationship between the level of economic
development in a country and the distribution of income and
wealth. So you can have a wealthy
country, but there still can be extremely poor people in it.
That’s true.
We can have bag ladies living
out of lockers in Grand Central Station,
at least when they used to have lockers in Grand Central
Station, which they don’t anymore,
but let’s not deal with that particular piece.
So there’s no necessary
relationship between the level of economic development and the
distribution of income and wealth in a society.
Therefore, you have to assume
that even if there’s relative scarcity you might turn out to
be the person who’s starving. You might turn out to be that
bag lady. And even if the probability of
being that person is low, the costs of being that person
are high. I don’t know if you remember
the argument Rumsfeld made in his counterterrorism strategy,
the so-called one percent solution,
and this was that even if there’s a one percent
probability that we’re going to be hit by a certain kind of
terrorist attack we should treat it as a hundred percent
probability because the costs of being hit are so high.
So the probability of the event
may be low, but if you turn out to be that
person you’re going to starve to death,
so this is Rawls’s assumption about grave risks.
So all of that’s plausible
enough. The reason I say it’s not
entirely satisfying is if you really took the grave risks idea
seriously why in the world would you make this third in your
lexical ranking, because after all what good is
freedom of speech or freedom of religion to somebody who’s on
the verge of starvation. So it’s not entirely satisfying
in that sense that if it justifies saying,
well, we will protect the person at the bottom even though
the probability of that person turns out to be low because of
the grave risks assumption, why then–this is very
annoying–why then would we make it third?
But it’s not really a deep
criticism of Rawls in that you could just say,
“Well, we should have reorder his lexical ranking and
put this higher up in it.” But anyway, that’s not entirely
satisfying. And then the second thing he
says that’s not entirely satisfying is he says he’s sort
of sensitive to this problem that you might get absurdities
out of this because if it’s very costly to help the person at the
bottom in terms of what other people have to give up maybe
people wouldn’t be that impressed by the grave risks
assumption. So he throws in this idea of
chain connection and he says, “Well, even though my
argument doesn’t depend on this, I think it’s true.”
When somebody does that you
know there’s some slight-of-hand going on.
And he basically says,
“Well, if you help the person at the bottom that will
have some kind of chain reaction.
It’ll help the person at the
next level, and that’ll help the person at
the next level, and that’ll help the person at
the next level,” so it’s a kind of Keynesian
idea that if you stimulate the man at the bottom there’ll be
multiplier effects throughout the whole system that’ll make
everybody else better off too. Well, that may or may not be
true, and it also,
by the way, I think makes the disagreement between Rawlsianism
and utilitarianism much less interesting because then
anything that Rawls would choose a utilitarian would choose as
well. And we really want to look at
when they pull in opposite directions if we want to see
what’s at stake between them. But so this chain connection
idea I think is just sort of– he throws it in there to make
his argument look more appealing on consequentialist grounds,
but actually there’s (a) no reason to believe it’s true,
and (b) if it were, then what’s really at stake
between Rawls and utilitarianism becomes much less interesting
because by satisfying Rawls we’re also going to be
satisfying utilitarianism. So I think the best thing about
chain connection is to ignore it, so I’m not going to say
anything more. But I will say this in Rawls’s
defense on this point, which is, a lot of people who
criticize Rawls create– and I even did some of this
myself what I think is unfair in retrospect–
people create examples where helping the person at the bottom
comes at a huge cost to others and it looks rather implausible.
But one thing we should say
about Rawls is, he’s not trying to give policy
advice for every marginal choice.
At one point he says in the
book, “I’m thinking about the basic structure of society,
the basic institutions.” So he’s not saying–I mean,
the example people sometimes give is the Reagan tax cuts in
the 1980s, or actually the Bush tax cut in the 2000s.
But the Reagan one had this
structure more explicitly where there was a very big tax cut for
the wealthy, a tiny tax cut for the people
at the very bottom, and a huge increase in middle
class taxes. Basically that was the
structure of it. And people said,
“So Rawls would prefer this.”
And the answer is he’s not
trying to make a recommendation at the level of the next
incremental policy choice, he’s trying to say what the
underlying institution should be structured as.
And so he would resist saying,
“Well, this shows my theory is silly,
or my theory doesn’t generate conclusions that I want it
to.” He’s not a policy wonk.
He’s thinking about
constitutional principles, basic principles;
the basic structure of society. And indeed, I’ll just make one
footnote to that footnote which is if you start at the front of
A Theory of Justice and you really plow through all of
it, you get to about page 300 and
something and he says words to the effect that his theory is
agnostic between capitalism and socialism.
And he took a lot of abuse for
that in the 1970s and 1980s. People said,
“Wow, you mean I plowed through 300 pages of a book
about justice only to be told it’s agnostic between capitalism
and socialism? Give me a break!”
But in defense of Rawls on that
point he would say, “Look, what economic
system actually operates in the interest of the least
advantaged? That’s an empirical question of
political economy, trial and error and so on.
That is not a question for
political philosophy to settle. I don’t know whether it’s
capitalism, socialism, or some version of a
mixed economy, that works to the greatest
benefit of the least advantaged person.
That’s for the policy makers
and political economists to figure out.
What I’m telling you is what
the standard should be.” And that is a good argument on
Rawls’ part. And he’s saying,
“This is what the standard should be.
The standard should be that
whatever system you have works to the greatest benefit of the
least advantaged player when compared with other
systems.” And, yes, before the experience
of centrally planned economies people may have thought some
version of state socialism would do that.
After a half a century of
experience with it, doesn’t look so good.
So we’ll go back to some kind
of market system, and after decades of experience
with unregulated markets or minimally regulated markets,
and we discover the cost of those for the people at the
bottom maybe we’ll end up with something else.
“So it’s not a failing of
my, John Rawls’s, theory that I don’t tell you
what kind of economic system to have.
My aspiration is to tell you
what the normative criterion is that it should meet.”
So I think that’s the most
important takeaway point. Now let’s give you a picture
for those who like pictures, and for those who don’t we will
explain it in words. This is going back to our
Pareto style of diagram. Let’s suppose that’s the status
quo. And now we’ve got primary
goods, in this case income and wealth for two people;
A up here and B along here. And that is the status quo.
So A has more than B.
Rawls’ difference principle,
or the so-called maximin principle of welfare economics,
says, “Drop a line down to there,
(that point is perfect equality, right) and then go
east, and everything in this shaded
area is what we might call Rawls superior to the status
quo.” So it’s a kind of L-shaped
indifference curve. It goes down though the status
quo to equality and then it turns right.

Anyone want to take a stab at
telling us why? Why would you have these L
shaped indifference curves? Yeah?
Why don’t you get the mic,
or come to the mic? Student: You can move
right as far as possible and that will be increasing the
goods for B, and then as you move down,
you have to stop at the quantity…
Prof: Say A has this
much when we start out. Why isn’t this point here that
I’m lining up, say, Rawls preferred?
Student: Because then A
becomes the least advantaged person and they have less than B
had before. Prof: Exactly right.
You got it.
So the reason we head east or
turn right at the point of equality is what are we trying
to do? We’re maximizing the minimum
share. We’re saying the person–all we
want to say is that whoever turns out to be at the bottom
has the highest possible share, so if we went from X to down
here then we would have changed who’s at the bottom,
and that’s not important. What would be important is that
this bottom share would be smaller and we wouldn’t want
that. So we don’t care who gets it
because we don’t know whether we’re A or B.
That’s not material.
We don’t know when the veil of
ignorance turns out to be lifted, we don’t know whether
we’re going to be A or B. So we’re just going to assume
we’re going to be whoever turns out to be the worst off.
So this distance here
represents the minimum and you wouldn’t want it to get smaller,
basically. So if we moved anywhere in this
area here the minimum share would get bigger.
So if we went to Y then we
could do a new L-shaped indifference curve–why is it
doing this? Much later, why isn’t there a
“restart much later” button?

Okay, so that’s the basic idea.
You just get keep getting these
L-shaped indifference curves. Now I want to say something
about what a radical idea this is in a philosophical sense.
It’s not necessarily that
radical in a distributive sense for the reason I’ve already
indicated to you. It could be compatible with
trickle-down if we took the view that trickle-down works better
than any other system from the point of view of the least
advantaged. Let’s put this Rawls,
Bentham and Pareto compared. This is a little taking
something of a liberty because we’ve got different things on
the axes, so it’s sort of a little
ultimately not coherent, but I think you can still get
an insight out of it. If we start with that status
quo we know what’s Pareto-preferred,
so everything that’s Pareto-preferred is also
Rawls-preferred. So if it turned out to be true
that the best way to help the person at the bottom is to have
only the market transactions then we would do it,
but if it turned out that there were other ways that were
Pareto-undecidable, like these, to help the person
at the bottom we would do that. So it’s not necessarily radical
in a distributive sense. You could get very egalitarian
radical redistribution, but you could also get–you
could get no redistribution. You could get the Pareto system
if that turned out to be the way in which the most disadvantaged
person is helped the most. But it is radical in a
philosophical sense that I think is captured by the observation
that we don’t care whether we turn out to be A or whether we
turn out to be B, and that is the following.

There’s been a huge debate in
our lifetimes over whether the differences between us are the
result of nature or nurture, an enormous debate.
You read a book like Charles
Murray, Losing Ground. How many people have heard of
that book? Nobody?
Wow, so how quickly things
change. Well, it was a book that came
out about probably twenty years ago,
that’s probably why you haven’t read it,
basically saying that the differences between us are
genetically determined. There are genetic differences
in IQ that show up in various ways including racially,
and there was a huge storm of criticism.
He was accused of being a
racist, and there were charges and countercharges,
and people said, “No, it’s not genetics,
it’s environment,” and so on.
So one of the most important
things– and I’m going to focus on this
much more next Monday, I just want to mention it now
so you can think about it– one of the points Rawls makes
is, “Look, possibly the differences
between us are genetic. If the differences between us
are genetic it’s just moral luck because you didn’t choose to
have the genes that you have, and not only didn’t you choose
it, you didn’t do anything to get the genes that you’ve got.
It’s moral luck.
On the other hand,
suppose differences between us are environmental?
Well, it’s moral luck.
You didn’t choose to be born in
the country and the family you were born into.
You didn’t make any choices in
that regard. Furthermore,
you didn’t do any work to be in the country or the family you
happened to have been raised in. Again, it’s just luck.
From your point of view it’s a
completely random thing. You could have been born
somewhere else to somebody else, or you could have been born to
parents who didn’t have the resources that your parents
have. So this whole debate about
nature and nurture,” says John Rawls,
“is beside the point. From the standpoint of justice
we don’t care.” And that is his argument.
I think, for what it’s worth,
the most important argument in Rawls’ book that the differences
between us are morally arbitrary whether it’s nature or nurture.
It doesn’t matter.
They’re not the result of
choice, and they’re not the result of work.
They just fell out of the sky
as far as we’re actually concerned.
That being the case,
and I’m going to go into the assumptions behind that in more
detail on Monday, but from the point of view of
this discussion so we don’t really care if A or B is the
worse-off person. We’re just going to say from
the standpoint of justice we want to improve the lot of the
worst-off person, and even if the worst-off
person changes. So we go from X to G.

It’s morally irrelevant.
All we want to do is maximize
the share of the person at the bottom.

So that’s the Rawlsian
difference principle.
And as I said,
you can see it overlaps with and contains the Pareto
Principle. And it has some overlap with
Bentham in that it would sanction moving into the
Pareto-undecidable zone here that would be Bentham preferred
if it works for the greatest benefit of the least advantaged
person. And Rawls’ claim to you,
the reader, is that this is the principle you would choose.
You would want the economic
system that works to the benefit of the person at the bottom.

What do you think?

Who likes this idea?
Who doesn’t like it?
What don’t you like about it?

Who was–it was here, yeah.
Student: It assumes
that once you’re born you’re going to stay in that position
for the rest of your life. There’s nothing you can do
about it. Prof: Okay,
well that’s a good observation. I’m not entirely sure what
you’re saying. Just explain a little bit more
and I’ll see if you’re saying what I think you’re saying.
Student: Well,
what about effort that people in to changing their social
position? Prof: Ah,
what about effort? Okay, what about effort?
I thought you were making
another point, so let me just respond to the
point I thought you were making, which you weren’t making,
but we should nonetheless address since people do
sometimes make it. But then I’ll come to your
point which is, anyway, much more interesting.
The point I thought you were
making is this has no dynamic side to it.
That is to say it’s static in
exactly the way the Pareto Principle is static,
but any economist would want a theory that has a dynamic
dimension to it. You would want to know over
time, what’s the effect of a certain redistributive change?
So we would want to say,
“Well, if benefiting the person at the
bottom slightly improves their welfare in the next three
months, but it comes at the cost of
lower economic growth over time, would we want to do that?”
And it’s fair to say Rawls
doesn’t have an answer to that question.
He doesn’t have a dynamic
theory. On the other hand I think his
defense, this is why it’s ultimately not
a very interesting criticism, I think his defense would kick
in, that, “Well, I’m telling you
what the criterion should be, not how to run the
economy.” But let’s come to the point
about effort. And this is going to,
to some degree, get us into next Monday’s
lecture, but it’s good to make a start at it because it’s a very
deep point, actually. What about effort?
So yes, the capacities we have
might be distributed in morally arbitrary ways,
but some people choose to work really hard and some people
choose to sit on the couch and watch ESPN all day.
And let’s suppose you have two
people with exactly the same IQ, but one watches ESPN all day
and one studies hard, so the one who studies hard
gets the A, and the one who watches ESPN
all day gets a C, and I take the import of what
you’re saying, “Well, there’s some
legitimate dessert there. The person who works should get
the A, yeah?” Now Rawls is sort of with you,
but in a way that I don’t think works for him because if you
read Rawls carefully what he says is exactly what you’ve
said. He says, “Yes,
the differences between us are morally arbitrary,
but the use we choose to make of our capacities is not.”
Why doesn’t it work for him?
This is sort of like Bentham
being scared of the egalitarian implications of his theory and
so he wheels out the difference between absolute and practical
equality, but it doesn’t really work for
him either for reasons we saw. Why doesn’t this really work
for Rawls? Yeah?
Student: Couldn’t you
say that someone’s naturally, just by luck,
given a capacity or a predilection to work hard?
Prof: So that’s exactly
where I was hoping you would go. That, well, some people have a
supercharged work ethic and some people don’t.
And why do some people have a
supercharged work ethic? Because of the way they were
raised, perhaps? Maybe some of it’s genetic,
perhaps? But why isn’t that morally
arbitrary as well, if the differences in IQ are
morally arbitrary? So weakness of the will,
you know, morally arbitrary too, or strength of the will is
morally arbitrary. So the person who sits on the
couch watching ESPN all day just doesn’t have the same–
he doesn’t have the moral luck to have a lot of partisan work
ethic, so he shouldn’t be penalized
for that. So now you can see why Rawls
doesn’t want to go there because it has the effect of completely
obliterating the concept of any personal responsibility,
ultimately. Because once you make that
move, why should you differentiate between the
weakness of the will or the strength of the will and say,
“That’s not morally arbitrary,
but differences in IQ are morally arbitrary,
or athletic ability are morally arbitrary”?
It doesn’t seem to work.
So it’s not a satisfying way
out for Rawls, and he does it because he’s
afraid of the radical implications of this view.
But what’s interesting about
this, you know, Rawls’ fix doesn’t work,
but his underlying arguments are very powerful arguments.
I mean, isn’t it right?
Isn’t it just true that the
differences between us nature or nurture are morally arbitrary.
It is moral luck whether it’s
genetics or upbringing. Nothing you did,
nothing you chose, nothing you have,
therefore, any particular right to.
So you guys think you all
worked so hard to get into Yale and all this and you deserve to
be here. It’s a load of bunk.
None of you deserve to be here
more than anybody else. That’s what he’s saying.
It might be a nice fiction you
tell yourself. As this little exchange showed,
his attempt to put some limits on this idea is just pathetic.
It doesn’t work.
But the basic argument about
moral arbitrariness it’s totally compelling.
Anyone here think it’s not
compelling? And I don’t think it’s a good
argument. I don’t think it’s compelling
because it has implications I don’t want to live with.

I mean, you have to have some
other reason. Let me say this,
I think it has implications that if you really drill down
into them, probably nobody in this room
wants to live with, just like John Rawls didn’t
want to live with them. But what’s a good way out?

Who thinks I’m wrong?
Who thinks this is a bad
argument? It’s just not a good argument.
Nobody?
Hmm.
Yeah?
Student: Not that I
disagree, but it seems to strip down
human free will in that if the only condition which matters is
the circumstances of your birth then you don’t really have any
choice as to the course of your life.
So it seems completely
deterministic which might not be…
Prof: Well, yes and no.
I think it’s agnostic on the
question of free will. He’s not saying we don’t have
free will. Maybe we do. Maybe we don’t.
I think what he’s saying is,
if some of us have a greater capacity,
say, to work hard or to engage in delayed gratification than
others, that is a difference between us.
Just as an empirical matter,
that is a difference between us.
What he’s saying is that the
person who has the greater capacity for deferred
gratification or the greater capacity to work hard isn’t
entitled to more benefits than the person who doesn’t have it,
just in virtue of that strength of the will.
I mean it might also be true
that we don’t have free will, that’s another matter,
but I think he’s just not taking a position on that
question. You could do it two by two and
fill in all the boxes. He’s not saying we don’t have
will, we can’t make choices, he’s just saying the choices
that we make don’t give us any particular rights.
Now, I mean,
I think what is, and maybe what you’re getting
at that does pin the tail on the donkey is,
what he’s saying is ultimately subversive of the idea of
individual responsibility, but that’s not the same thing
as determinism. They come together in other
settings, so if somebody says,
“Well, I committed the murder,
but I was in the grip of a schizophrenic disorder,
and so I didn’t have free will, so I’m not responsible,”
that’s when determinism and the issue of the will come together,
but he’s not making that kind of argument.
He’s conceding,
I think, for the purposes of discussion, that there is free
will. But I’m saying,
when you take away his fix, which really I don’t think does
work, you’re saying the differences
that flow from our strengths of will shouldn’t entitle us to
anything in particular. So none of you deserve all the
good things you’ve gotten in life just because you worked
hard. So what if you worked hard?
You had the capacity to work
hard. Other people didn’t.
So anyone think it’s just not a
good argument?
Anyone think it seems like a
good argument but you really don’t like it,
at least some? Who really likes it,
the people who want to go and watch ESPN all day?
There are philosophers who
follow this intuition. There’s a guy called Philippe
Van Parijs, a Belgian political thinker.
Yeah, what were you going to
say?
Student: Is this an
argument in favor of complete equality, then,
in terms of redistribution? Profession Ian Shapiro:
Okay, so that’s a good question.
I’ll leave Philippe out of it
because your question’s more important than what he has to
say. Is this an argument for
equality? Rawls’s answer is a qualified
yes. He’s saying it’s not an
argument for equality. It’s an argument for the
difference principle. He’s saying it’s an argument
for distributing things in such a way that they benefit the
person at the bottom. Now you have to have a whole
theory of how the political economy works to say whether
redistribution to absolute equality would do that because
if redistribution to equality would destroy incentives,
let’s say, and so that over time this would go this way,
then it wouldn’t be. So he would say,
“What it’s an argument for is detaching what we get from
any theory that ours is some kind of moral right and
connecting it to some theory, the best going theory of the
day about how you organize an economy to benefit the person at
the bottom. That’s what you should do.
If equality does that you have
equality. If the market does that you
have the market, but it’s not anything else.
It’s just this pure
consequentialist claim. Do it in order to help the
person at the bottom.” So from Parijs’s point,
Philippe Van Parijs’s point he says,
“Well,”– he wrote a book called Real Freedom for
All and he said, “Yes, everybody should get
a minimum basic income, and it shouldn’t have anything
to do with their work, their capacity to work.”
So in the famous one-liner he
says, “Even surfers should get pay.”
Even surfers should get pay,
as Van Parijs puts it. There should be the highest
sustainable universal basic income,
whatever that is, and it shouldn’t be connected
to work because capacity to work is morally arbitrary.
So what I’m going to talk about
on Monday is we’re going to really dig into this question
because you can now see, I mean, one of the ironies I
want you to mull over between now and then,
one of the ironies is that this puts Rawls way to the left of
Marx in a certain sense because as we saw Marx was a straight-up
Enlightenment theorist wedded to the whole workmanship idea.
Remember Locke,
workmanship, labor theory of value;
all that stuff? Marx’s critique of capitalism
was the worker doesn’t get what he produces.
Rawls is saying,
“We don’t care in any moral sense.
We don’t care who did the work
because the capacity for work isn’t a capacity that brings
with it any particular moral valence because of this moral
arbitrariness argument.” Okay, we will pick up from
there next week.

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