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Monday, March 03, 2008

Hmm this looks interesting but I will write before reading it.

Why I am not a Rawlsian - Tyler Cowen

So why am I not a Rawlsian ? Hmm well first we have to distinguish two things Rawls and Rawls as described by an economist.

Following a decision which he later described as a mistake, Rawls added a bit to "The Theory of Justice" called the difference principle. OK I admit I peeked and the first 3 words of Cowen's post are "the difference principle." The idea is that policies should be judged by the level of (roughly income or wealth) of the poorest person. This is about the most egalitarian anyone would naturally imagine. (roughly income or wealth) is the level gained by things everyone would find useful, including wealth and legal rights (if not equal for everyone) and stuff.

This is just one little bit of a lifetime of thought. Unfortunately, since it was simeple, it has become the doctrine of "Rawls" who has driven John Rawls into obscurity. OK so what do I have against the difference principle ?

It is too edgy, not smooth. A problem is that someone who is handicapped has very little real freedom. Should we devote all of societies efforts to making the life of the most severely handicapped among us less limited ? Rawls thinks not, but he has trouble explaining why. His semi desciple Sen notes that the arguments which Rawls made to avoid this conclusion which is rejected by his concience are unconvincing.

Also, I am not convinced that it makes sense to imagine society made up of individuals and try to maximize their choices (real freedom). In the real world there are helpless babies who have rights just like you and me. They need care not freedom. In the real world we shouldn't consider the distribution of wealth or income among individuals but first among families then within families. The fact that a baby has his or her own income doesn't help the baby at all, since his or her parents manage it. I think this can imply that Rawls was not egalitarian enough, as relative poverty can be bad for babies if, with the same income, parents in an unequal society imitate the super rich and consume luxuries and let their babies die. I happen to believe that this is a real problem in the real world.

Or so what about Rawls who is much more subtle than "Rawls" ? Well for one thing he is way too subtle and I can't understand what the hell he was saying (OK so maybe I shouldn't have just listened to the lectures but actually done the reading). Let's just say that I think that Rawls was a wonderful person and an excellent teacher, but he agreed with Kant on points where I personally agreed with Bentham. I absolutely disagree with "The groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals" from the first to the last word, so I never went on to read about the first and second floors.

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