Thursday, January 27, 2005

Reppert, Rawls, and the Difference Principle

Victor Reppert writes:

. . . I consider myself a pretty moderate Democrat; I'm deeply skeptical of trickle-down economics and find the Rawlsian difference principle plausible, so I would not be a good candidate for your group. I'm also skeptical of the marriage of religion and politics that some on the Right seem to want. On the other hand, the mindless predominance of Leftist political views in academia I find excessive. I don't think we got things right in Iraq, and I have a lot of doubts about claims that everything is going really well there now. On the other hand, I'm no fan of abortion, and think that Democrats are making a mistake by taking what strikes me as a fundamentalist doctrinaire position on that issue. So I'm not really comfortable on either side of the fence, but I just don't believe that everyone benefits when the biggest companies benefit. But the left can get very, very loony.

BV: Rawls' Difference Principle, as I understand it, implies that social and economic inequalities are justified only if they benefit the worst off in a society. (Cf. A Theory of Justice, p. 60) There is more to it than that, but that is an implication of it. But I can't see why one ought to accept the implication. Suppose A and B are from similar backgrounds. They work at the same type of job. Person A devotes himself to wine, women, and song. B, however, practices the old virtues, saves, invests, buys, improves, rents and sells mid-range real-estate. Person A has enough throughout his life but dies with nothing. B dies with a net worth of 2 million USD, which is not that difficult to acquire these days.

I would say that the economic disparity between A and B is justified whether or not the inequality benefits the worst-off. Of course, the disparity will benefit others, and maybe even the worst-off.

Liberals seems to assume that there is something unjust about inequality as such. I don't see it. Of course, inequality that has arisen from fraud, etc. is unjust. But inequality as such? Why?

My tendency is to think that not only are some inequalities allowed by justice, but positively required by it. But this is a huge topic, and to discuss it properly one has to delve into the theoretical apparatus (original position, veil of ignorance, etc.) with which Rawls supports his two principles of justice.