Rolled By Rawls

  It’s a grave thing when your leaders are turncoats. And worse when you don’t even feel that this is the case. Has John Rawls led the philosophy, and, even worse, the economy, and financial system, of the world, dramatically astray in a subtle way? So that we will end down worse than where we started? Is Faust lurking within Rawls?

  John Rawls, “arguably the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century“, is widely viewed as progressive. But I will show here that, down in his philosophical fondations, Rawls shares the same universe, the same building materials, with Ayn Rand, the notorious pseudo-Nietzschean business fascist. I will proceed to demonstrate this while demolishing the very core of Rawls, just as Luke Skywalker with the Death Star in “Return of the Jedi“.

Raw Rawls, "Left", Enlightening Human, Right

Raw Rawls, “Left”, Enlightening Human, Right

  In Ben Bernanke Endorses A 73 Percent Tax Rate“, Paul Krugman extols his past and present chair: “the big thing in Bernanke’s remarks was his discussion of the obligations of the successful, even within a supposedly meritocratic society:”

  I do, of course, agree with a 73% tax rate (and even higher). I also do agree with most of the practical political aims of Rawls (widely viewed as on the left…in the sense “left” has in the USA). The point I am going to make is otherwise subtle. I will show that Rawls and his followers are embracing a metaprinciple that contradicts goodness. Namely that everything is a deal. Sorry Rawls, your brain is perfused by markets, not goodness.

  Here is what some of the head of the central bank of the USA said, June 2, 2013, at Princeton:

  “We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair. Putting aside the reality that no system, including our own, is really entirely meritocratic, meritocracies may be fairer and more efficient than some alternatives. But fair in an absolute sense? Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate–these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others.”

  And Krugman to add, by complimenting, while exposing, Ben Bernanke:

  “OK, this is, whether BB realizes it or not (he probably does) basically a Rawlsian view of the world, in which you think of life as a kind of lottery in which you draw a ticket that includes things like your genetic endowment as well as the wealth of your parents. And what you’re supposed to do, ethically, is support the economic and social system you would choose if you had to enter that lottery not knowing what ticket you were going to draw — if you were making political choices behind the “veil of ignorance”.

  It’s more than “basically” a Rawlsian view, it’s raw Rawls, rehashed. Rawls’ “lottery” is one his most famous ideas.

  Why is Rawls so famous? Here is Rawls in the raw, at the core of the most famous extract of his most famous book and system of ideas, “Justice As Fairness”

  “The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance. This ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social circumstances. Since all are similarly situated and no one is able to design principles to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are the result of a fair agreement or bargain. For given the circumstances of the original position, the symmetry of everyone’s relations to each other, this initial situation is fair between individuals as moral persons, that is, as rational beings with their own ends and capable, I shall assume, of a sense of justice.

  Key concepts: justice, fair agreement, bargain… In other words: justice 1, business 2. Give that genius tenure at Harvard!

  I will discreetly slip on Rawls’ wonderfully circular logic: justice as fairness, and fairness as emanating between “moral persons… capable… of a sense of justice“. Justice is fair, fair is justice. Just as the crocodile rolls, to discombobulate and disintegrate the prey, so does Rawls. You have been rolled, people!

  What did Rawls do that was not done before? Why so famous on Wall Street? Rawls found a reasoning that Americans obsessed by business ethics (“making deals“) would think they have to find ethical to follow (as deals is what they do). By so doing John Rawls seduced deal makers, the plutocrats, and insured that he would be professor at Harvard for more than thirty years.

  In a further development of his basic drift, Rawls presented society as a lottery, and reflected on what ought to be the rules of that lottery. Those rules, he says, are what is fair, and to be called justice.

  Rawls presents the participation in society as a choice (it’s not; one does chose to be born), and then he presents the form that this participation should take as a business deal.

  So Rawls is saying that all members of society have decided to engage in a business deal. We are all business men! Apparently we started early, when we were six days old. Making deals. You will ask me: ‘How can a 6 days old baby engage in a business deal?’ Beats me: go ask Rawls, down in the abyss.

  Down the abyss? Down the ethics of plutocracy? Rawls and his followers implicitly accept the principle of profit, the principle of the deal, as the base of all ethics. Thus we are invited to make a deal with the devil, in the name of ethics, as if the devil cared.  It’s pure Faust. It’s self contradictory (as Rawls admits there is a “sense of justice“).

  Rawls, and his belief that markets, deals and bargains made by individuals, behind a veil of ignorance (so is ignorance good?), are the way to achieve justice is the flaw behind the thinking of the left leaning American intellectuals, and the democratic party. Reagan, or Thatcher, and their neoconservative followers, worldwide, shared the same convenient credulity and profitable blindness.

  This is all sheer madness:  Rawls is another case of a mental infection started in Harvard, a pandemic of the mind that spread worldwide. In the Rawlsian system of thought and emotion, making deals is what the universe is all about.

  How more wrong can one be? To justify redistribution of wealth, one just has to know what an exponential is, it has been done for at least 10,000 years, except when Lords succeeded to reign (and when they did, it was because redistribution failed and the exponential won!)

  The real reasons for justice have nothing to do with imagining society as a business deal. Justice, as given by evolution, is biological. Justice is not venal.

  Studies on (South American) marmosets showed that such animals had an acute sense of justice. To the point that, if justice gets trampled upon, they can revolt in anger against the human experimenter. Without ethics most advanced primates species could not even exist. Especially not baboons. How come what baboons know is the process of being forgotten in the USA (and its poodle, the EU)?

  Human goodness exists, independently of business deals. One does not make deals with a baby, one gives the baby love. Only the clueless, or the vicious, believe that bargains and lotteries define the core of the human condition. But, however abysmal, this is what we are confronting. Even on the so called left.


Patrice Ayme

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16 Responses to “Rolled By Rawls”

  1. Mike Borgman Says:

    Show me a man that says he’s totally honest and I’ll show you a liar.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Mike: Sure. Jesus said as much (let the one without sin throw the first stone…). Yet, a human being can be completely honest in a given realm of activity. That’s why the concept of LAW was invented. Anyway, what’s the connection with pointing out that Rawls’ universe is that of the central banker, the one of the business deal supreme?


      • pshakkottai Says:

        Hi Patrice: Does it mean that a central banker must be an employee of the state, a bureaucrat, as in India and represent the state and people rather than business?


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Hi Partha: “Bureaucrat” is a French word that means someone is behind a desk. Caesar, Gengis Khan were no bureaucrats, but presidents of the USA are. Now to answer the question seriously.

          Both the ancient Romans and the French ancient regime “farmed out” taxation. Private individuals were given a monopoly to raise taxes. In both cases, though, the state kept control of the currency, creating it. Rome had a huge problem by the Third Century with its currency, as its face value was not believed anymore. That reflected the weakness of the state. The Franks would, for centuries, just boil counterfeiters, thus keeping the value of money simmering. It was helped by having plenty of “argentum” (silver) from the east.

          Now we have farmed out currency making to private individuals, the bankers. The bankers finally turned into BANKSTERS.

          Central banks are the intermediate administration between state and banksters.

          It goes without saying that the banksters have to be re-regulated into extinction. The EU has taken some measures that way, but not enough, and the USA even less…

          If one has to chose between the present system and the re-governmentalization of all of money creation, I opt for the later. Because, as it is, we are still into the plutocratization mode. To break it, one needs Eisenhower like taxes (93% top margin, no exceptions), and fierce re-regulation of banking.


  2. GMax Says:

    If Rawls is viewed as “arguably the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century“, then that should go a long way towards explaining the self defeating character and total inefficiency of the left in the last 40 years, in this age of Rawls.

    Rawls has set-up the mood of reverence to markets and banksters.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear GMax: Not just reverence. Reference. John Rawls set-up the mood of framing out whole mental universe with markets in minds.
      Rawls: more than reverence to markets, but markets as only reference


  3. Mike Borgman Says:


    It was just an observation on expectations.




  4. old geezer pilot Says:

    Two comments here:

    1. Cowboys excepted, NO ONE IS SELF-MADE.


    Had it not been for our forebears, who built the schools, road, houses, farms, hospitals, ALL WITH TAX MONEY, we would not be here. So…what are WE doing for the coming generations, other than leaving them saddled with college debts they cannot pay and crumbling infrastructures?

    2. Even as I believe in the virtues of a meritocracy (and we are becoming less and less of one through insufficient death taxes – oops, I meant estate taxes), a $100 bill means something different to me than it does to Mitt Romney. Hence, the Mittster should, in order to “suffer” the burden of running the state enterprise equally with me and my ilk, pay a much higher PERCENTAGE of his income and wealth than we do.

    And of course, we know that the exact opposite is true.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Cowboys on which mountain? ;-)!
      Yes, all human beings are born in care and love. The economics of care and love exists even more than the economy of greed. Greed is not what one does, when the ship seems to be sinking. Nor is most valuable thinking about greed, either…

      Although Obama talks well, and often the way I do, he, and his demoncrat sponsors are expert to talk one way, and act the opposite. Reminds me of panthers in Africa (astoundingly stealthy, and very good at playing very big kittens, coming right up next to you, even in the wild, although they could kill in one move; one time I have to weave in my panther stories…).


  5. old geezer pilot Says:

    This comment was posted on NYT about a Krugman article on ObamaRomneyCare:

    PCBgirlNJNYT Pick
    I make a lot of money. I pay a lot of taxes. I fully support the ACA. I am happy to subsidize the health care of those less fortunate than me. I went to college and grad school with government grants and loans, I went to an excellent public high school that prepared me for the rigorous studies of college and grad school. I work for the state. I am happy to subsidize the health care of those less fortunate than me because:
    1. I am only giving back some of the many benefits that our great society has given me.
    2. I believe all humans deserve good health care, even ‘able-bodied moochers’
    3. I recognize that providing healthcare for all makes us a better society. Safer. More just. More economically viable. Selfishly, I want to live in that better society. That’s the society I want for my kids and grandkids.
    4. Maybe, just maybe, my kids or grandkids will need some assistance from these types of programs long after I am gone and cannot help them. I am helping anonymous others now, and someday I hope society will help my friends and family if they need it.

    I know, I know, I’m a horrible communist who supports redistribution of wealth.
    June 7, 2013 at 5:03 a.m.

    Said pretty well, IMHO


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear OGP: I do support redistribution of wealth, I am an atrocious communist in some respect, I went to communist France to have my child, and pat myself on the back I did so, because it was going to be a difficult delivery and the French and Italian doctors were hyper impressive. Barely out of the plane they told me what was going on, and what to do about it. I have litle doubt my daughter would not be alive if I had stayed in California for delivery. already during pregnancy, earlier, the French doctors were extremely helpful, 24/7… And that from a category ONE (the worst) hospital in the Alps (difficult cases are heliported to Grenoble or Marseilles to category three Centres Hospitaliers Universitaires…)

      By contrast I know friends who has deliveries in the best baby machines hospitals in the Bay Area, and nearly died, because of unbelievably bad care. Serious, I know like half a dozen in that case. And those deliveries ought to have been without problems. A proof of that is that the young Italian doctor (the Italian border is ten miles away) told me immediately it would have to be a caesarian, so three weeks early, for no less than three reasons. He was looking at all the documentation from the USA. Calif docs had said no such a thing. Turned out the Italian was right.

      Now how come? Those doctors in France and Italy (or Sweden, UK, etc.) earn a fraction of what their USA colleague earn. And so long, even worse, up the chain of command. The head of Sutter, a for profit (?) health maintenance organization (or is it a hospital?) somewhere in California, earns more, than any CEO in France (and France has world class companies, such as EADS, the world’s largest aerospace defense contractor, or Total, one of the oil majors). Or maybe any CEO in Europe.

      ACA does not look at any of that. Obama tries to have it both ways. Make the health plutocrats happy, and patients covered. Instead of instituting Medicare For All, as he could have done in 80 seconds, all by himself, he decided to institute MEDICAID for all, according to a very complicated scheme.

      We will see. In any case, ACA is a market phenomenon, an attempt at a market solution, not an imposition of care. Krugman believes in it, because he believes that, if one gives enough money to Citigroup, the country will be richer, just as Obama believes that the richer the health care demon Warren Buffet, the healthier the population.

      As it is, it won’t work. Philosophical mistakes rarely do.


  6. Dominique Deux Says:

    Old Geezer:

    your reference to cowboys reminded me of Frank Harris’ memoirs (My Life And Loves). He recounts how, after learning the trade as a lowly cowpoke, he decided to become an independent rancher, and did so in the completely accepted, in fact the only known manner in his times: he rode south of the Rio Grande and stole Mexican cattle to start his “own” herd.

    So, not even cowboys…

    Dear Patrice:

    I understand (after some sifting) your view of Rawls (whose name I did not even know; ignorance is the best asset of the debater, as those in the know are all too well aware of the cons and pros in any issue). But the idea of a contract, a deal, a “contrat social” as the basis for society certainly was not his invention – it was a staple of the Enlightenment. It is not necessarily unethical – but it is most certainly wrong, if only because of the assumption of an “original fairness” which is a fantasy only entertained by ignorants of animal ethology, a bit like the so-called “natural laws” of sexual behavior. Unfairness was the rule long before man came to be a species, Which is (maybe) why advanced primates feel a need for fairness.

    The real mystery to me is why such moralistic ramblings, disconnected from reality and devoid of explanatory worth, are so much valued. My only explanation is the need of knaves to feel good, and therefore to welcome any superior-sounding blessing of their miserable conduct. Think of the “good Christian gentlemen” of the South who would quote verse and chapter from the Bible, under the authority of learned church leaders, in support of the perpetual enslavement of their cotton pickers.

    Back when cathedral building was the single most breathtaking achievement of mankind, a whole set of ethics was built on the idea of the “Great Architect”. Later, when deal-making became the fuel of all human activity, it was only to be expected that ethics would be fashioned on this model, I wonder what the next template will be? video games maybe?


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Dominique: Hahaha, I hesitated about mentioning what you mentioned, and decided against it, to not make the essay too long. Rawls HIMSELF basically wrote what you said (the positive stuff, and of course not the well deserved negative critique you made!) He presented himself as another builder of the notion of “social contract”, along the lines, as he said, of Locke, Rousseau, Kant.

      Locke was for slavery and other grotesque abuses, especially in the colonies. That made him the grandfather of justice as fairness, I guess…
      Rousseau: well, many have pointed troubling similaties between him and Hitler…
      Kant: was used as defense by all Nazis, and, in particular Eichman in Jerusalem.

      Such ramblings are immensely valuable. There is an instinct for good conscience. They provide it, as you say. Even Himmler knew this, and recommended to his henchmen, after a full day of exhausting massacres, to re-invigorate themselves by listening to beautiful German classical music, and reacquaint themselves with the high standards of German culture… He feared they would get depressed otherwise.

      I know professional game makers (at Zinga and the like). They absolutely view the real as bad mannered, boring, and uncalled for. You can’t get them engaged on it, they are completely drugged on their games.


  7. From Repression To Barbarization. | Some of Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] The New York Times article was accompanied by all sorts of advertizing for the private industry that gravitates around incarcerating people (“Save 80% on prison calls!”). In many American cities a whole system of making money from money lent to get out of jail exists. (Ah, yes, because if one has enough money, one walks out of jail; probably what the esteemed American “philosopher”, Harvard’s Rawls called “justice as fairness”.) […]


  8. Imprinting, USA Style | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] is big in the USA: see Rawls’ “Justice As Fairness“. For the head of the ECB to feel that the European Central Bank is not treated […]


  9. From Repression To Barbarization. - NewsCream Says:

    […] The New York Times article was accompanied by all sorts of advertizing for the private industry that gravitates around incarcerating people (“Save 80% on prison calls!”). In many American cities a whole system of making money from money lent to get out of jail exists. (Ah, yes, because if one has enough money, one walks out of jail; probably what the esteemed American “philosopher”, Harvard’s Rawls, called “justice as fairness”.) […]


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