Posts Tagged ‘Justice as Fairness’

Rolled By Rawls

June 4, 2013

  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