Rawls, A Theory of Justice: First Impressions

In Chapter 1 Rawls curiously equivocates with respect to the term “good.” In fact, I’ve counted at least 4 things that according to Rawls deserve this accolade.

1) Regarding the original position: “Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.” (Revised Edition, 11)

Here, good is the particular pleasures or happiness or whatever pursued by real people in an actual society. Smith likes to scuba dive; Jones likes to garden; and Robinson is an airplane pilot; those are these people’s “conceptions of the good.”

2) The general theories of the good; for example, “teleological” theories: “If it is taken as the realization of human excellence in the various forms of culture, we have what may be called perfectionism. … If the good is defined as pleasure, we have hedonism; if as happiness, eudaimonism, and so on.” (22) Rawls’ own contractarianism is set against these as a deontological theory that “prioritizes the right over the good.”

3) Good as goods produced via social cooperation, i.e., material prosperity, consumer goods and state of capital accumulation, stuff, junk, bling-bling. It is these goods, wherever they come from, that Rawls is concerned with “distributing.”

4. The goodness of the conceptions of justice that flow from Rawls’ own theory, such as the lexicographical order of several principles and the “principle of equal liberties” as first among them.

Rawls’ Got a (Tiny) Little List

The most important component of Rawls’ system is “equal liberty.” Indeed, liberty has for him priority over welfare. “The priority of liberty means that whenever the basic liberties can be effectively established, a lesser or an unequal liberty cannot be exchanged for an improvement in economic well-being.” (132) This is a good start, since it affirms that some human rights cannot be voted away no matter what.

Still, under what circumstances in a realistic society might people be tempted to make such an exchange?

One candidate is the exhortation we often receive to trade our liberty for our security, and greater security can be thought of as an economic benefit. However, this exchange is a government-run fraud, because the executive branch of the local government is not a protector but merely an enforcer of judicial verdicts, providing essential deterrence. The way the police department delivers security is not by bodyguarding each citizen but by having the fear of punishment for crimes against person or property imbue society as a whole. On the federal level, the state is an institution of murder, destruction, and exploitation with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. There is no such thing as national security.

Another example is the Food and Drug Administration. This monopoly consumer protection agency is at the same time too conservative in not allowing beneficial drugs and technologies to reach the market quickly enough (thereby being complicit in the deaths of thousands), and very much remiss in its duties to monitor the well-established companies (which it essentially protects against the newcomers) for outrageous claims. Fully privatized consumer protection would do its job vastly better.

What follows is that liberty and prosperity are intimately tied with one another. Thus, the socialist countries in the 20th century traded liberty for prosperity and ended up with neither.

Now what are the protected liberties, exactly? Says Rawls:

Important among these are political liberty (the right to vote and to hold public office) and freedom of speech and assembly; liberty of conscience and freedom of thought; freedom of the person, which includes freedom from psychological oppression and physical assault and dismemberment (integrity of the person); the right to hold personal property and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure as defined by the concept of the rule of law. (53)

At the same time,

Of course, liberties not on the list, for example, the right to own certain kinds of property (e.g., means of production) and freedom of contract as understood by the doctrine of laissez-faire are not basic; and so they are not protected by the priority of the first principle. (54)

This is arbitrary. Who cares whether economic liberties are or are not on Rawls’ list? What makes his list definitive? One searches in vain for any justification of it. The dismissive “of course,” in fact, seems like a nod to the academic socialists of Rawls’ time to assure them that Rawls is an egalitarian in good standing. Now it is possible that Rawls thinks that economic freedom is a means to an end, the end being prosperity. If this freedom is not necessary for it (and economics is full of controversies), then it should not be included in the list of liberties to be enjoyed equally by all. But what if it can be proven that economic freedom is absolutely essential not only to human welfare (in which case it might still have a lower priority) but to political liberties, as well?

As soon as the economic freedom which the market economy grants to its members is removed, all political liberties and bills of rights become humbug. Habeas corpus and trial by jury are a sham if, under the pretext of economic expediency, the authority has full power to relegate every citizen it dislikes to the arctic or to a desert and to assign him “hard labor” for life. Freedom of the press is a mere blind if the authority controls all printing offices and paper plants. And so are all the other rights of men. (HA, 287)

Many so-called “political” liberties and “human rights” are in fact economic in nature. As Murray Rothbard trenchantly notes,

In short, a person does not have a “right to freedom of speech”; what he does have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter the premises. He does not have a “right to freedom of the press”; what he does have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those who are willing to accept it). Thus, what he has in each of these cases is property rights, including the right of free contract and transfer which form a part of such rights of ownership. There is no extra “right of free speech” or free press beyond the property rights that a person may have in any given case. (EoL, 113)

Even the Rawlsian protections of the “integrity of the person” are best expressed as one’s property rights over one’s own body.

At the same time a case can be made that with full economic freedom political liberties are almost irrelevant, as there are no longer the trillions of dollars worth of loot that the government confiscates in taxes and inflation to fight over by the populace. The government in a free society administers no regulatory departments, enters into no wars and nor intervenes into the affairs of foreign nations, has no judiciary on its payroll (all judges are private professionals), permits no fractional-reserve banking, and in general keeps a very low profile. Who cares, in that case, what the government does, if under classical liberalism most people will have no contact with it throughout their lives?

Nevertheless, in giving such importance to liberty, Rawls’ libertarian tendencies, however stunted, are praiseworthy. His list of favored liberties just needs to be slightly expanded, that’s all.

Whither Efficiency?

Rawls’ §12 is hard to evaluate or critique, because it makes no sense.

He evidently confuses an indifference curve (which is concave) with a budget line (a straight line) with something quite new which he draws as a convex curve. This is supposed to represent the situation of “a fixed stock of commodities to be distributed between two persons, x1 and x2.” He then claims that each point on the curve is “efficient.”

In economics, we’d call the point on the budget line where it is tangent to the highest indifference curve to be the efficient allocation of 2 resources to 1 individual.

Rawls’ curve is supposed to allocate 1 resource to 2 individuals. It is true in a sense that every point on that curve is Pareto-efficient, because any motion along the curve can make one person better off only by making the other person worse off. But this is surely completely trivial and does not prove “what we knew all along, that is, that the principle of efficiency cannot serve alone as a conception of justice.” To have derived a proposition that momentous from a geometric picture that inconsequential is quite a leap.

In addition, on the Rawls’ curve there is also an identifiable apparent single point of efficiency: where the sum of the shares to x1 and x2 is at maximum.

Pathetic, isn’t it?

Types of Justice and Efficiency

Rawls makes a distinction between 3 kinds of distributive justice: perfect, imperfect, and pure procedural.

For the first of these, “First, there is an independent criterion for what is a fair division, a criterion defined separately from and prior to the procedure which is to be followed. And second, it is possible to devise a procedure that is sure to give the desired outcome.” An example is dividing a cake among dinner guests equally (outcome): we let “one man divide the cake and get the last piece, the others being allowed their pick before him. He will divide the cake equally, since in this way he assures for himself the largest share possible” (procedure). Here, “there is an independent standard for deciding which outcome is just and a procedure guaranteed to lead to it.” (74)

An imperfect procedural justice is also when the outcome is well-defined, but the means sometimes fail to secure it, as is the case with real-life criminal trials. Despite our best efforts, sometimes innocents are convicted, and guilty men go free.

Finally, pure procedural justice has no independently defined outcome to bring about: whatever distribution results by everyone’s faithfully following the rules of the game is just.

Let’s see if we can apply these distinctions to market 1) efficiency, 2) justice.

First, according to Rawls:

Since it is not reasonable [for a person in the original position] to expect more than an equal share in the division of social primary goods, and since it is not rational for him to agree to less, the sensible thing is to acknowledge as the first step a principle of justice requiring an equal distribution.

Indeed, this principle is so obvious given the symmetry of the parties that it would occur to everyone immediately.

Thus the parties start with a principle requiring equal basic liberties for all, as well as fair equality of opportunity and equal division of income and wealth. (130)

The equally obvious rejoinder to this is, where does the wealth that is to be distributed among the disembodied ghosts behind the veil of ignorance come from? Are we talking about Rome c. 400 A.D. after it had been sacked by the barbarians, Germany after World War I paying reparations to the Allies, present-day America? It may be replied that any hypothetical society will fit the bill. But this will not do at all. Apart from some very small religious communities, it is never the case that goods come into being collectively owned. Not even in the Soviet Russia was this true. Once we take any realistic society as our guide, we must take it as given that all goods initially come to be owned by their producers, and, what is more, there is no process of distribution separate from that of production:

Now in the market economy this alleged dualism of two independent processes, that of production and that of distribution, does not exist. There is only one process going on. Goods are not first produced and then distributed. There is no such thing as an appropriation of portions out of a stock of ownerless goods. The products come into existence as somebody’s property. If one wants to distribute them, one must first confiscate them.

Adds Mises:

It is certainly very easy for the governmental apparatus of compulsion and coercion to embark upon confiscation and expropriation. But this does not prove that a durable system of economic affairs can be built upon such confiscation and expropriation. (HA, 804)

Second, the free market is not an evenly rotating economy in which nothing changes. It is rather a process of perpetual improvement in human welfare. Hence, there is no fixed amount of booty to distribute but rather an ever-growing overall prosperity.

Now utilitarianism is concerned with producing the greatest good for the greatest number. But what is the greatest good? Is it some global perfection in which no improvement is conceivable? What is that, exactly? What are the intermediate stages toward this wonder? We don’t know. Can we consult God as to whether we are achieving this perfection at the fastest possible speed? How then can we say that the market is utilitarian? Perhaps it is more utilitarian that any alternative: 1) the market gently guides each person toward finding that social position in which he can best serve his fellow men, and 2) society serves each individual better and better with time. Moreover, capitalism is superior both absolutely as a workable system of social cooperation as compared with socialism which is not an economic system at all, and relatively to any interventionist scheme so far attempted or imagined. A government intervention is like a sin: after all is said and done, in the end, and at long last we have to abandon it and embrace virtue. At any rate, no one really favors interventionism; no person would seriously agree to let other people privilege themselves in the eyes of the law by rigging the game in their favor, such as by erecting legal barriers to entry into their industries, and against the interests of the great majority of people particularly in their capacity as consumers.

Using Rawls’ own terms, the market is perfectly efficient in this sense, as in better than anything else, and the means to it are known — a laissez-faire legal regime. But given that regime, any actual momentary distribution of wealth, income, or means of production is just. Production and consumption are carried out by real people in an actual economy. No innovation or improvement was fated to happen; individual human beings made them happen with their own minds and their own hands. So whatever people do and whatever economy they create within the bounds of pro-market law are Ok. The rules of a free economy are arranged to maximize the potential speed at which society becomes more ideal, and whoever get rich or lose everything within those rules do so legitimately, and their fate is bestowed by the market justly upon them. Entrepreneurs become rich because the masses, the “poor,” rush to outbid each other on the products offered to them for sale. If they fail to satisfy the consumers’ wants, they will forfeit their wealth and their vocation as entrepreneurs and be demoted into the rank of laborers. Personal wealth in a free society is thus a consequence of previous success in serving consumers.

The consumers patronize those shops in which they can buy what they want at the cheapest price.

Their buying and their abstention from buying decide who should own and run the plants and the farms.

They make poor people rich and rich people poor.

They determine precisely what should be produced, in what quality, and in what quantities. (HA, 270)

The market’s justice then is pure procedural. Any distribution of “loot” is just, provided the rules (such as governing initial appropriation, production, exchange) are just and generally observed. The smaller the underclass of welfare recipients and crony capitalists who imagine themselves above the law, the more just the result.

Worst Off, Shmorst Off

When Rawls writes that

No one is to benefit from [natural accidents and social circumstances] except in ways that redound to the well-being of others. …

The difference principle represents… an agreement to regard the distribution of natural talents as in some respects a common asset and to share in the greater social and economic benefits made possible by the complementarities of this distribution.

Those who have been favored by nature, whoever they are, may gain from their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation of those who have lost out. The naturally advantaged are not to gain merely because they are more gifted, but only to cover the costs of training and education and for using their endowments in ways that help the less fortunate as well. (86-7)

what is he talking about, exactly? If I am one of the better-off, am I prohibited from making a sandwich, because that does not “help the less fortunate”? Unlikely, so Rawls must be talking about institutions or the “basic structure of society” rather than individual actions. As I’ll argue later, the free market operates precisely under this very principle.

A more potent objection is, must not the worse-off help themselves and each other? Must they only help themselves and each other or should they help the better-off, as well?

It is obvious that the worse-off should participate in social cooperation on equal terms with the better-off; that is, they should contribute, too. (After all, the very problem that Rawls deals with is how to distribute the fruits of social cooperation.) But this admission devalues the difference principle. For the worse-off must now worry about the welfare of the better-off exactly as much as the better-off must worry about the welfare of the worse-off.

Rawls is so eager to harness the better-off to serve society that he ignores the symmetrical duty of the worse-off. This symmetry makes it true that there is a harmony of interests of all men in society, regardless of their natural endowments or luck in life.

Appeal of Contractarianism

Remember Thrasymachus in the Republic arguing that justice is the “interest of the stronger”? What does he mean?

Well, clearly, the “strong” do as they please; particularly, they murder, plunder, and oppress the “weak”; however, slightly bothered by their own depredations, and in order to secure their good reputation and public esteem, they seek to rehabilitate themselves in public opinion. They do so by lying and hiring propagandists to lie to other people that their deeds, rather than being wicked and traitorous, are in fact noble and great. They sophistically proclaim their most ignominious actions to be just.

Meanwhile, the weak also do not find value in any independent notion of justice. What they proclaim to be the strong’s injustices is just thinly veiled impotent and resentful envy of the strong. If a weak man were suddenly to become strong, then he would instantly renounce his notions of justice and would not only commit injustices freely but in imitation of his fellows, insist that his morally dubious behavior is actually the pinnacle of justice.

(It’s a bit like polylogism. A person’s social status as either strong or weak allegedly fully determines his intellectual commitments. Yes, this idea is obscene and disgusting. Blame Marx.)

It is precisely these crazy goings-on that are preventing a detached and objective analysis of the notions of justice and injustice. Let us, therefore, enter the original position and throw a veil of ignorance over ourselves so that we don’t know whether we are strong or weak. Can the notion of justice be formulated apart from our biases? Remember that as truth is correspondence of thought to reality, so justice is correspondence of reality to an ideal. The ideal applies to the actual society, but it is arrived at by contemplating abstract perfections. Utilitarians have their impartial observer; virtue theorists have their fully actualized sage; so why not allow contractarianism its own ideal-making tool?

But why contracts? Obviously, because if everyone agrees to some idea of justice, then the question is settled; there is no controversy. They may all be wrong in some sense, I suppose, because contractarianism is pure procedural justice: anything whatsoever that is agreed to in a “fair” original position (hence, Rawls’ “justice as fairness”) is designated “just,” but by that very agreement, people will be in considerable harmony and accord with one another, and what more can we ask for of a theory of justice?

I speculate that justice most generally remains for Rawls the disposition to “live honestly, to injure no one, to assign to each his own.” But what sorts of things are to be assigned to people? So, while being in the original position is good for our ideals, this must be accompanied by a theory of the good. Rawls has one. It’s a little lurid. He defines “primary goods” as those that “a rational man wants whatever else he wants. Regardless of what an individual’s rational plans are in detail, it is assumed that there are various things which he would prefer more of rather than less. With more of these goods men can generally be assured of greater success in carrying out their intentions and in advancing their ends, whatever these ends may be. The primary social goods, to give them in broad categories, are rights, liberties, and opportunities, and income and wealth.” (79)

Rawls’ concern then seems to be allocation of primary goods arrived at by the contractarian method. (He gives little thought to production of such goods.) Who gets what, found out thereby, gets it justly.

Whether Equality Is to Be Balanced with Utility?

Rawls lists the conception of justice that would require one to “balance total utility against the principle of equal distribution” as an alternative to his own conception. (107) And indeed, equality (as regards the lower-priority income and wealth as opposed to higher-priority rights and liberties) for Rawls has no value other than as the initial stage in the deliberation of persons in the original position. Anything, including a very unequal society, can be justified with further discussion, for all Rawls knows, via the difference principle. Equality is not some fundamental value that we reluctantly sacrifice in part in order to increase prosperity, because egalitarian measures diminish productivity and so on.

This is very fortunate, because the idea that the size of the “pie” has to be balanced with equal distribution of the pie is completely mistaken.

What ends up being traded off for equality is not the size of the pie at any given time, but rather the momentary speed at which the pie grows over months and years of future economic improvement.

The limiting case of perfect equality in consumption through socialism in production is akin to an evenly rotating economy in which, though the size of its pie is non-zero, nothing ever changes.

Let us therefore consider two societies, A and B, initially identical in regard to their wealth. Society A pursues a laissez-faire policy and is unegalitarian. Society B is less productive and grows slower but is marked by greater equality. It is true that after a long time, say, fifty years, A will outperform B so much that the masses in A will have a standard of living better than even the elites in B. But at least in the meantime B will enjoy greater equality. Is there any reason why we should not prefer B to A?

The answer is, we may well already be in the stage at which our society’s better-off are poorer than the worse-off of a freer and more capitalistic society that could have been but was not chosen fifty years ago. We may be reaping the consequences of past egalitarian policies right now, and we would have to admit that our ancestors made a nasty mistake.

We can see that promoting equality as an independent value makes no sense in the longer run. I am pleased that Rawls makes no such mistake.

Who Is the Worst Off?

By presupposing initial perfect equality in the distribution of primary goods, Rawls is willy-nilly committed to socialism. Socialism in this day and age? It’s not a viable system of production. While capitalism improves its economy every hour of every day in parallel, any attempt sequentially to change things under socialism will most likely break its evenly rotating economy into uncoordinated pieces. We may forgive Rawls for not knowing this (or for choosing not to take sides in a controversy outside his area of expertise), but at this point there is really no excuse for his kind of egalitarianism.

Suppose now that Rawls agrees with this undeniable point but claims instead that the initial condition of equality is but an artifice, an imaginary construction used in order to set the stage for and demonstrate the workings of the difference principle. It is true that perfect equality is preposterous, but, coupled with the difference principle, the system becomes very realistic and in fact describes how a society should actually work. Now this is certainly a fortuitous if unintended development; how lucky for Rawls that his system does not after all result in social disintegration!

In the real world Rawls’s key criticism of utilitarianism does not normally apply. In a free society no one is required to sacrifice his welfare for the benefit of others. Therefore, the idea that “allegiance to the social system may demand that some, particularly the less favored, should forgo advantages for the sake of the greater good of the whole” (155) is false. “For what the individual must sacrifice for the sake of society he is amply compensated by greater advantages. His sacrifice is only apparent and temporary; he foregoes a smaller gain in order to reap a greater one later,” says Mises (HA, 146):

Praxeology and economics do not say that men should peacefully cooperate within the frame of societal bonds; they merely say that men must act this way if they want to make their actions more successful than otherwise. Compliance with the moral rules which the establishment, preservation, and intensification of social cooperation require is not seen as a sacrifice to a mythical entity, but as the recourse to the most efficient methods of action, as a price expended for the attainment of more highly valued returns. (HA, 883)

In the long-term, as Rawls knows very well, there prevails a harmony of interests among all members of society. Yet in another sense, in any realistic society certain changes must be allowed which, though they are sanctioned by the rules thanks to which the greatest possible prosperity results, may nonetheless harm some particular person or group of people. Thus the invention of a new and better mousetrap may put the producer of old mousetraps out of business; or a shift in consumer preferences may cause job losses in some industry. Under no economic system are people immune from failure, since everyone has to deal with uncertain future. Successful entrepreneurs forecast the future and adjust their actions to it better than unsuccessful ones. If Rawls’s theory permits only Pareto-efficient changes, then it is wedded to the status quo in an unacceptable way. It is therefore impossible for all inequalities to be for the benefit of all, as there will always be people who will fail in their endeavors under a more unequal system but who would have succeeded under a less unequal one. Suppose, for example, that there is a person who is poor in the free-market system but who would be richer under socialism working, say, as a powerful bureaucrat. According to Rawls’s own rules, we cannot prefer the far wealthier capitalist society to the socialist one because of that person alone. Similarly, we may be unable to choose between a poor and stagnant society ruled by a hereditary class of warriors and a free, wealthy, and peaceful industrious nation with consumer sovereignty in which the warriors end up at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Rawls’ rules do not tell us who must be the better-off and who the worse-off. The benefits can only accrue to all in the long-run, and even then, as Keynes put it, “in the long-run we are all dead.”

Now to this Rawls would seem to have a reply. We take the worst-off person or group in society A and compare it with the worst-off person or group in society B; if the worst-off in A are better off than the worst-off in B, then A is to be preferred. This is the “maximin” rule. But it will not do. For the reality is that the worst-off are pretty miserable in any society, no matter how wealthy, in which they are not explicitly subsidized. Regardless of where we place them, the worst-off will receive $0 + α, where α is a some sort of trivial minimum possible wage. It is not the welfare of the worst-off that differentiates societies; it is the welfare of the common man, the masses, the general public. But if we are to compare their welfare, then we are squarely back to utilitarianism.

Now we come to the main part of my argument. Let there be an initial society X of 12 people each receiving 50 utils of welfare. Societies Y = {70, …} and Z = {60, 100, …, 100, 120} are both preferable to X. (Assuming we live under capitalism, Z is eminently plausible and realistic.) At the same time, utilitarianism clearly picks Z over Y, while the difference principle picks Y instead. Which is bad news for Rawls, because Z is obviously superior. The masses of Z, 83% of the population, are veritable hostages to the Z’s worst-off person (Smith) who is receiving 60 utils. What’s more, if the better-off of Z agree each to donate 1 util to Smith, then we obtain society Z+ with the distribution {71, 99, …, 99, 119} which is an improvement over Y even according to the difference principle. Introducing theoretical compensations, even if they are hard or even absurd to try to implement in practice, fully subsumes Rawls’ criteria under utilitarianism.

Rawls is aware of the argument along these lines:

This objection is analogous to the following familiar difficulty with the maximin rule. Consider the sequence of gain-and-loss tables:

0 n
1/n 1

for all natural numbers n. Even if for some smallish number it is reasonable to select the second row, surely there is another point later in the sequence when it is irrational not to choose the first row contrary to the rule. (136)

He is irritated by this, replying as follows:

Part of the answer is that the difference principle is not intended to apply to such abstract possibilities.

As I have said, the problem of social justice is not that of allocating ad libitum various amounts of something, whether it be money, or property, or whatever, among given individuals. (136)

Oh wow. Rawls “has said” nothing of the kind; indeed, the opposite is exactly what he has been insisting has been his aim from the beginning: to distribute primary goods justly! It’s outrageous that he up and summarily denies what he’s been deafening our ears with! He then argues that this scenario is unrealistic under his scheme, because “great disparities [of wealth] will not long persist.” Oh yes, they certainly will under capitalism, the only reasonable system of economic organization. In particular:

1. In regard to the differences between the minority of the rich and majority of the non-rich, it is true, of course, that capitalism features mass production for the masses, such that new luxuries for the rich, perpetually created, trickle down quickly enough to become necessities for the common men. Moreover, the differences in the real standard of living of the rich and non-rich continuously diminish, as these luxuries become increasingly more “far-out.” But it is precisely the possibility of earning vast fortunes that makes the capitalistic economy so productive. This is less important for our purposes than the next distinction:

2. In regard to the differences between the majority of the bourgeoisie and the minority of the unskilled workers, with respect to money wealth and incomes, there will also be extensive inequality.

Rawls admits considerations of this sort, in fact depends on and explicitly invokes them in his own attempt at defense of maximin: “there is no objection to resting the choice of first principles upon the general facts of economics and psychology. As we have seen, the parties in the original position are assumed to know the general facts about human society.” (137)

And concerning (2), Rawls can’t keep the great majority beholden to the whims of the tiny minority of the worst-off.

Why Maximin?

Rawls proposes 3 reasons for “this unusual rule.” “First, since the rule takes no account of the likelihoods of the possible circumstances, there must be some reason for sharply discounting estimates of these probabilities. … Thus it must be, for example, that the situation is one in which a knowledge of likelihoods is impossible, or at best extremely insecure.

“The second feature that suggests the maximin rule is the following: the person choosing has a conception of the good such that he cares very little, if anything, for what he might gain above the minimum stipend that he can, in fact, be sure of by following the maximin rule. It is not worthwhile for him to take a chance for the sake of a further advantage, especially when it may turn out that he loses much that is important to him.

“This last provision brings in the third feature, namely, that the rejected alternatives have outcomes that one can hardly accept. The situation involves grave risks.” (134)

Regarding the first reason, there is another way to deal with the veil of ignorance. As a ghost in the original position, I (and therefore everyone else) say: “I want to live in a society in which the productivity of the human labor improves at the fastest speed.” Whether after leaving the original position I’ll find myself rich or poor, healthy or sick, smart or stupid, I will benefit from the efficient economy around me.

A quickly growing economy is the common factor for and shared by all its future members. If it renders superior service to rich Smith, it will still render the best in class service to poorer Jones. Jones, like Smith, will benefit more from a more efficient society than from a less efficient one. Now perhaps a less efficient society will subsidize Jones at the expense of Smith, procuring for Jones an overall larger share of the now smaller pie. We’ll deal with this situation later. Regardless, reason (1) allegedly supporting maximin does not hold: whoever I become after instantiation, I’ll benefit from the outer society’s productivity. No probabilities are needed, and no calculations are made.

The second condition is bad psychology: ask anyone whether he’ll be content with a minimum wage. The pleasures money can buy in the modern society are both enticing and innumerable. “Our contemporaries are driven by a fanatical zeal to get more amenities and by an unrestrained appetite to enjoy life,” argues Mises. (HA, 318) Rawls has apparently designed his system for ascetics and those who have taken the vow of poverty. The vast majority of people are not described by the second feature of maximin.

Finally, the third provision is bad economics. Rawls must be envisioning a choice similar to between X = {70, …} and Y = {20, … 20, 1 million} But that is indeed unrealistic. A laissez-faire capitalist economy does not looks like either X or Y. In the previous post, I suggested that Z = {60, 100, …, 100, 120} is far more plausible.

As a result, the maximin rule that buttresses the difference principle stands undefended.