The philosopher Amia Srinivasan did a wonderful lengthy piece in The New York Times’ “The Stone” forum yesterday. I would highly recommend reading it. Here is the link: Questions for Free-Market Moralists.
Rawls proposed that the structure of a just society was the one that a group of rational actors would come up with if they were operating behind a “veil of ignorance” — that is, provided they had no prior knowledge what their gender, age, wealth, talents, ethnicity and education would be in the imagined society. Since no one would know in advance where in society they would end up, rational agents would select a society in which everyone was guaranteed basic rights, including equality of opportunity. Since genuine (rather than “on paper”) equality of opportunity requires substantial access to resources — shelter, medical care, education — Rawls’s rational actors would also make their society a redistributive one, ensuring a decent standard of life for everyone.
Rawls’ political liberalism is not the solution, democratic socialism is, but he helps to frame one important feature in envisioning a just society–divorce oneself from positioning bias, if at all possible. I would apply this bias to you and me, and to anyone, including any “Vanguard”-proponent who looks forward to being part of the ruling class in a non-democratic “socialist” (i.e., “state capitalist”) society.
Then she launches into a brilliant discussion of the ugly, and Marx would say, entirely predictable, free market response to Rawls’ ethical desire for a just society: the hollow development of a moralizing rationale to buttress the desires of the powerful and lucky (think Koch Brothers or Mitt Romney) for the opposite to a just society–a free market system where they can exploit their (“God-given”?) advantages of power and luck. For:
If the operations of the free market are always moral then there’s nothing in principle wrong with tremendous inequality.
Here is where the moralizing rationale was set forth:
In 1974, Robert Nozick countered with “Anarchy, State, and Utopia.” He argued that a just society was simply one that resulted from an unfettered free market — and that the only legitimate function of the state was to ensure the workings of the free market by enforcing contracts and protecting citizens against violence, theft and fraud.
I won’t go through much more of her piece (PLEASE READ IT!). Suffice it to say that she uses the best of the Socratic approach to expose and, in my opinion, demolish, the Nozickian worldview. I will just leave you with the “the questions” so ably presented by Ms. Srinivasan, so that you will have to go to her piece for “the answers” and follow-up analysis of their relevance to where we are today:
1. Is any exchange between two people in the absence of direct physical compulsion by one party against the other (or the threat thereof) necessarily free?
2. Is any free (not physically compelled) exchange morally permissible?
3. Do people deserve all they are able, and only what they are able, to get through free exchange?
4. Are people under no obligation to do anything they don’t freely want to do or freely commit themselves to doing?
Good job species-being Srinivasan, and, on behalf of the friends of the weak, a sincere thank you,
- Questions for Free-Market Moralists (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)