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Rawls’ Paradox

Abstract

Rawls’ theory of justice is paradoxical, for it requires a society to aim directly to maximize the basic goods received by the least advantaged even if directly aiming is self-defeating. Rawls’ reasons for rejecting capitalist systems commit him to holding that a society must not merely maximize the goods received by the least advantaged, but must do so via specific institutions. By Rawls’ own premises, in the long run directly aiming to satisfy the difference principle is contrary to the interests of the poor, though it is meant to aid them.

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Notes

  1. The fair value of political liberty principle requires that citizens with similar abilities and motivation to use those abilities will have a roughly “equal chance of influencing the government’s policy and of attaining positions of authority irrespective of their economic and social class.” (Rawls 2001, p. 46). The fair equality of opportunity principle requires that citizens with similar abilities and motivation will have a roughly equal chance of obtaining any job or position of prestige.

  2. Just what taxation schemes are appropriate are up to the social sciences to determine. Rawls, however, believes that inheritance and bequest taxes will be needed, as well as either a progressive income tax, or, perhaps, a consumption tax (Rawls 2001, pp. 160–161).

  3. I use 2% because it is a round number approximating (and better than) Sweden’s average growth from 1970 to 1998. Sweden was on average 1 point lower in growth per annum than the OECD average from 1970 to 1998. In 1998, per capita income was 15% lower in Sweden than the average for the 23 richest countries (OECD 1999). Sweden began an economic upturn in 1998, but this was caused by lowering tax rates, reducing the public sector size, reducing capital regulations, and other attempts to liberalize the economy. By contrast, Hong Kong, which is nearly always rated as the economically freest country in the world, had an average growth rate of over 6% from 1970 through 2000 (with about 4.4% average growth in the 1990s, despite having to suffer through the Asian financial crisis) (IMF 2001).

  4. For a critique of earlier versions of (Dollar and Kraay 2002), see (Nye et al. 2002) and (Lükbar et al. 2002).

  5. Data taken from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Economic Accounts, http://www.bea.gov/bea/dn1.htm, with author’s calculations.

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Correspondence to Jason Brennan.

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Brennan, J. Rawls’ Paradox. Constit Polit Econ 18, 287–299 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10602-007-9024-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10602-007-9024-2

Keywords

  • John Rawls
  • Publicity
  • Economic growth
  • Political economy

JEL Classification

  • P16
  • P17
  • P27
  • P51