Sunday, 20 March 2011

Rawls and Distributive Justice (II)

The 1967 paper on distributive justice that I began to discuss in the previous posting continues by asking how the institutions of a constitutional democracy can be arranged so that the two principles of justice are approximately satisfied. To do this would require, as Rawls explicitly states, arranging a regulation of the economy. Some of these arrangements are pretty familiar such as provision for equal educational opportunities for all though this is left undecided between subsidy of private education and operating a public school system. The general regulation of the economy is one that requires viewing the government as divided between four branches.

These branches of government don't overlap with the usual divisions that are applied to government. The branch that keeps the economy competitive is termed the "allocation" branch which, amongst other things, sets suitable taxes. By contrast, the stabilization branch strives to maintain full employment and these two branches are meant to fit together to preserve the "efficiency" of the economy which relates to the Pareto element of Rawls' discussion.

However, this is certainly only a preliminary part of the discussion, not least because, on Rawls' view, the market alone cannot be trusted to relate to "need". This is why the next branch mentioned is the distributive one. That concerns total income, not merely wages, but also what he terms "transfers" between different elements of the population. This includes inheritance and gift taxes and the general aim concerns equality of opportunity. The distribution branch is effectively discussed in two different ways as it is meant to include the costs of public goods as well as general equality of opportunity.

Subsequently Rawls refers to even more specific notions of a general policy kind including the notion of "just savings" that is meant to relate to inter-generational justice but is perhaps unfit to respond to some of the serious questions that have since been raised about this question in subsequent philosophy. 

The overall result of Rawls' analysis is to arrive at the view of a well-ordered society. However the peculiarity of the discussion is that it appears in some general sense to become here quite specific in terms of some of the policy matters recommended whilst being insufficient to meet the requirements of policy thinkers. So the essay's second part is less obvious as a piece of political philosophy than the first part but the detail of some of the questions clearly requires further working through as well as up-dating in relation to subsequent philosophical work (particularly in inter-generational terms).

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