Rawls and the 50p taxrate

What would John Rawls’s view be of the cutting of the 50p tax rate? He is often called an ‘egalitarian’ political philosopher; so presumably he would be against the reduction of this tax rate on the very rich?
Not so fast. Have a listen to this item from the TODAY programme, yesterday on Budget morning:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9707000/9707638.stm
About 90 seconds in, ultra-rich businessman John Caudwell makes a quasi-Rawlsian argument. He says: “What’s best for the country enables the Government to look after the poorest members of society”.
This TODAY interview with John Caudwell, Caudwell’s making of a difference-principle-style argument, suggests once again that Rawls’s political philosophy, which supposedly undergirds the thinking of ‘lefties’ (it is explicitly backed by many including allegedly Obama, Purnell, Stuart White, etc), is actually compatible with extremes of inequality as manifested for instance in the abolition of the 50p tax rate.
Now, it might be responded: what’s wrong with that: IF it can be shown that the tax take goes UP from this group as a whole then it could be a valid move, on Rawlsian grounds. This response shows I think the bankruptcy of the claim sometimes made that Rawlsian thinking is ‘egalitarian’. You can hardly pretend that abolishing the 50p tax rate is egalitarian!
Rawls’s philosophy is at best ‘prioritarian’; it is utterly inegalitarian. Caudwell’s stance shows this.
Anyway: even if the tax take did / does go up, as a result of the abolition of the 50p rate, then it would still be a bad thing to do, to abolish it. Because we would still be creating a more unequal society; and moreover encouraging people to work themselves to death (high tax rates are a good thing inasmuch as they discourage the culture of overwork which grips societies like ours).
Rawlsian liberals don’t like to hear this sort of thing. Witness the furious reaction when I put forward this view before:
http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/rupert-read/philosophical-and-political-implications-of-spirit-level-response-to-gerry-ha
But, when one listens to a man like Caudwell making a quasi-Rawlsian argument, then things are pretty clear: We need to do better than Rawls. We ought to be egalitarians. It is pretty sickening if the best that the ‘Left’ can do is back a political philosopher whose thinking is compatible with the still-higher extremes of inequality which George Osborne is now creating.

Leave a comment ?

84 Comments.

  1. Richard Hamilton

    I don’t think this is decisive a rebuttal of Rawls as you seem to suggest. Rawls would remind you that the difference principle is expressed in conditional form: inequalities are justifiable iff they better the condition of the poorest members of society. The empirical fact that inequalities in Britain don’t work in that way is not a refutation of Rawls or even an argument against inequality in principle. It is always open to a Rawlsian liberal to argue that the fact that inequality in the UK does not better the lot of the poor is down to the fact that there is not a rigorous enforcement of political rights etc.
    That’s why I think Marx’s strategy is the most powerful. He accepts the assumptions of classical political economy and shows that even if the conditions they posited held ( a perfect market etc) this would lead to greater poverty not lesser. Then when you factor in the empirical considerations that the conditions specified never hold, you have a much more powerful critique.

  2. “It is pretty sickening if the best that the ‘Left’ can do is back a political philosopher whose thinking is compatible with the still-higher extremes of inequality which George Osborne is now creating.”

    Wow. This is very intense and really not in keeping with the general tone of Talking Philosophy.

    Strangely, having my views (not Mr Osborne’s, the view that if improving the lot of the worst off means higher inequality then so be it) baldly described as sickening doesn’t fill me with the urge to find out why you have such an extreme position.

    But I guess its just as well that you’re direct with scum like me, you don’t want far right Rawlsians around here anyway.

  3. “Quasi”-Rawlsian; as the prefix suggests, that isn’t *actually* Rawlsian, is it?

    Anyone could make an argument that shared some structural or conceptual elements with a philosopher and label it a quasi-“x”ian argument – that in no way guarantees that the philosopher in question would agree with their conclusions.

    This post jumps from the mere mention of the “poorest” to Rawls – but that’s unjustified, the comments don’t even resemble the difference principle. Enabling the government “to look after the poorest members of society” is not the same as making them as well off as possible. Caudwell’s comments seem more to do with sufficiency than fairness.

    As to whether, aside from any resemblance, Rawls could conceivably endorse dropping the 50p rate:

    If, as Osborne suggests, dropping the top tax rate (independent of any other policy changes) will improve the lot of the worst off, then you could make the argument that he would have endorsed the policy change — but — only if the only other option was the status quo.

    However, that patently isn’t the only other option – in particular, we might consider making it harder to avoid paying the 50p tax rate. Presumably, that would have even better consequences for the worst off group, and would be preferable for Rawls. Even then, unless the worst of group was as well off as possible, that policy would presumably not receive his endorsement in a wider comparison against all other options.

    Rawls is compatible with some inequality yes – but with Osborne? If he is, this post doesn’t convincingly make the case.

  4. Richard – Fine – if a Rawlsian agrees that applying the difference principle financially – the usual way that it is applied – is useless, and that we ought to aim for equality, then I have no quarrel with them (But then what was the point of the difference principle in the first place?).

  5. Richard and Theo – I am hardly seeking to claim that this popular little blog post is a ‘decisive’ refutation of Rawls!! That will await my academic presentation of this point (which has begun with my piece in CRISPP recently, and other published pieces in peer-reviewed journals such as CNS and IJGE).
    But I do think what I am saying in this post is suggestive, and worrying for Rawlsians. It is worrying when one potentially finds oneself much closer than one would have wanted to being in bed with Caudwell and Osborne.

  6. Theo – I think if one listens to Caudwell at all charitably it is pretty clear that the case he is making is that it might well be BEST for the poorest in this country if the top tax rate were lowered. He states that this is an empirical question – exactly the same as Rawls’s view. A dangerous ‘coincidence’.

  7. Stuart – I don’t think you are scum! I quite like you, in fact. (Though I thought that my treatment on your blog last time I tried to make this argument was unfair and unpleasant. It was precisely that that showed me very clearly how hysterical and nasty Rawlsians can get if one dares to claim that their position is inegalitarian and potentially Right-ist.)

  8. Caudwell’s comment – or rather, using it to criticise Rawls – wrongly assumes that maximising average utility is extensionally equivalent to the difference principle. But it’s not (I speak as a non-Rawlsian). For any given (infra-extremal) tax change, it is empirically possible after consulting the relevant Laffer curve that the total take will increase. That leaves it entirely open how the proceeds are distributed. Rawlsians have always accepted that the DP-sanctioned distribution – e.g. as measured by disposable income may also leave the best-off better off than under the alternatives. What’s the fuss about?

  9. There aren’t many decisive rebuttals in political theory (or anything else) so I agree with Richard there.

    But its a serious problem with Rawls and I would quite like to see a Rawlsian who considers themselves left wing deal with. The point seems to be that if Rawls can be plausibly used as an argument for a right wing government reducing tax for the super rich then either:

    (A) His philosophy shouldn’t be understood to be very egalitarian. Its an extremely weak notion of egalitarian that sees dropping the top tax rate against the wishes of even the majority of the conservative party (!) in a time of economic crisis as a progressive move towards justice for the poor.

    Or (B) the tactical limitations of Rawls for egalitarians should be recognised – if his theory can support this then what good is it for egalitarians?

    Its easy to support Rawls if you are a liberal – but much harder to make a case for his theory being valuable for the left. I’m willing to stand corrected by Stuart or anyone else is willing to make the case…

  10. OK – so Theo started to make the case before I finished writing – Rawls might not support it given other possible policies e.g. closing tax loopholes…

    the tactical question about how much use his philosophy is to the left still remains. While this is only a quasi-Rawlsian argument it presumably sounds reasonable to Caudwell because of the way quasi-Rawlsian ideas (e.g. vaguely ‘inequality is OK so long as the poor get more stuff’) help structure debate (not only because of Rawls of course). But political theorists who are aware of their engagement in the world need to know that their theory will inevitably butchered – think about how its butchered remains could potentially be used to support things they might not want to – and modify their theorising to stop this happening non?

  11. Thanks Danny.
    The dilemma for the Rawlsian as I see it is this, taking for granted the possibility that there might be a higher taxtake etc. (and thus benefits for the poorest) from the reduction of the top rate:
    Either they hold onto a substantive difference principle, and have to face up to believing it to be potentially just to reduce the taxrate, Osborne-style. Or they can move in the direction of being egalitarians etc., at the cost of increasingly giving up the substantive difference implicit in the difference principle: the difference principle gradually becomes indistinguishable from egalitarianism (the more one equalises the overall distribution).

  12. I don’t know if that’s what I drew from the interview – he seemed unsure, for a start, whether dropping the tax rate would actually be better for the worst off, and was not convinced that the government knew either. I’m not sure we can infer the very specific views that would amount to an endorsement of the difference principle from his remarks. Even if we could, he could simply be empirically wrong, that would rescue Rawlsians from bedding up with Osborne.

    If your point is that, where there is no other way to make the worst off better off than dropping taxes on the rich, the Rawlsian policy would be to drop the top rate – I guess I would agree. I’m not sure what the problem with that is though, why be slavishly attached to the nominal rate of taxation? Surely the effective rate is what matters, in terms of justice.

    In this case I imagine that the problem is significantly complicated by issues of compliance, given that Rawls’s prescriptions are made with a certain level of compliance assumed, and the 50p rate is, allegedly, ineffective because of avoidance, e.g. noncompliance of a sort. This must make the application of Rawls to this specific issue a more laborious task…

    I guess a possible analogy would be between those with greater endowments who demand incentive payments, as Cohen objected to… and richer people who seek to avoid paying top rates of tax. But, I’m not sure the two are analogous, and the latter phenomenon occurs in such a non-ideal scenario that it’s hard, for me at least, to see the inevitability of Rawls’ being drawn into endorsing the government’s economic policy.

  13. Thanks Theo.
    Saying that our actual situation is ‘non-ideal’ is it seems to me too cheap a get-out for the Rawlsian. Surely, if Rawlsian thinking can’t be applied to contemporary Western ‘liberal democracies’, where on Earth CAN it be applied?

  14. The political philosopher G.A. Cohen does a good job of criticizing Rawls along similar lines. It sounds like you might’ve read him, but if not, check out:
    – This: http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/cohen92.pdf
    – His book ‘Rescuing Justice and Equality’ and the last few chapters of his ‘If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?’

  15. Yes, am a big fan of Cohen’s criticisms. (He was a teacher of mine; he was really a fine philosopher.) Mine go even slightly further.

  16. Let us put the argument in the conditional form that Rawls would put it in, and then see if RR has anything to dispute in it:

    If it could be shown that some inequality, say through earnings above equality, optimally benefitted the least advantaged in society both
    a) Monetarily/materially, and
    b) Psychologically/in terms of general wellbeing

    Would you then oppose that material inequality?

    If not, then you and Rawls are not so far apart.
    If you would, then you need a ground to oppose the conditional argument, and it cannot be on the results, because they are premises in the argument. So your earlier post on the Spirit Level, is not germane to the argument.

    Amazingly (!!) you do not mention people before you who have philosophically challenged the difference principle, by arguing that the material inequalities it permits would mainly be due to people effectively using the least advantaged to bargain for unequal advantage (“I’ll only work hard and so provide more tax revenue, if you give me some extra pay/tax incentives”). Famously this is G. A. Cohen’s argument.

    But at least that argument challenges a premise in Rawls’ argument: that there is a morally unobjectionable route to people claiming incentives for their social contribution to the least advantaged.

    Guilt by association: Osborne, tax breaks for the rich, Rawls allowance for inequalities, Stuart White’s liberalism, etc., is rhetoric, not argument.

  17. I’m not really saying that “non-ideal” is a get-out, more that we need to be careful when applying Rawls to real world problems, especially when the specific problem at hand revolves around a feature that distinguishes ideal from non-ideal; compliance.

    That aside, I’d still argue that:

    – Osborne / Caudwell are not utilising the difference principle

    – If they are, it may still only amount to a misuse

    – It’s less than clear that Rawls would endorse dropping the 50p rate, or the government’s economic policy. Empirically, it just seems pretty obvious that the worst off are not as well off as possible, before or after dropping the 50p tax rate.

    – It is not a damning indictment, but the mark of success, when your opponents are forced to speak in your terms. How else was Osborne going to present dropping the top rate of tax? It was a rhetorical strategy, but the fact that it was necessary doesn’t seem to me to be something Rawlsians should be ashamed of.

    – If it really were the case that dropping the 50p tax rate *did* secure the best possible outcome for the worst off in present conditions (lets say that reducing avoidance was not efficient enough, too expensive, revenue negative), then Osborne wouldn’t be so objectionable. The reason we find him objectionable is that we simply don’t believe the case he makes, that we feel the government has been captured by private interests, that the presented argument of making the worst off better off is a lie.

    If Osborne’s argument did invoke the difference principle, Rawls would only be “in bed” with him if he were telling the truth, and if he were correct. But — then it seems difficult to turn around and accuse Rawlsians of aligned with incompetent mendacious Osborne.

  18. Sal: sigh… It is irritating to be told how outrageous it is not to credit someone…when what one is doing is writing a snappy BLOGPOST. I always credit people fully (or aim to) in my academic articles. If you read those, you will see clearly how indebted I am, quite explicitly, to Cohen.

  19. Theo, Sal; I’m not sure you have fully grasped my points. IF it is best financially for the poor for people like Caudwell etc to pay a lower tax rate, which is empirically possible, THEN a repugnant conclusion follows: that Rawlsians should applaud Osborne. Though: if one takes into account Wilkinson-and-Pickett-type points then, as mentioned, the reality is that inequality will be worse for the worst off even if it is better for them financially. In which case Rawlsians face my ‘dilemma’, described in a previous comment, with a vengeance.
    The upshot really turns out to be that it isn’t possible to ask simply about the poorest. We are all connected. ‘Chain-connected’. We overlap, one might say – in ways that liberalism does not understand.

  20. Wouldn’t that only follow if Rawlsians solely apply the difference principle to financial issues, and not to some broader understanding of wellbeing? Income is only one of many primary goods that could be considered by a Rawlsian, isn’t it? I would imagine Rawlsians could feasibly incorporate a lot of what is talked about in The Spirit Level.

    Moreover, inequalities arising under a society guided by the difference principle, and the inequalities arising under Osborne’s budget, are arguably qualitatively different – one being the result of a fundamentally fair society, the other quite clearly not being so. So, the empirical claim that real-world inequality results in the fraying of community ties, social distrust, etc, isn’t necessarily applicable to inequalities arising from a thoroughgoing, ‘public’ application of the difference principle.

  21. s. wallerstein (amos)

    Rawls was not involved in partisan politics, so if any inequality were to be the advantage of the poorest members of society, he would approve of it, even if it were proposed by a rightwing political party.

    Why, if something is to the advantage of the poorest members of society, is it “bad” if it is proposed by a rightwing political party?

  22. Just to add – the difference principle operates in the context of fair equality of opportunity and equal basic liberties, as we know, so we again need to bear those in mind when assessing the social implications of Rawlsian inequalities vs real-world inequalities.

    It seems plausible that such an arrangement would negate many of the concerns about community ties, crime/violence/prison, education, obviously social mobility… potentially even health, life expectancy, drug abuse etc. We aren’t comparing like for like, is my point, and we seem to be considering the difference principle quite apart from the rest of the principles of justice, which may not provide appropriate ground for attacking Rawlsians.

  23. I was careless. I’m not Stuart White, just another Stuart.

  24. Dennis Sceviour

    John Caudwell says, “What’s best for the country enables the Government to look after the poorer members of society”.

    I am not sure what Rawls would say, but I agree it is not egalitarian. I would think what is egalitarian is what enables the poorer members of society is to be able to look after themselves. John Caudwell’s statement is paternalistic.

  25. Re: repugnant conclusion for Rawls. If Osborne were right, then he should be supported, there is nothing repugnant in that. He is not right (in my view) so he should not be supported (and nothing in Rawlsian theory requires supporting someone who is not right). So again your argument is careless.

    Rawls argument is not in terms of money (finacial inequality), that is sleight of hand on your part. It is in terms of all the primary goods (the social bases of self-respect). So if the self-respect of the poor engages with the psychological consequences of financial inequality and those outweigh the benefits, Rawls theory is committed to rejecting financial inequalities.

    In your CRISPP article you say the ‘social bases of self-respect’ is not central to Rawls’ theory. That just shows a lack of respect for all the scholarship on that question.

  26. Re citing Cohen:
    It is not the fact you did not cite him that matters, it is the fact that you seemed unaware that someone actually had an argument against the difference principle which is properly worked out and developed…

  27. As Stuart White, I’d also like to clarify that I am not the Stuart who commented above!

  28. Re. Sal MGarcia

    repugnant conclusion for Rawls. If Osborne were right, then he should be supported, there is nothing repugnant in that

    – there is not anything necessarily repugnant on Rawlsian terms if it makes the worst off better off than anything else. The argument is surely that it is repugnant on egalitarian terms to be committed to supporting a policy which 65% of Tory voters don’t want (I’m quoting Monday’s Newsnight for that figure). It’s not a knock down argument – but should make anything more than a very minimal egalitarian pause for thought vis how egalitarian Rawls is IF they thought Rawlsian principles would find the cut just.

    Re Theo:

    – It is not a damning indictment, but the mark of success, when your opponents are forced to speak in your terms. How else was Osborne going to present dropping the top rate of tax? It was a rhetorical strategy, but the fact that it was necessary doesn’t seem to me to be something Rawlsians should be ashamed of.

    It certainly is a success – for Rawls! But the relevant question is what alternative terms could those people be forced to speak in? In the post-war period Tory politicians and other right-wingers were forced to speak in social democratic terms and by egalitarian standards what happened was pretty great. If Rawlsian terms have replaced these then, simply because he prioritises equality less, the terms of the debate will be less conducive to promoting equality than a more robustly egalitarian alternative.

    (You’re technical points are all fine but I still think the main point is effect Rawlsian vocab has on politics. Basically I think debate in a different vocab would promote justice in his sense far more effectively than debate in his terms would.)

  29. Danny Hutton Ferris: this is again indictment by association. Osborne’s cut is repugnant to egalitarians, therefore, *if* Rawls’ view approved of the cut, then Rawls’ view should be problematic/candidate for rejection by egalitarians.

    This only works if:
    a) Osborne’s cut should be repugnant to egalitarians, on theoretical egalitarian grounds
    b) Rawls’ view would approve Osborne’s inegalitarian cut cut on non-egalitarian grounds

    To make such a claim, then one has to *prove* (a) or (b). Assuming (a), then (b) still needs proving.

    Prioritarianism is not inegalitarian just because it is not a theoretical egalitarian (fully equalising) view, given it is an expression of equal concern and respect. To run prioritarianism together with inegalitarianism is to run together the values (equal concern and respect) at the heart of liberal theory with the further question of how best to express those values (equalise some goods, or prioritise some groups).

  30. Dennis: You say “John Caudwell’s statement is paternalistic.” I agree. But I think that Rawls’s theory is paternalistic too. There is vast textual evidence to support that view.
    Rawls’s idea is alarmingly akin to one of charity (A sort of required charity). But it is supposed to be one of justice. That’s the thing we need to remind ourselves of: that it is allegedly JUST for the one who, because of the difference principle, has more, for him to have more than the other. By extension: It is JUST for Caudwell to have (much!) more, if that is what turns out to be best for the poorest in society.

  31. Sal: yes of course I know that Rawls and Rawlsians try to win back via ‘self-respect’ what they have lost via income and wealth etc. For one (of many) powerful reasons why, see p.477 of the revised edition of Theory of Justice. There, Rawls plainly states that self-respect is won mainly via “the publicly affirmed distribution of fundamental rights and liberties”, NOT via “income share”.

  32. You’re right SalGarcia – my point wasn’t made thoroughly enough and your objection is completely watertight. My hint-at-an-argument at (a) was absolutely a guilt-by-association piece of rhetoric! I won’t bother justifying this – my stuff to theo about the best vocab to achieve Rawlsian justice being non-Rawlsian with is basically a pointer at my reason why I think it was worth going rhetorical to jolt people out of that framework…

    I think my confusion at (b) was because I was taking prioritarianism and egalitarianism as mutually exclusive and was (loosely) taking Rawls as a prioritarian. You’re completely right that it fails if you take prioritarianism as a brand of egalitarianism, which may well be reasonable for reasons you suggest.

    I will be more rigorous next time knowing that you’ll be there to call me up on it!

  33. Its been a while since I was in school and read Rawls, so someone help me out here.

    1. I thought the whole thing about advantaging the most well off as long as it helped the least well off was pretty theoretical. Does it actually come along with an assertion that these things happen on a regular basis? I always assumed it was just a sort of theoretical claim, like, “IF it were the case that legally obliging poor people to give rich people foot rubs would somehow improve the condition of poor people, THEN that would be ethically justified.” You know, an “if/then” claim, not a specific claim that this actually happens frequently.

    2. Isn’t there also an issue of… lets call it “local maximums?” We’ll use that term because I forget what Rawls would have said, and I know math better than philosophy. Lets say that if you leave A, B, C… etc constant, where those things are all facts about our society, then mandatory foot rub provisions for the wealthy genuinely would make the poor better off. Isn’t Rawls still entitled to reject this idea on the grounds that the positive effects for the poor produced by this policy are less than the positive effects for the poor produced by altering A, B, and C?

    So someone might argue, “Giving Richie McRicherson a massive tax break will enable him to hire three more butlers, and that’s good for less well off people. And since the alternative is throwing the money into military adventurism, we should do it.”

    Wouldn’t Rawls be free to say, “Well, that’s fair as far as it goes, but it would be even better to NOT give Richie McRicherson the tax break, and also NOT use the money for military adventurism, but rather use it for some other policy that benefits the least well off moreso than the hiring of additional butlers.”

  34. Rupert Read: “Because we would still be creating a more unequal society; and moreover encouraging people to work themselves to death (high tax rates are a good thing inasmuch as they discourage the culture of overwork which grips societies like ours).”

    So high tax rates are good because they stop people overworking? You have got to be joking. This is possibly the most absurd argument I have ever seen advanced for high tax rates. It is also distinctly illiberal and paternalistic.

    If someone wants to work hard to get more money, or whatever, the state has no business stopping them. In fact, high tax rates may actually make people work harder to compensate for the money the government is taking off them.

    And the UK, which has a large number of people claiming benefits of one sort or another, would not really seem to be an ideal candidate for a society gripped by the “culture of overwork”.

  35. swallerstein (amos)

    I never thought that I’d live to see the day that I agree with something Keith says.

    In any case, Rupert, your argument seems based on an ad hominem fallacy: if Osborne and
    and Caudwell say something, they must be wrong, because they are rightwing.

    I’m on the left myself. The last two times I voted (not in the U.K.) I voted for the Communists in the first round and for the Socialists in the runoff, but I have to confess that at times the right gets it right and we have to examine their arguments as arguments.

  36. Not up on UK politics, but I am up on Rawls. And all I’m seeing here is that, apparently, it is a damning criticism of Rawls that a conservative politician agreed with him about something, or possibly that Rawls’ system actually justified a conservative way of thinking.
    See, this is the kind of problem you get when dogmatic politics runs up against actual philosophy. I don’t much care for Rawls, but the difference principle is a principle about how best to distribute wealth within a society. It’s not a rhetorical club to beat your political opponents over the head with- and it’s not a failure of Rawls or his system that in some particular instance the Left didn’t get to use it that way.

  37. Honestly, this argument is exactly what troubles me about liberalism when it gets in power- this rationality-transcending means-ends approach. Rawls may as well be the Second Coming of Christ to a liberal until (apparently) his views can be used to justify those of a political adversary- then, Rawls is immediately trash and needs to be improved upon. When you come to see truth, reason, morality and everything else as a matter of historical context, and further you see history as a matter of classes struggling for hegemony, there is literally no reason NOT to behave this way.

  38. amos: “I never thought that I’d live to see the day that I agree with something Keith says.”

    Me neither! 😀

    RR: “Anyway: even if the tax take did / does go up, as a result of the abolition of the 50p rate, then it would still be a bad thing to do, to abolish it. Because we would still be creating a more unequal society;…”

    This is another example of illiberal paternalistic thinking. The aim of taxes is to get money so that the state can provide the services deemed required.

    Arguing that the rate should not be dropped even if it brings in more money because (in some sense) it makes a “more unequal society” is using taxes as a means to manipulate society. Further, it is a clear example of a “if I can’t have it, you can’t either” philosophy. It is trying to make society “more equal” by bringing the rich down, rather than the poor up.

    Finally, the use of “repugnant” and “pretty sickening” in arguing this situation is, to me, a fairly clear sign of poor arguments.

  39. I’m also with Keith on this. I just don’t see the problem. If application of the difference principle in some set of circumstances leads to a cut in the highest marginal rates of tax, so what?

    The fact that someone intuitively finds this outcome “sickening” or “repugnant” cuts no more ice with me than when Leon Kass finds reproductive cloning “repugnant”. It’s psychologically interesting that someone feels that way, but it’s hardly a philosophical argument.

    If the idea is that Rawlsian theory it leads to a conclusion (it could sometimes be best to cut higher marginal tax rates) that most reasonable people would find absurd, which seems anaalogous to the point with Parfit’s “repugnant conclusion” in a very different context … well fine, except that the percentages adopted for marginal tax rates are not like that at all. They are precisely the sorts of things on which seemingly reasonable electors differ, and they form the stuff of ordinary non-philosophical politics.

  40. hi Keith. You say “So high tax rates are good because they stop people overworking? You have got to be joking. This is possibly the most absurd argument I have ever seen advanced for high tax rates. It is also distinctly illiberal and paternalistic.”
    Well yes, it isn’t ‘liberal’. I am arguing against liberalism! You can call it ‘paternalistic’ if you like. Kinda like speed-limits, seat-belt laws, etc. …
    [Note also that I find Rawls’s arguments paternalistic in some important respects.]
    Here’s the bottom-line: having a GOVERNMENT IS ‘paternalistic’. And liberals such as Rawls, in their quest for a ‘neutral’ state, disastrously hobble government. Let alone libertarians…
    Now to the ‘high tax rates discourage overwork argument’. It is interesting that you find it ‘absurd’ etc. It is actually pretty obvious and widely understood and respected among relevant experts. We have a culture of insane levels of overwork in this country. One effective way to target such a culture is through increasing taxrates. This is especially obvious in a society where there is ‘positional competition’. Here is a nice mainstream formal presentation of some of these points. I don’t agree with some key aspects of what this author is arguing; but what I do agree with is I think more than sufficient to undermine your rather hasty conclusion that my remark was ‘absurd’:
    http://www.cesifo-group.de/portal/pls/portal/docs/1/1190902.PDF

  41. Keith et al: You aren’t getting it. (I’m not sure you want to?). Have a read of Wilkinson and Pickett, if you want to get a feel for why inequality is INTRINSICALLY a bad thing. This is a central reason why Rawls is wrong: he thinks inequality is in itself pretty harmless. He is wrong.
    As for the whole ‘guilt by association’ meme here: My point is this: there IS something prima facie worrying about a supposedly egalitarian left-compatible philosopher being agreed with by a rightist Chancellor and an ultra-rich capitalist like Caudwell. It is just a _potential_ warning sign. Then one needs to follow through, look closer. Is there a _reason_ for the confluence? I have suggested that there is: what many on the Right have genuinely in common with Rawls is an alleged concern with maximising the lot of the poorest in society.
    It is perfectly within your rights, as some commenters have done, to conclude ‘So what?’ and persist in thinking that it could be a good thing to reduce the 50p tax-rate, ‘even’ for Rawlsians. What this shows is (1) A lack of concern for equality itself as a value (I don’t buy Sal’s argument that prioritarianism is a subtle form of egalitarianism – If you’re an egalitarian, how come you/some are so rich?); & (2) A lack of interest in the possible benefits in health, well-being etc. of discouraging overwork. I think both lacks are regrettable. The crucial one is (1). I think that Rawls has been a complete disaster for the Left in that he has taken our eye off the ball of the value of equality, stressed so beautifully by authors as diverse as Marshall Sahlins and Richard Wilkinson, not to mention Babeuf etc etc. When commenters here say that for all they know reducing the 50p tax rate is a good thing, then it is that disaster that I see reigning triumphant.

  42. Let’s turn for a moment to think about what dropping the 50p tax rate means. It is supposed to bring in more tax because very rich people will work harder (causing more economic growth – and more pollution, etc.). (Interesting isn’t it how to make the rich work harder you pay them more, while to make the poor work harder you pay them less…).
    It is also supposed, crucially, to reduce tax avoidance/evasion. Let’s think about that for a minute. Try this analogy (thanks to Phil Hutchinson for the concept of this): Outlawing child abuse hasn’t stopped child abuse. Do we then adjust the law so as to make it less onerous for child-abusers in the hope that they find compliance more amenable?
    I make no apology for using in my piece words like “sickening”. I think that our society is pretty ill. I think a symptom of that sickness is that we even take seriously arguments like Osborne’s / Caudwell’s – and that our ‘leading’ icon of an ‘egalitarian’ philosopher, the left-most point that is respectable in the dominant paradigm of political philosophy, is John Rawls.

  43. Rupert,

    Your work is certainly interesting enough to deserve a platform here and there seems nothing wrong with occasional ‘announcements’. But presumably when you were invited to blog here it was expected that, like Mike and Russell, you would provide content of substance specially written for the site and not just hastily written adverts for your work elsewhere.

    I do wish you’d use this site primarily to philosophise instead of advertise and I don’t see why readers should be expected to ‘get’ the arguments you don’t make in your posts here.

  44. “When commenters here say that for all they know reducing the 50p tax rate is a good thing, then it is that disaster that I see reigning triumphant.”

    I think that’s rather a caricature of many of our perspectives – as far as I can see, we are broadly saying that Osborne is empirically wrong, that dropping the 50p tax rate is unlikely to result in the economic policy that will make the poorest group as *well off as possible*, and where the argument Osborne made resembles Rawls at all, it was a misleading piece of rhetorical manipulation.

    However, if we were in some strange world in which, despite his intentions, Osborne’s economic policy *did* happen to lead to the *best possible* outcome for the worst off – not just in financial terms, but regarding the full and appropriate range of primary goods – then yes, Rawlsians would (I think) endorse the policy.

    That’s a fair distance from the sort of cosiness with Osborne you are alleging – so it seems to me you are either wrongly characterising Rawls’ position, or, if you still object in my alternate world scenario, that this is very much a partisan attack, and as suggested, a pronouncement of guilt-by-association.

    “Outlawing child abuse hasn’t stopped child abuse. Do we then adjust the law so as to make it less onerous for child-abusers in the hope that they find compliance more amenable?”

    Clearly no – as I analogously stated way at the top of this thread, (and have blogged about prior to this discussion, as you’ll see if you click my name), the right option is to make avoidance/abuse more difficult.

    The more interesting discussion though, regards a situation in which doing that is impossible. I.E. A scenario in which you *knew* that relaxing the legal consequences for abuse would, for some reason, actually reduce it, whilst increasing the statutory punishments and financing the authorities better would, for whatever other reason, either be counterproductive or make no difference.

    What matters to you – actually reducing child abuse, or having nominally harsh punishments for offenders?

    What matters to you – actually putting the poorest in the best position possible, or nominally higher taxes for the rich, even if they don’t actually pay them?

    That, fortunately, isn’t the scenario we face – but it seems (correct me if I’m wrong) that you are aligning yourself with the positions that manifest worse outcomes for the groups that suffer the most, for the sake of a symbolic legal commitment to equality?

  45. Theo; if the way in question of actually reducing overall child abuse was by increasing the amount of legal child abuse then yes, I would find that unacceptable.

  46. In terms of my ‘symbolic’ commitment to equality; well, symbols are important, but I am talking about a lot more than ‘merely’ symbols. I am talking about concrete reasons for favouring a more equal society: because a less equal society is less of a society; because a less equal society makes everyone worse off in all sorts of ways; because a less equal society specifically encourages positional competition, overwork, etc.

  47. Jim; it is quite ridiculous to describe this post as a “hastily written advert for my work elsewhere”. The only thing of mine that I referred to in this post was another blog piece.
    This post was a topical comment on a political issue with an important bearing on political philosophy. if that isn’t appropriate for a philosophy BLOG, then I don’t know what is.
    When I want to write work suitable for submission to peer-reviewed journals, that is what I will do (and what I do do).
    Kindly be a bit kinder to fellow authors.

  48. Rupert,

    Kindly stop being so cheeky in using this site primarily to post advertising features for your books and so on and make the effort to write self-contained substantial posts if you want to also use it for that. I’m not suggesting blogs need to be of peer-reviewed ‘article’ quality but all the other authors go to the trouble of providing substantial original content for the site. That, I think, is the general idea and should be the norm.

    If you don’t have time to write anything of substance for TP then perhaps you should stick to the other blogs you do have time to write for?

  49. Rupert- Philosophy simply is not for what you seem to think it’s for. It is not a ‘potential warning sign’ that your political opponents find an opportunity to agree with a philosopher you (used to?) like. EVERYBODY should be agreeing with a philosopher as influential and important as Rawls from time to time- and I’m saying this as a critic of Rawls.

  50. Ryan – of course everybody should agree with Rawls from time to time, about all sorts of things (e.g. maybe about his criticisms of Utilitarianism, his thinking about rules, his idea of reflective equilibrium, etc.). But I repeat: when his political CONCLUSIONS are hard to distinguish from the conclusions of politicians etc on the Right, then that is prima facie worrying – if one wants as a Leftist or an egalitarian to use his philosophy, etc.

  51. Jim – kindly stop being so rude.
    The idea that Rawls and the cutting of the 50p taxrate might be related is pretty clearly original enough to have got plenty of people commenting and thinking about it, for and against.

  52. swallerstein (amos)

    Rupert:

    The fact that lots of people are commenting on an idea hardly shows that it’s a good idea.

    Maybe you set the precedent for the rudeness back at the beginning when you spoke certain ideas, which are held by many prominent philosophers, as being “sickening”.

  53. Rupert:
    “when his political CONCLUSIONS are hard to distinguish from the conclusions of politicians etc on the Right, then that is prima facie worrying – if one wants as a Leftist or an egalitarian to use his philosophy, etc.”

    To use his philosophy FOR WHAT? As I’ve said, if your primary goal is to be a Leftist egalitarian, and Rawls’ philosophy is a tool in your toolbox for advancing that cause, then yes, Rawls’ position occasionally justifying a conservative idea will be problematic for you. But that’s purely a tactical, political consideration, not a philosophical one.

    Rationally speaking, philosophically speaking, that people on both ends of a political spectrum find value in Rawls’ work is an ENDORSEMENT of his positions, not a criticism of them.

  54. When it comes to political philosophy, it seems to me dangerously naive to think of any such philosophy as not … political…
    Rawls’s thinking is in my view and that of others (see e.g. Raymond Geuss) in practice a kind of ‘utopian apologia’ for the radically liberal states that are to a large extent presiding over our current political systems and norms.
    Political philosophy is political.

  55. To the socialist, EVERYTHING is political, so I don’t know if you’re trying to say something more than tautological or not. All I can do is restate the obvious- when even conservatives can agree with Rawls, it makes Rawls’ position stronger, not weaker. Rawls’ position is only ‘worse’ insofar as it exists as a weapon for you to defeat your political opponents. Yes, it is less effective for that end than you expected it to be. I see no reason to believe that was ever Rawls’ intention, though.

  56. It is no criticism of Rawls that his works are not a good means to your ends, if he did not share your ends when he set out to create his works. Period.

  57. Dennis Sceviour

    Re: S.Wallerstein,
    I agree, and so does Camus:

    “Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators.” — Albert Camus

  58. Ryan – But I am not primarily concerned with Rawls’s ends. Rather, with those who appeal to him to argue for Leftist etc. goals. The disaster is when those goals then get tacitly suborned by the alley that Rawlsian thinking sends such people down.

  59. Swallerstein – I think you are right that it was not particularly wise of me to use the term “sickening”. The term came from anger. I should have edited it out before posting. Apologies if that led some readers down a path of anger themselves.
    You are right that I would be on better ground in criticising others for rudeness if I had refrained from using that term!

  60. Dennis; I don’t accept that I have written obscurely here. I think rather I have written provocatively. That was intentional.

  61. Dennis Sceviour

    Rupert,
    The Camus quotation was directed at S.Wallerstein, but in its message, there is something for everyone.

    From a non-judgemental distance, I find the commentaries biased rather than provocative. The discussion falls into the category of economic philosophy with the assumption that politics ought to control economics. I know nothing about British tax rates (other than everyone complains).

    It is strange that the British are still arguing about distributive justice. Centuries ago, Malthus denounced state welfare systems as designed to keep people poor. Was Rawls Difference Principle designed to find a middle ground between different political approaches to the British state welfare system?

  62. Ah I see, sorry, Dennis, I hadn’t understood your comment. I get it now.

  63. swallerstein (amos)

    http://occupytheairwaves.com/ep6

    The fact that Rawls’ work can be used by people on the right and those on the left, as Ryan points out above, is not a sin and is true of many great political thinkers: Machiavelli, Locke, Hegel, Mill, Weber and Arendt among others.

    The link is about Rawls and is from the Occupy Wall Street group, who are surely representatives of the left. The Occupy Wall Street people see Rawls as a source of inspiration.

  64. swallerstein (amos)

    Rupert:

    Reading the comments section in the Occupy Wall Street link that I sent, I see that you’ve been there too.

    Maybe Rawls is too “American” for your tastes.

    Lots of people on the left believe in the “American dream”, even if you don’t.

  65. Indeed 😉
    I think that the idea that Rawls might be a hero of the Occupy movement is tragic, for reasons implied in those comments of mine on the post in question.
    Along with a few other souls (e.g. Nigel Pleasants, Phil Hutchinson, Raymond Geuss) I am trying to turn around the super-tanker of deep-set belief in Rawls as an inspiration for / philosopher for the Left / Greens / egalitarians.

  66. @Rupert-“Theo; if the way in question of actually reducing overall child abuse was by increasing the amount of legal child abuse then yes, I would find that unacceptable.”

    After re-reading much of this discussion, it seems that this attitude is what confuses me most about your stance. It seems to me like you’re all to willing to cut off your nose to spite your face.

    Is not the goal to find what actually works? When it comes to child abuse, is it not more important to actually curb child abuse? You only endorse ideas that seem Left enough for you, even if those ideas lead to results that are the opposite of what you want?

    I can understand some romantic sentiments towards equality, but it seems to me that, if by trying to achieve equal economic status among everyone, we actually make everyone worse off than they would be if we didn’t care so much about equality…well, then we’re worse off, obviously.

    I’m pretty damn poor. I live at levels below the poverty line here in America (I know that that is still a far cry from destitute) but I’m having a hard time understanding how it would be better for me and everyone else if we were all equally poor. If it is true that one of the benefits of systems that lead to stratified income levels is that conditions for the worst off are raised, then screw economic equality. At least, that’s my perspective as someone close to the bottom. More wealth for everyone (not just monetary gains, but REAL wealth) is better than everyone being equally poor.

  67. The trouble with a word like “sickening” isn’t so much that it’s rude (though using it did, perhaps, set a bad tone from the start). It’s that it falls flat.

    The argument in the original post seems to be something like.

    P1. The idea that we should lower marginal tax rates is sickening.
    P2. If the idea that we should lower marginal tax rates is sickening then we should never, in any circumstances, lower marginal tax rates.
    P3. If Rawlsian theory is correct, then we should sometimes, in some circumstances, lower marginal tax rates.
    C1. We should never, in any circumstances, lower marginal tax rates. (From P1. and P2. by modus ponens)
    C. Rawlsian theory is not correct (From P3. and C1. by modus tollens)

    This is a valid argument, but a lot more needs to be said to support P1. and P2. The fact that you find something sickening does not mean that it is objectively sickening (whatever that could mean). And even if something is objectively sickening, a lot more needs to be said to support P2. It seems that P2. needs an entire moral theory to support it.

    And the post seems to rely on evidence for P3. But P3 was never controversial in the first place.

    In your comments you’ve given independent reasons for reasons for C1. I don’t find them very persuasive, but at least you give them. However they don’t appear in the original post, which seems to rely on a claim that of course people agree with P1. and P2. – in which case the unexpected revelation of P3. will make them abandon Rawlsian theory.

  68. RR: “Well yes, it isn’t ‘liberal’. I am arguing against liberalism! You can call it ‘paternalistic’ if you like. Kinda like speed-limits, seat-belt laws, etc. … Here’s the bottom-line: having a GOVERNMENT IS ‘paternalistic’. And liberals such as Rawls, in their quest for a ‘neutral’ state, disastrously hobble government.”

    All you are doing here is stating YOUR opinion on arguable points. Although, in some sense, ANY government may be perceived as “paternalistic” there are clearly degrees of “paternalism”: it is not yes/no (paternalism).

    RR: “It is actually pretty obvious and widely understood and respected among relevant experts. We have a culture of insane levels of overwork in this country.”

    You provide no evidence that there are “insane levels of overwork” in the UK. Why should I simply accept your claim on this point? I have, for instance, seen statements that “Nearly one in eight British households has no-one in work, the highest of all major EU countries. Part of the blame is placed on a welfare system that means the unemployed are often better off on state benefits.”

    That doesn’t sound like “insane levels of overwork” to me. Of course, some people may be working more, or harder, than you think wise but so the **** what?

    RR: “Here is a nice mainstream formal presentation of some of these points. I don’t agree with some key aspects of what this author is arguing; but what I do agree with is I think more than sufficient to undermine your rather hasty conclusion that my remark was ‘absurd’.”

    No, I am not going off to read some piece written by someone else which you agree with some parts of but not others. If you want to argue a point, make the arguments yourself.

    Perhaps a high tax rate does cause some people to work less but I have also read statements that the high UK tax rate causes people to move to other countries. So the rate of “overwork” may decrease because those who “overwork” have gone somewhere else.

    In any case, I stand by my original conclusion that having a high tax rate to stop people “overworking” is an absurd argument.

  69. RR: “Keith et al: You aren’t getting it. (I’m not sure you want to?). Have a read of Wilkinson and Pickett, if you want to get a feel for why inequality is INTRINSICALLY a bad thing.”

    Why should I/we have to “get it”? Or not “get it”? (I’m not in the UK and wouldn’t be in that tax bracket so, from a practical perspective, have no stake in the issue.)

    And, no, as in my last post, I am not going off to read stuff written by other people in an attempt to understand what you are saying.

    RR: “This is a central reason why Rawls is wrong: he thinks inequality is in itself pretty harmless. He is wrong.”

    That’s a claim, not an argument. Just because you say something is wrong, or bad, does not make it so.

    RR: “What this shows is (1) A lack of concern for equality itself as a value (I don’t buy Sal’s argument that prioritarianism is a subtle form of egalitarianism – If you’re an egalitarian, how come you/some are so rich?).”

    But what do you mean by “equality itself as a value”? It is, to me, a huge leap to suggest that making a tax rate a bit lower is evidence of “a lack of concern for equality”; especially as you don’t articulate exactly what you mean by that very ambiguous and loaded term.

    RR: “(2) A lack of interest in the possible benefits in health, well-being etc. of discouraging overwork.”

    But now you’ve changed your claim to just the “POSSIBLE benefits in health, well-being etc” of reducing “overwork”. Even here, however, you are making claims which you do not substantiate. What actually is “overwork”? And, for instance, stopping someone working in their office (as an example), doesn’t actually stop them “working”. And how do you define “well-being”?

    RR: “When commenters here say that for all they know reducing the 50p tax rate is a good thing, then it is that disaster that I see reigning triumphant.”

    But, as far as I can see, you are arguing backwards. You have a conclusion — “reducing the 50 p tax rate…is a disaster” — and you are desperately advancing arguments to try and support this conclusion.

    At this point, I can repeat Russell Blackford’s point:

    “…except that the percentages adopted for marginal tax rates are not like that at all. They are precisely the sorts of things on which seemingly reasonable electors differ, and they form the stuff of ordinary non-philosophical politics.

    Reasonable people, who are concerned about the disadvantaged (I’m not going to say “equality” because that word can be interpreted in many different, and unequal, ways), can conclude that it there would be advantages to reducing the highest tax rate. It would be a policy change which would have advantages and disadvantages which could sensibly be evaluated and compared.

    On the other hand, your insistence that reducing it would be a “disaster” seems more like an instinctive, emotional desire to “stick it to the rich”, if I can put it like that.

  70. Go Russell Blackford – I think this discussion was crying out for that moment of sanity!

  71. Rupert,
    “Ryan – But I am not primarily concerned with Rawls’s ends. Rather, with those who appeal to him to argue for Leftist etc. goals. The disaster is when those goals then get tacitly suborned by the alley that Rawlsian thinking sends such people down.”

    Yes, you are effectively taking a hammer and criticizing it on the grounds that it’s not very good for turning screws. Useful for other people who were on the cusp of making that silly mistake, but not useful for either the manufacturer of the hammer, or people who already know what they are for.

  72. Michael F – Read Wilkinson and Pickett. It IS better for us all to equally poor than for some of us to be slightly less poor and a few of us to be very rich.

  73. Keith; I am not going to trouble with most of your rather unpleasant and deliberately-uncomprehending points. It is just silly to constantly claim that I am just making allegedly unfounded claims. I have put together a position across this comment-string. If you don’t want to understand that, then that’s your problem.
    I will just comment on one particularly egregious comment of yours:

    >>You provide no evidence that there are “insane levels of overwork” in the UK. Why should I simply accept your claim on this point? I have, for instance, seen statements that “Nearly one in eight British households has no-one in work, the highest of all major EU countries. Part of the blame is placed on a welfare system that means the unemployed are often better off on state benefits.”
    That doesn’t sound like “insane levels of overwork” to me. Of course, some people may be working more, or harder, than you think wise but so the **** what?<<

    Of course I am not claiming that the unemployed are working insanely hard!! What we have in Britain is a culture of extraordinary levels of overwork (see e.g. Jean Lambert's I MUST WORK HARDER) _combined_ with quite high unemployment. A particularly noxious combination. Thus for instance NEF's recent interesting call for a 21 hour working week.

  74. Ryan; I have no problem with your comment, if it serves the same purpose as mine: of suggesting that there is something wrong with thinking of Rawls as a Leftist / egalitarian thinker. But the fact is that that is the standard view of Rawls. That is why it is worth disputing!

  75. Russell, your ‘translation’ is something of a caricature. I think something like P1 IN THE SITUATION THAT WE ARE IN NOW. _Not_ for all time – I never argued for C1.
    Missing from your ‘translation’ are a number of my key points: the independent value of equality, the harms done by inequality, the harms done by incentivising work (we normally only ever here about the good side of incentivising work).

  76. swallerstein (amos)

    Rupert:

    I have not read TSL and I have seen the book criticized, but let’s assume for a moment that the book is gospel truth.

    Does the book show that all inequality is harmful or that great levels of inequality are harmful?

    If the former, then Rawls is refuted, but if the latter, not necessarily so, because there may be levels of inequality which are not harmful and which at the same time are beneficial to the poorest members of society in terms of increasing their real wealth and goods.

  77. RR: “Michael F – Read Wilkinson and Pickett. It IS better for us all to equally poor than for some of us to be slightly less poor and a few of us to be very rich”

    Again, you are telling us to go off and read what someone else has written. And that what you are saying is correct.

    Make arguments here.

  78. swallerstein (amos)

    Here’s the Wikipedia article on The Spirit Level.

    It outlines the pro’s and con’s and has some links.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spirit_Level:_Why_More_Equal_Societies_Almost_Always_Do_Better

  79. There is also a good programme about the Spirit Level here (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00tgwz7) which puts the difficult criticisms to the authors. More or Less is easily the most informative progamme on British Politics when it deals with it and if they are sceptical about the statistical methods in the Spirit Level I am probably willing to refrain from drawing on it to support any arguments! I imagine there might well be something to its central thesis if the methodology was better though…

    p.s. Ryan Smith I’ve responded to you in particular in my blog post pingedback (or is it pingbacked?) above

  80. Thanks swallerstein. My case is that there is no ‘lower bound’ set out by W&P to the benefits of reducing inequality – i.e. their argument is suggestive of the benefits being indefinitely extensible, the more inequality is reduced. (See also Sahlins on this.)

  81. swallerstein (amos)

    Rupert:

    I listened to this online talk by Richard Wilkinson:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

    Wilkinson does not claim that we should strive for zero inequality. Rather he cites societies with less inequality, Denmark, Sweden, Japan and shows that they have fewer social problems than societies with more inequality, the U.S. and the U.K.

    The fact (I’ll accept that it’s a fact for the moment) that societies like Denmark with less inequality have fewer social problems than those with more inequality like the U.S. does not entail that with zero inequality we would have fewer social problems than with the level of inequality now found in Denmark.

    It merely entails that we should strive for a society similar to Denmark, and I more or less agree with that.

  82. Rupert, you say: Missing from your ‘translation’ are a number of my key points: the independent value of equality, the harms done by inequality, the harms done by incentivising work (we normally only ever here about the good side of incentivising work).

    But I’m struggling to see these points in you original argument. I did mention that you make such points on the thread, though I find them unpersuasive (e.g. it is not at all obvious that equality itself has any independent and intrinsic value, just because you value it).

    In any event the whole argument falls apart unless something like C1. is being relied upon, whether explicitly or tacitly.

    You could alter P1., P2., and C1., so that they say “in current circumstances in my country”. But then you also have to change P3 so it says that Rawlsian theory says that tax rates should be lowered “in current circumsatances in my country”. Surely, though, there’s no reason to think that the altered P3. is true just because some rich person has asserted it is. And if it actually is true (perhaps an unlikely event), then a Rawlsian could quite unashamedly say that tax cuts are reasonable and justified in current circumstances in your country after all, and simply deny P1. and/or P2.

    I guess your main point is that Rawlsian theory cannot be trusted to produce highly egalitarian outcomes, measured in dollars/eros/pounds, etc. (as opposed to, say, utiles or primary social goods). Therefore, people who want highly egalitarian outcomes in dollars, etc., should look for another theory.

    That much may be true – I don’t deny it – although my suspicion (I don’t claim it is more than that) is that Rawlsian theory applied to the facts usually will produce quite egalitarian outcomes, however measured. That suspicion is based on a further (more than a) suspicion that high levels of inequality will undermine access to primary social goods at the socio-economic bottom, by producing relationships of subordination and exclusion. Thus Rawlsians will usually, I suspect, have reasons to redistribute wealth and compress economic inqualities.

  83. Russell, your exposition was clearly prejudicial; it was designed in its wording to make what I was saying look silly. I don’t find that very creditable.
    Your last point of course has something to it; there are other elements of Rawls’s byzantinely complex view that militate against extreme inequality. But the issue I was raising is that the difference principle itself does not so militate (as I argue in my CRISPP piece); and that Rawls completely misses the independent positive arguments FOR equality.
    The very fact that Rawlsians often argue “unashamedly” for grave inequalities is, in this context, the very reason for my attack on Rawlsianism.

Leave a Comment


NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>