An interesting thought experiment by American philosopher John Rawls demonstrates the morality of a more socialistic version of Capitalism
I’ve been writing here, at The Personal Financier, for over a year and a half now. My skepticism regarding Capitalism as the best economic system, or lesser evil, should be quite familiar to my regular readers. Still, when at times I offer a more socialistic approach in my posts the comments are not late to follow.
It seems our solid conviction in the morality of Capitalism is deeply rooted in us. While pure Capitalism or the more extreme free market variations might have taken a blow recently, our indisputable belief in unadulterated Capitalism remains unscathed, not without just cause.
Capitalism has proved to be a shining beacon in the darkness of earlier economic approaches and has allowed men and women to fully express their potential. Still, we cannot ignore the destructive side-effects our economic system has on social equality (or inequality) and the erosion of the middle class which is the foundation to any solid economy.
There is no need to elaborate on the destructive force of more extreme versions of capitalism as we are witnessing, first hand, the results of greed which “pure” or unregulated capitalism leads to. Obviously the human factor is to blame and not the system, but shouldn’t systems be designed to contain our human flaws?
The intuitive appeal of a more socialistic approach
Imagine a disabled person, say blind or handicapped in some fashion. Would you agree that it is society’s moral obligation to support such a person? I’m sure that by support the majority would agree that basic sustenance such as a decent roof over one’s head, clothes, food and decent medical care are all very reasonable considering the financial capabilities of our western governments.
To take this discussion one step further, to a more risky area, we have to consider the following arguments which I believe to be true:
1. Not all individuals are created equal.
2. Not all individuals, even if are created equal, have equal opportunity.
The socialistic point of view I wish to discuss is such that will, accordingly:
1. Assure the basic needs of all human beings
2. Strive to create equal opportunity
Obviously I can hear the comments in my head already. Why should the lazy and careless live off my taxes? It is a bit more complicated than that but to put it very clearly and basically:
I believe the state of affair where several “freeloaders” enjoy basic sustenance on “our” expense is preferable to a state of affairs where the unfortunate, of which some are lazy and others have had it bad, are taken care off.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating extreme equality and I believe the relationship between ability, effort and personal gain should be rewarded to make any sort of progress. I would, however, like to make sure the less fortunate are living with minimal dignity.
Before this discussion gets more complicated I’d like to present John Rawls Veil of Ignorance which I believe is a very powerful and intuitive thought experiment that contributes to this discussion greatly.
John Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance
John Rawls was a contemporary American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. Much like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes Rawls set out to discuss the “state of nature” or the hypothetical human condition prior to the foundation of the state and the state.
While Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature is a savage war of every man against every man Rawls uses a thought experiment to demonstrate his concept of the state of nature.
Rawls suggests that at the state of nature it is reasonable to assume the talented and strong would be able to coerce others (the weak). To overcome this “evolutionary” problem Rawls sets up the “original position” and asks us to put ourselves behind a veil of ignorance which deprives us of any information regarding ourselves and others placing us all in an equal, conscious starting point for the discussion in the social contract which we are all interested in.
Rawls argues that the representative parties in the original position would select two principles of justice (as a result of the veil of ignorance regarding their actual positions):
1. Each citizen is guaranteed a fully adequate scheme of basic liberties, which is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all others;
Even the most egotistical would like to assure their basic rights, unknowing what their actual position is (talented and strong or weak).
2. Social and economic inequalities must satisfy two conditions:
- to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged (maximin rule);
- attached to positions and offices open to all. The reason that the least well off member gets benefited is that it is assumed that under the veil of ignorance, under original position, people will be risk averse. This implies that everyone is afraid of being part of the poor members of society, so the social contract is constructed to help the least well off members (Wikipedia)
And sympathy is what we need…
Rawls thought experiment is powerful. It forces the thinker to consider himself in someone else’s shoes and evokes sympathy. And as the song goes: …sympathy is what we need my friends …
I’m anxious to read your great comments.