John Rawls's Difference Principle - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#14189522
If I have understood John Rawls's "Difference Principle" correctly it is that inequality of wealth, for instance, is not a bad thing per se, so long as the least well off benefit. That is, everyone must benefit but not necessarily by equal amounts.

Stanford Encyclopedia on Philsophy's entry on Distributive Justice wrote:The Difference Principle permits diverging from strict equality so long as the inequalities in question would make the least advantaged in society materially better off than they would be under strict equality.


In other words, if the richest 1% see an increase in their wealth, say, by a factor of 5 and the poorest 1% also see an increase in their wealth, however, by a smaller factor, say, 1.5 - then this scenario ought to be, according to Rawls, a-okay.

Thus, it appears to me that Rawlsian liberals, qua Rawlsian, shouldn't care about the magnitude of inequality, or how big the gini coefficient of the country is, so long as the "the least advantaged in society materially better off than they would be under strict equality".

Is this a fair interpretation of Rawls's "Difference Principle"?
#14189540
Admittedly I know nothing about Rawls.

My message to the elite is this: if you want so badly to run the world, then by god you had better run it.

I have no objection to wealth, no matter how fantastic, as long as the elites do their duty. Since they have worked diligently to make themselves masters of the liberal state, they now have saddled themselves with a positive obligation to insure that every person who is willing to work is provided a job in a timely fashion and access to the basic necessities.

If they are good stewards in this respect, I would willingly cede them their lust for power. If they fail this obligation, or worse reject it, they must needs be lined up against a brick wall to receive their just due.
#14189544
quetzalcoatl, I think you have misunderstood my post, it does not concern the "elite" (read: rich) running the world.

My post concerns whether Rawlsian liberals, qua Rawlsian, object to inequality, a fortiori increasing inequality, under the "difference principle" because it appears they shouldn't object if they are to commit themselves to such a principle.

I imagine most of the people who describe themselves as "liberal" on this forum are Rawlsian liberals and thus I am eager to hear from them. Your talk about shooting the rich if they fail their duty (which is what, precisely? To exploit the workers?), is unsurprising since you describe yourself as a socialist, and thus not a liberal.
#14190415
Soixante-Retard wrote: "the least advantaged in society materially better off than they would be under strict equality".

I think anyone would support this statement, no matter their ideology. It's pretty much a mantra for how much you care about people - do you actually want them to be better off? Or are you more concerned with just fighting your imagined enemy, etc. The idea of strict equality however is that the poorest would be massively better off. If it is arguable that the richer groups in society are in some way causing that poverty, then redistribution becomes the obvious step in order to liberate those suffering, and prevent the aggressors from their continued reign. Society is not presently established to allow equality of opportunity, and so without speaking for Rawls, I think his liberalism can only be taken in light of a society that would reflect that potential. Due to this, it is hard to consider it in light to modern liberalism, as we are so very divided across the usual economic conclusions of both right and left.

As for individual liberals? It will all depend on how they interpret their liberalism. I happen to agree with quetzalcoatl on a lot of things, and am very much to the left of many more economically focused liberals. I have no issues with wealth inequality, I'm more interested in the method to which people have earned that wealth. I have no issue with people being rich, just as long as their riches have come from honest work, without exploitation, coercion, or anything that might negatively effect those around them. I am also quite happy to take that wealth, and give it to those who are not going to be able to benefit from the Capitalist system. Do I agree with Rawls? I'm more interested to find out if Rawls agrees with me! Because your interpretation of modern economics could lead you down a path of all-but- communism, or total libertarianism, and still agree with Rawls on distributive justice and income difference.
#14190508
First off I think that you're not 100% correct. If there is enormous inequality then that serves as more of a justification to go about redistributing wealth, albeit with the provisos built into the principle.

Second off I don't like this approach all that much because I find both equality and inequality silly ways of dealing with economics .
#14198252
Quercus Robur wrote:Second off I don't like this approach all that much because I find both equality and inequality silly ways of dealing with economics


But Rawls's approach is not about economics. It is about justice. Economics, under this conception, needs to function under publicly acceptable conditions of justice.


Soixante-Regard wrote:If I have understood John Rawls's "Difference Principle" correctly it is that inequality of wealth, for instance, is not a bad thing per se, so long as the least well off benefit. That is, everyone must benefit but not necessarily by equal amounts.


I think your description is fairly accurate. All I would add is that the difference principle is not to be taken by itself. It is to be considered as it relates to the conditions of justice as fairness, where a public conception of justice, arrived at under "fair conditions", guides democratically oriented institutions. So if inequality leads to situations of political domination, Rawls would not be a-okay with that. Political institutions must be in place to ensure political participation for the public functioning of democratic political life. So the difference principle, which means that any inequality in primary goods results in the greatest benefit to the least advantaged, is something that rational persons would consent to under the "original position" where a "veil of ignorance"--which hides all socially contingent aspects of agents--treats all as free and equal persons. So, for example, if I did not know whether or not I was poor or rich, I would only want to consent to political and economic institutions that would benefit me the most if I were poor--in other words under a "veil of ignorance" the difference principle is rational and always benefits the least advantaged.

I think the most problematic aspect of this theory of justice is that it universalizes the conditions under which one would think in such abstract terms: academic conditions of existence. In real life political interaction has influences beyond our conscious control and motivations that we cannot and will not simply hide under a "veil of ignorance". I also don't see how, starting from the abstract point of the original position, how a conception of justice ever gets off the ground unless we know a little bit about our own positions and kind of society we live in.
#14203427
Soixante-Retard wrote:In other words, if the richest 1% see an increase in their wealth, say, by a factor of 5 and the poorest 1% also see an increase in their wealth, however, by a smaller factor, say, 1.5 - then this scenario ought to be, according to Rawls, a-okay.

Thus, it appears to me that Rawlsian liberals, qua Rawlsian, shouldn't care about the magnitude of inequality, or how big the gini coefficient of the country is, so long as the "the least advantaged in society materially better off than they would be under strict equality".

Is this a fair interpretation of Rawls's "Difference Principle"?


Price inflation prevents this from occurring in reality. If one group is accumulating wealth at an immense rate while another is crawling along, the purchasing power of the individuals within the group crawling along will decline due to price inflation. Wealth inequality is a problem, not due to the size of the piles that each has, but due to the inequality in the rate of expansion among them. Inflation kills the people who aren't growing.
#14224428
"inequality of wealth, for instance, is not a bad thing per se, so long as the least well off benefit"

I find this enigmatic, but maybe it is because I have not read Rawls and am misunderstanding it. Obviously this calls for wealth redistribution to be progressive. That's fine, I don't have a problem with that. However, what are the practical applications of such a principle in which a poor person must always benefit more? It seems like a bit of a naive principle because it is so simply stated. What if a poor person benefits from an instance separate from having wealth redistributed? It's certainly possible.

Furthermore, I venture to ask why this debate is still going on? I think it is obvious that the rich should be taxed more but it isn't going to directly create "social justice" (and no I do not consider myself Marxist or a hardcore socialist). We should be talking about ways to bring different people together to manufacture a common agreement to most people's benefit within a community, not JUST throw the money around...
#14227950
I think your understanding of Rawls is right to some extent but there is a point missing

Yiour understanding of Rawls is right that the difference principle allows unequal rewards to the rich provided that the poor are also made better off. Its must therefore be okay according to Rawls if the rich get a big increase and the poor a small one. This makes sense more generally.

However I think Rawls would argue that it would be better still if the rich had a smaller reward and the poor a larger reward.

So in your example the big reward to the rich need to be of benefit to the poor and be the best way of benefiting the poorest.
#14228005
Man this has been said a lot of times but ill repeat myself. Rawlses difference principle is not supportative of tricke down economics (Rich grow 5% and the poor grow 1.5% so all grow thats awesome?). Difference principle allows inequality in the case, where there 'worst off' are the benefactor. So in his difference principle its okay for the poor too grow 5% while the rich will grow 1.5% but not the other way around. In a sense it compensates for the 'what the worst off have not' if the society permits it. Also this is not just money related, if somebody has not read rawls. It a principle of distribution of everything, like his main principle for example.
Last edited by JohnRawls on 05 May 2013 00:53, edited 1 time in total.
#14228012
Ok. Because of my empirical outlook, a "theory of justice" is useless unless a person can back it up with practical applications in my opinion.
#14228025
Its called a theory of justice for a reason you know But it is applicable to the modern society.

Anyways to put it as simply as possible, justice in a country must be considered from an impartial position. If we forget who we are at the moment and what we are, our social class or intelegence our strength etc then we can formulate a position or structure that is fair for all because we will not tailor the rules for a given group. That is called a veil of ignorance in his works, i cant put it any simpler then this. This is taken as the starting point of his work.

Now moving on, since we dont know anything about ourself under the veil, there are some ground rules that we need to lay out for the society which everybody must absolutely have without question. That is called basic liberties. So everybody has access to basic liberties. Sounds fair enough?

The second principle states that when you have access to basic liberties(again this is not only liberties in the classical sense but to many other things beyond that), then how do we distribute everything else ? Rawls believes that everybody must have not only the RIGHT to participate for any other benefit of the society but also have equal chance to recieve it if his natural abilities are the same.

Then again, rawls understands that inequalities do exist in the modern world, so we should limit the inequalities in our societies to the ones that serve the worst off not the best off because its not 'fair' when the society gets more benefits while the worst off recieve a lot less. By guaranteeing the worst-off in society a fair deal, Rawls compensates for naturally-occurring inequalities (talents that one is born with, such as a capacity for sport).

Also Rawlses ideas need to be considered with Social Contract in mind when all parties are here to find a peacefull way of coexistance of sorts which is acceptable for everybody.
#14228207
JohnRawls wrote:in [Rawls's] difference principle its okay for the poor too grow 5% while the rich will grow 1.5% but not the other way around.
My interpretation of Rawls's difference principle is that both scenarios are compatible with the principle.

Soixante-Retard wrote:everyone must benefit but not necessarily by equal amounts.
#14228210
Soix

Yes.

It may seem unlikely that the only way to increase the poors welfare is to allow a very much bigger increase in the wealth held by the very rich but if we being purely hypothetical that does seem consistent with Rawls' method.
#14228229
My interpretation of Rawls's difference principle is that both scenarios are compatible with the principle.


They can in some cases because speaking in rawlses terms he doesnt mean only money is how i should have put it. For example money wise, if somebodies salaries grow 5% while the least advantaged grow 1.5% this is inequality. But for example if a manufacturer purchases more efficient production machine that are more clean and help his workers be healthy, then its okay. Since although the best off is growing in a sense of production and asset numbers but the workers recieve also more by having more health and being productive themselves a lot more.
#14236378
trombonepolitician wrote:Ok I think I understand. What did Rawls advocate in regards to political economy?

Rawls thought that two systems might be compatible with the two principles of justice:

1) A property-owning democracy
or
2) liberal socialism


This might be interesting as well.And don't forget to take a look at this.
#14253443
The problem with the original post is that you take Rawls' principle to be one of economic distribution. Whilst that plays a part it is far from the whole. If a 5% increase in the wealth of the richest increases the weth of the poorest by 1.5% from a purely economic standpoint Rawls would accept that. But economic goods are not the sole goods. A policy that leads to such a distribution might well be rejected by a Rawlsian polity because inequality of that magnitude may be seen as causing more harm than good. Inequality may be deemed to harm the self respect of the poorest in the society and may be considered to have a questionable impact on institutions.

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