Friday, July 6, 2012

Luck totalitarianism and the "accidents of nature"

As I set out to read John Rawls' words, this was what struck me more than anything else - "natural lottery". So yet another progressive thinks we need a centrally planned state. Big deal. What sets Rawls apart is that he charted a whole new course and formulated a whole new conception, which is still being taught in universities to this day. In "A Theory of Justice", on page 73, Rawls writes the following:
Free market arrangements must be set within a framework of political and legal institutions which regulates the overall trends of economic events and preserves the social conditions necessary for fair equality of opportunity. The elements of this framework are familiar enough, though it may be worthwhile to recall the importance of preventing excessive accumulations of property and wealth and of maintaining equal opportunities of education for all. Chances to acquire cultural knowledge and skills should not depend upon one’s class position, and so the school system, whether public or private, should be designed to even out class barriers.

While the liberal conception seems clearly preferable to the system of natural liberty, intuitively it still appears defective. For one thing, even if it works to perfection in eliminating the influence of social contingencies, it still permits the distribution of wealth and income to be determined by the natural distribution of abilities and talents. Within the limits allowed by the background arrangements, distributive shares are decided by the outcome of the natural lottery; and this outcome is arbitrary from a moral perspective. There is no more reason to permit the distribution of income and wealth to be settled by the distribution of natural assets than by historical and social fortune.

Hows this for a dangerous tyrannical idea? If you're born into the wrong family, you should be punished for it. There is of course more, I hope others will follow the various links and read on. Rawls doesn't fully lay out his thoughts on the "natural lottery" in A Theory of Justice under that specific banner, watch the language shift. Like all progressives, they play word games. Later on in the book, he develops his thoughts under the concept of "desert".[By "moral desert", he means what you've earned. Think of the phrase "get one's just deserts and get one's just reward(s)"] He uses other phrases as well, which I will bring up. What he's doing is striking at the very heart of "earning" and "private property" by questioning the very beginnings of life at the individual level. Let's use a real life example:

Because Bill Gates was born to a middle class family, he had a garage with which to start his business and build his dreams, while elsewhere there are people being born who are so poor they don't even have a garage. Ergo, Bill Gates didn't really "earn" what he earned. It's there for the taking! Government can come in and distribute it, government MUST come in and distribute it as these are ill gotten gains. It's the natural lottery. I did not overstate this. On page 310 Rawls writes the following:

There is a tendency for common sense to suppose that income and wealth, and the good things in life generally, should be distributed according to moral desert. Justice is happiness according to virtue. While it is recognized that this ideal can never be fully carried out, it is the appropriate conception of distributive justice, at least as a prima facie principle, and society should try to realize it as circumstances permit.

Now justice as fairness rejects this conception. Such a principle would not be chosen in the original position. There seems to be no way of defining the requisite criterion in that situation. Moreover, the notion of distribution according to virtue fails to distinguish between moral desert and legitimate expectations.

And again: (page 274)

no one deserves his place in the distribution of natural assets any more than he deserves his initial starting place in society.

See. Bill Gates didn't earn that garage, therefore he didn't earn what he worked his entire life to build. He was simply born, he had no "legitimate expectation" to that garage. There are children in slums who also have realistic and legitimate expectations of all kinds, which is why we need distributive justice. The Wikipedia page for Desert(philosophy) doesn't cite chapter, page, and words as I have done, but does note the same conclusion.

Now of course, what this ignores is the wishes of Bill Gates' parents. What Rawls' is doing is restarting everybody's lives on day one. Parents have the right to work their entire lives and can do anything they wish with their earnings, except pass it on to their children. That just won't work and it must be stopped. On page 88, Rawls makes clear what he means by justice as fairness:

The social system is not an unchangeable order beyond human control but a pattern of human action. In justice as fairness men agree to avail themselves of the accidents of nature and social circumstance only when doing so is for the common benef it. The two principles are a fair way of meeting the arbitrariness of fortune; and while no doubt imperfect in other ways, the institutions which satisfy these principles are just.

And from page 86:

First we may observe that the difference principle gives some weight to the considerations singled out by the principle of redress. This is the principle that undeserved inequalities call for redress; and since inequalities of birth and natural endowment are undeserved, these inequalities are to be somehow compensated for.

Now keep in mind, Rawls wrote all of this in the early 70's. There are different variations of this theme, of being a beneficiary of something you "didn't earn". Father Michael Pfleger has a similar view, but he applies it to the whole of society:

Unless you are willing to give up the benefits, then you must be responsible for what was done in your generation! ‘Cause you are the beneficiary of this insurance policy!

One would wonder if Pfleger would've hung Stalin's children for all those people that he murdered en mass. Or, should successful blacks in America also give up what they didn't earn? Of course, while Rawls is plotting and schemeing against the successful people around him, he doesn't say a word about his own parents who were successful themselves, and passed on their earnings to him. He was the beneficiary of the very thing he detests, I wonder if he ever held himself to the same standard.

Now I don't immediately know where the roots of what Pfleger said go back to, but the point is the same. These are poisonous ideals aimed at the destruction of private property and thus, individual liberty. The goal is the creation of a "well ordered society"(Rawls' phrase) and in the end you and I would end up suffering because of it.

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