Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The difference principle

 The value of the first, say 60,000 for a person is much greater than the second 60,000.  From the standpoint of maximizing happiness, it is better for two people to have 60,000 each than it is for one person to have 100,000 and the other have 20,000, since the one 20,000 is going to be close to the poverty line, while the other one will just have a few more luxuries. 

But some inequalities benefit the people on the bottom. Doctors make more money than street sweepers, and when street sweepers need a doctor, they would have to agree that this is a good idea. But are other inequalities morally acceptable? 

According to John Rawls's Difference Principle, the answer is no. 

The difference principle provides that inequalities are unjustified unless they make the least advantaged better off. But in order to apply this principle, we must make predictions about the future economic effects of current economic policies, predictions that are notoriously difficult to make.

See here. 


John B. Moore said...

Most entrepreneurial investments require a certain concentration of wealth. If there were no rich people, then nobody could afford to make big investments. And that would mean some technologies never got invented, or some useful businesses never got off the ground.

Some investments pay off in the long run even for the poorest members of society. Like an irrigation project, for example, which might make food cheaper.

David Brightly said...

I'm confused. What are we (Rawls) passing judgement on here, hoping to justify? Is it an economic outcome, income distribution, say, or is it an economic policy, intended to change the former? I struggle with the concept of justifying an economic outcome as an outcome is only indirectly and loosely related to a conscious, morally judgeable decision. It's as if economic outcomes were altogether outside the sphere of moral judgement, like the laws of physics. A policy decision, on the other hand, even if collectively taken, does seem within this sphere.

David Brightly said...

But are other inequalities morally acceptable?

Yes, because they are all of the same kind. You have to pay doctors a certain rate to get them to come forward and practice medicine. But the same is true of anyone else who might offer a product or a service.