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I want to be friends with whoever created John Rawls’ A THEORY OF JUSTICE: THE MUSICAL. It features Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand as the villains, and is the greatest musical ever. If you like political philosophy, you are going to love it. Also I want to write a musical with these people.
Justice as Fairness?
The judge is a muffin of a man, gut mushrooming through his suspenders, jowl jiggling like jello as he candidly quips about his personal judicial philosophy. “I treat all my defendants as if I were in their shoes,” he says righteously, pointing a fleshy digit pejoratively at the ground before him, conjuring a humbled miscreant hoping for mercy. Nostalgia grips his somber tone as he recalls his own modest origins, “Both my parents were doctors.”
“Zur genauen Definition eines Gleichgewichtszustandes müssen die Grenzen und die Eigenschaften des Systems genau angegeben werden. Es kommt auf drei Dinge an: erstens die Festlegung des Systems und die Unterscheidung zwischen inneren und äusseren Kräften; zweitens die Definition der Zustände des Systems (ein Zustand ist eine bestimmte Konfiguration der Eigenschaften des Systems); drittens die Angabe der Gesetze, nach denen die Zustände aus einander hervorgehen ”—J. Rawls; Eine Therie der Gerechtigkeit (“Der Begriff der wohlgeordneten Gesellschaft”)
“We should assess policy with a Rawlsian lens, asking how it affects those least well-off among us. We should champion the 47 percent.”—
In a Washington Post op-ed published yesterday, Tea Partying Texas Senator Ted Cruz makes a forceful case for what he’s calling “opportunity conservatism”: “a single-minded focus on easing the ascent up the economic ladder.”
Early on in the piece, Cruz name-checks philosopher John Rawls, effectively suggesting that the GOP should take to heart Rawls’ message that policies ought to work to the advantage of the least well-off in society.
The trouble for Cruz is that he seems not to have read Rawls, or at least not to have fully understood him.
One of Rawls’ arguments is that social and economic inequalities are permissible but only insofar as they redound to the benefit of the least well-off. He makes the case that this is a principle of justice that anyone would choose if (s)he was making a choice without knowledge of (the many) morally arbitrary personal characteristics that ultimately end up shaping the way we think about particular policies.
But here are the specific policy proposals that Cruz puts forward:
Republicans shouldn’t just assail excessive financial and environmental regulations; we should explain how those regulations kill jobs and restrict Americans’ ability to buy their first home.
Don’t just say no to new taxes — fundamentally reform the tax code so that every American can file his taxes on a postcard. Eliminate the corporate welfare and complexity that enrich only accountants and lawyers.
Don’t just criticize union bosses; explain how closed shops confiscate wages and make it harder for low-skilled workers to get jobs.
Don’t talk generically about education; advocate school choice to empower parents and expand opportunity for children struggling to get ahead.
Don’t just dwell on the long-term solvency of Social Security; promote personal accounts to allow low-income Americans to accumulate wealth and pass it on to future generations.
The problem for Cruz is that he doesn’t bother to explain how these policy changes would benefit the least well-off members of our society; he simply says that they will and that policies preferred by Democrats will not.
But this isn’t particularly surprising because Cruz isn’t considering these policies from the perspective of someone at the bottom; he’s thinking about them from his own position as a newly-elected Tea Party-backed United States Senator. And from that perspective all that matters is convincing those who voted for Democratic candidates in 2012 that they ought to vote for Republican candidates next time around.
Whether or not the policies he supports will actually benefit the least well-off in society isn’t of nearly as much interest to Cruz as whether or not he can convince the least well-off that those policies will benefit them. Perhaps he actually believes that these changes will help those at the bottom rungs of our societal ladder.
But it’s awfully hard to see how putting an end to unions, financial and environmental regulations, free (and non-religious) public education, Social Security, and the like will benefit those who are the least well-off in our society. Of course, it’s also hard to see how politicians like Cruz have any hope to convince them that such policies are in their best interest in any way.
At least Mitt Romney was honest with his comments about abandoning the 47%. Cruz, here, doesn’t make a single change to a single policy in the hopes of speaking to the people who didn’t vote Republican in 2012; he just tells his fellow politicians they need to work harder to sell these policies to people who almost certainly know better.