A second way of thinking about inequality might be called liberalism. Philosopher John Rawls develops this view in his book A Theory of Justice. book was first published in 1971, and it quickly became a classic” in political philosophy Rawls begins with the premise that a society’s monotonous, laws, and policies should be Just. He then takes up the natural question: How can we, the members of society, ever agree on what justice means? It might seem that every person’s point of view is inevitably based on his or her particular circumstances whether he or she is talented or less talented, diligent or lazy, educated or less educated, born to a wealthy family or a poor one. Could we ever objectively determine what a Just society would be? To answer this question, Rawls proposes the following thought experiment. Imagine that before any of us is born, we all get together for a meeting to design the rules that govern society. At this point, we are all
ignorant about the station in life each of us will end up filling. In Rawls’s words, we are sitting in an “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance.” In this original position, Rawls argues, we can choose a just set of rules for society because we must consider how those rules will affect every person. As Rawls puts it, “Since all are similarly situated and. no one is able to design principles to favor his particular conditions, the principles of justice are the result of fair agreement or bargain.” Designing public policies and institutions in this way allows us to be objective about what policies are just Rawls then considers what public policy designed behind this veil of ignorance would try to achieve In particular, he considers what income distribution a person would consider fair if that person did not know whether he or she would end up at the top, bottom, or middle of the distribution. Rawls argues that a person in the original position would be especially concerned about the possibility of being at the bottom of the income distribution. In designing public policies, therefore, we should aim to raise the welfare of the worst-off person in society. That is, rather than maximizing the sum of everyone’s utility, as a utilitarian would do, Rawls would maximize the minimum utility. Rawls’s rule is called the maxi min criterion. Because the maxi min criterion emphasizes the least fortunate person in society, it justifies public policies aimed at equalizing the distribution of income, By transferring income from the rich to the poor society raises the well-being of the least fortunate. The maximin criterion would not, however, lead to a completely egalitarian society. If the government promised to equalize incomes completely, people would have no incentive to work hard, society’s total income would fall substantially, and the east fortunate person would be worse off. Thus, the maximin criterion still allows disparities in income because such disparities can improve incentives and thereby raise society’s ability to help the poor. Nonetheless, because Rawls’s philosophy puts weight on only the least fortunate members of society, it calls for more income redistribution than does utilitarianism. Rawls’s views are controversial, but the thought experiment he proposes has much appeal. In particular thought experiment allows us to consider the redistribution of income as a form of social insurance That is, from the perspective of the original position behind the veil of ignorance , income redistribution is like an insurance policy. Homeowners buy fire insurance to protect themselves from the risk of their housing burning down. Similarly, when we as a society choose policies that tax the rich to supplement the incomes of the poor, we are all insuring ourselves against the possibility that we might have been a member of a poor family. Because people dislike risk, we should be happy to have been born into a society that provides us this insurance.
It is not at all clear, however, that rational people behind the veil of ignorance would truly be so averse to risk as to follow the maximin criterion. Indeed, because a person in the original position might end up anywhere in the distribution of outcomes, he or she might treat all possible outcomes equally when designing public policies. In this case, the best policy behind the veil of ignorance would be to maximize the average utility of members of society, and the resulting notion of justice would be more utilitarian than Rawlsian .
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