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Libertarianism and the Philosophers Lecture 4

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1 Libertarianism and the Philosophers Lecture 4
The Egalitarian Approaches of Thomas Nagel and Ronald Dworkin

2 A Problem for Rawls Last week we discussed Rawls’ difference principle. This says that all inequalities should be for the benefit of the least well off class in society. One of the reasons Rawls thinks this is that those with superior talents don’t deserve to benefit from them. Their superior talents stem from luck.

3 Why Equality Only Within a Society?
But Rawls doesn’t think that rich countries have a duty to send money to poor countries in accord with the difference principle. But isn’t it a matter of luck that people are born in a rich country like the US? How can an egalitarian like Rawls limit distribution to one society? Both Nagel and Dworkin try to answer this problem.

4 Nagel –Everybody Favors Equality
Nagel thinks that almost everyone favors equality, but this has a non-controversial sense. He doesn’t mean everyone agrees on equal incomes. Rather, almost everyone thinks that persons in some way count equally. This applies to utilitarian and rights-based theories, as well as egalitarian ones.

5 Why Favor Equality? Nagel says we can consider our lives from two points of view. From the personal standpoint, we care about ourselves and people we are close too. Others matter to a much lesser extent.

6 The Impersonal Standpoint
We can step back from our lives and we ourselves from an impersonal standpoint. Here our life counts as no more important than anyone else’s. There is nothing special about us. From this standpoint, e.g., if I have a reason to avoid pain, I must recognize that the fact that someone is in pain gives me, other things equal, a reason to relieve his pain. This generates some commitment to moral equality.

7 Utilitarianism You might think that utilitarianism doesn’t treat people as equals because it says we should try to achieve the best outcome overall. But it does count everyone’s utility the same, and in this way it treats people as equal. It can be criticized because particular people may be sacrificed to the general good.

8 Rights Moral theories that stress rights also can be considered a type of egalitarian theory because everyone has the same rights. Nagel recognizes that a system of morality based on rights will have to take these rights to be negative, i.e., they forbid people from doing certain actions. Positive rights, duties to give people certain things, might not be capable of being observed together---conflicts could result.

9 A Third Approach Nagel suggests that there is a third way, neither utilitarian nor standard rights-based, to take account of the equality of persons. In this third approach, we give preference to those who have the most urgent needs This preference isn’t absolute and in any case must be balanced against rights and overall consequences

10 A Surprising Result You might think that Nagel is going to say that we have strong egalitarian duties to redistribute money to the poor, but he doesn’t. He says that at most we might have some duty to help the really unfortunate, but we can’t get comprehensive obligations out of this. Remember, the impersonal point of view isn’t overriding.

11 Stronger Egalitarianism
People within a nation have stronger obligations to each other than to those outside the nation. People in a nation form a moral community. This is like Rousseau’s general will. This moral community generates strong egalitarian obligations.

12 Property Is Conventional
Nagel seems exposed to an obvious objection. What if you don’t want to be part of such an egalitarian moral community? Here is where the most controversial aspect of Nagel’s theory comes in. If you didn’t want to be part of the community, you couldn’t take your property with you if you left. You don’t have absolute property rights; all property is conventional.

13 Political Conception of Justice
In this view, we start with people in a nation who have land and resources at their disposition. They don’t have justice-based obligations to people in other nations. This is a political conception of justice, rather than a cosmopolitan conception. In a cosmopolitan conception, rights and obligations aren’t dependent on the political community. Libertarianism is an example of a cosmopolitan position.

14 Origins of the Political Conception
As Nagel notes, the political conception stems from Thomas Hobbes. In Hobbes’ theory, once people have contracted to obey the sovereign, its up to him to distribute property as he wishes. In Nagel’s theory, it is up to the people in a nation to decide on property rights. In doing so, they will take into account egalitarian considerations based on their bonds in forming the community.

15 Are Property Rights Conventional?
Libertarians will object that Nagel has failed to show that property rights are conventional. What are his arguments against libertarian natural rights? He doesn’t have any. He thinks that it is obvious that property is conventional. Wouldn’t even libertarians, e.g., have to admit that the details of property regulations are just matters that have been legislated, or have been established through custom?

16 What’s Wrong with Nagel’s Argument?
The fact that regulations are needed to establish property rights doesn’t imply that people can make whatever regulations they want. Compare with free speech---we need legal regulations to establish when can speak. But the regulations must conform to our natural right to free speech. Why not the same with property rights?

17 Dworkin and Equal Respect
Like Nagel, Dworkin’s theory of justice is confined to particular societies. Each person should be treated with equal respect. This need not imply that each person is treated in exactly the same way. E.g., he supports affirmative action programs.

18 Equality As the Dominant Value
Unlike Nagel, Dworkin thinks that other values, like liberty, don’t have to balanced against equality. You are free only if you don’t violate someone else’s rights. If the government prevents you from assaulting others, it isn’t interfering with your liberty. Similarly, if the government taxes your income to promote equality, it isn’t making you less free. This seems an implausible view.

19 Responsibility There is a surprisingly libertarian aspect of Dworkin’s theory. People are responsible for their own lives. If you make bad choices, you can’t demand that others bear the cost of these choices. In order for people to lead responsible lives, a free market is essential.

20 Criticism of Rawls Dworkin has another argument that libertarians will find helpful. He criticizes Rawls’ argument for his theory of justice. Rawls says that the principles of justice are those that would be chosen by self-interested actors in the original position, where people are behind the veil of ignorance. Dworkin asks, why should we think that choice in this situation establishes the requirements of justice?

21 Why Dworkin Isn’t a Libertarian
If Dworkin favors the free market and personal responsibility, why he isn’t he a libertarian? He thinks that people who choose in a way that works out badly should bear the cost of their choices. This is option luck. But people are not responsible for brute luck. This includes how their talents are valued and how healthy they are.

22 The Artificial Market Dworkin proposes to correct for brute luck by imagining an artificial market. Each person starts with equal resources. Then, he participates in two auctions. In the first, each person knows his own talents but doesn’t know how the market will value these talents. People buy insurance against their coming up with a poor outcome

23 The Artificial Market Continued
In the second market, people don’t know the state of their health. They buy insurance against having debilitating illnesses or disabilities. One problem with this idea is that it is very difficult to estimate what amount of insurance would be chosen. On Mises’s view of probability, such estimates aren’t possible.

24 Redistribution Based on its estimates of the results of such insurance markets, the government makes payments to those whose talents aren’t highly sought after and to those with illnesses and disabilities. Once people get these payments, they are on their own.

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