1) Economic rationalist/free market fundamentalist critique: you’re better off letting market forces look after everything. Like a lot of ‘do-gooders’ Rawls is too much into wealth-redistribution and ‘social justice’, not enough into wealth-creation. Besides, you can’t do anything about economic forces – they’ll get you in the end. (See Hayek.)
(i) At very best, market forces left to themselves make for an increase in average utility. Even this is far from gauranteed in particular cases. Rawls has quite enough to say about the inadequacy of this.
(ii) In any case, Rawls’ difference principle allows quite a lot of scope for economic efficiency considerations, even to the point of justifying long term ‘trickle down’ effects a la Reagan. Indeed, he can be accused of trusting too much in market forces, and presuming too much on the predictive power and scientific character of neo-classical economics.
2) It’s unfair to the rich: as long as their property was acquired legitimately (not stealing, not colonialism etc.) they are perfectly entitled to it, and have no obligation in justice to share it. They also are entitled to leave it to their descendants or give it to whomsoever they will. (See Norzik.)
(i) Private property properly so called/legal ownership is a social product,
· both in the sense of what it, i.e. the ‘right’, amounts to, its extent and limits,
· and in the sense of what are the legitimate ways of acquiring it.
The right consists in our acknowledgement of it, and there is no reason why this shouldn’t be conditional e.g. on the acceptance of certain social responsibilities, and limited rather than absolute.
(ii) Labour theories of property work O.K. for added property value which only I have created, e.g. the artist. With productive property in a complex society, however, many people, and indeed the whole social and historical context, are responsible for the added value.
(iii) The example of the artist, indeed, provides a good illustration of what can go wrong with what are taken as ‘legitimate’ ways of acquiring property.
3) Why should people who are idle benefit from the hard work of others? (Mutual responsibility, etc.)
(i) Rawls’ difference priniciple only applies to “co-operating” members of society – or can be restricted to such.
(ii) In such cases, one must always ask the next question: how did the un-co-operating become that way in the first place? We ought not be too quick in assuming ill-will in our neighbours, who are after all just like us. Nor ought we to do things that push their self-esteem down even further.
If we choose policies which raise the
average utility but hurt a particular disadvantaged section of society, certain
obligations come into play, but they are mostly one-way. The concept of mutual obligation in such circumstances is misplaced, an
ideological excuse for shirking our responsibilities. We have done them an injustice, in using them
as means to our good, in sacrificing them for the sake of the whole; for
example, the young, the 45+ year olds, in consequence of ‘downsizing’, ‘free
trade’, ‘privatization’ etc. They deserve compensation, whether or not
they are “mutually responsible”. This
compensation may include helping them get back to work, but this too is all our
responsibility, it is not a mutual contract.
After all, it is largely the fault of our policies that they have no
4) The Communitarian Critique: the people in the ‘Original Position’ are not human beings. Human beings are communal in their essence: they are a particular way of taking account of their social and natural context. They are ‘tradition-constituted’ and ‘tradition-constituting’ creatures, to whom ‘social recognition’ is of the essence (MacIntyre, Charles Taylor). This is not taken into account by Rawls.
(i) This is where Political Liberalism comes into its own, with the notion of an overlapping consensus in a situation of reasonable pluralism in respect of the good and of good reasoning concerning the good. The ‘Original Position’ is just a calculating device to produce what we might be able to have an overlapping consensus in respect of. The commitment of any particular human being (including, presumably, Rawls) to the principles we come up with is from out of their particularity. No universal or univocal or ‘disinterested’ conception of reason need be presumed. We just go for the best we can have in the circumstances: an overlapping consensus we hope in the case of enough of the right to enable us all to live together peaceably and hopefully to thrive, and each to see our good in our own way.
(ii) This does not even rule out certain kinds of ‘fundamentalism’ or ‘exclusivism’, provided they are tolerant kinds: e.g. we’re right, they are wrong, but they can’t help it, they haven’t been blessed with God’s grace, etc. Nor does it in fact rule out another solution to the political problem in a society in which there happens to be reasonable agreement on the good and on good reasoning concerning the good, e.g. an Islamic Republic?? Except that Rawls seems to think that the continuing existence of such a shared understanding could only be maintained by oppressive means...