A Conversation for The Political Philosophy of John Rawls

investing for the future, rawls style

Post 1


Hi thanks for a really interesting and informative article!

As i read it, particularly the bit about ensuring the highest minimum standar of living, I wondered: did Rawls consider that it might be advantageous to create a society which was 'unjust' (according to his principles) for a temporary period and later made 'just', in order that - in the long run - that same society could become better off?

A simple example would be an individual who earns lots of pennies and invests them rather than spending them, in order to accrue interest over time and be better off in the long run.

By way of a possible 'society level' example, given the ageing population of many Western countries, and the possibility of a pension crisis, would Rawls (or anyone following his principles) expect or recommend those in the original position to specify a period of e.g. 30 years during which specific financial measures were taken by the state in order to avoid major problems down the line? That is, even if those financial measures would go against the immediate goal of the highest minimum?

Another example might be tackling any impending energy crisis. Again, a temporary set of financially restrictive rules might need to be put in place in order for Rawls' 'most just society' to be sustainable in the long term.

Any thoughts?

Thanks again.

investing for the future, rawls style

Post 2

Otto Fisch ("Just like the Mauritian Badminton Doubles Champion, 1973")

Hi Jimi,

Thanks for your response - always good to know that someone has read the entry! Some good questions!

Rawls does briefly touch on the issue of temporary injustice, but from memory he's thinking more in terms of transitional arrangements and responses to particular economic problems. I'm struggling to remember exactly how this goes, but I think Rawls argues that it is permissible to have a temporary situation of injustice if it's in the interests of the least well off and that they agree to it. He doesn't really develop this much though.

I think that questions about pensions and energy requirements would probably fall under the 'just savings principle' - current generations may need to make sacrifices for future generations, and should leave what they would expect to receive if they were the next generation.

But if changes do need to be made for the sake of the future, the principles of justice would probably still apply to how those burdens ought to be shared. If, say, a reduction of 20% in emissions and a 25% cut in fuel use was required, it would obviously have a major effect on the economy. However, the principle of maximising the minimum outcome would still hold. It would be okay to reduce the standard of living to preserve for the future, but the principles of justice should apply to whatever is left. If the economy has to shrink by 10%, then the least well off should still be made as well off as they can possibly be under current circumstances.

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