John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

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John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by John » Mon Aug 20, 2012 3:03 pm

Interesting to see a short comment piece (How Americans view wealth and inequality) on the BBC website about John Rawls's 'veil of ignorance' and American attitudes to wealth and equality.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by vegetariantaxidermy » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:04 pm

John wrote:Interesting to see a short comment piece (How Americans view wealth and inequality) on the BBC website about John Rawls's 'veil of ignorance' and American attitudes to wealth and equality.

Fascinating article. Fascinating, but not surprising. It shows that people are so bogged down with political agendas that they are unable or unwilling to use their powers of reason. The experiment forced them to think objectively instead of selfishly.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by ForgedinHell » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:11 pm

John wrote:Interesting to see a short comment piece (How Americans view wealth and inequality) on the BBC website about John Rawls's 'veil of ignorance' and American attitudes to wealth and equality.
What is wrong about inequality? It is a non-issue.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by vegetariantaxidermy » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:26 pm

ForgedinHell wrote:
John wrote:Interesting to see a short comment piece (How Americans view wealth and inequality) on the BBC website about John Rawls's 'veil of ignorance' and American attitudes to wealth and equality.
What is wrong about inequality? It is a non-issue.
Clearly most people don't think so, which is why society has evolved the way it has.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by ForgedinHell » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:31 pm

vegetariantaxidermy wrote:
ForgedinHell wrote:
John wrote:Interesting to see a short comment piece (How Americans view wealth and inequality) on the BBC website about John Rawls's 'veil of ignorance' and American attitudes to wealth and equality.
What is wrong about inequality? It is a non-issue.
Clearly most people don't think so, which is why society has evolved the way it has.
I'm not saying people don't think it is an issue, I'm just stating that they are wrong. Inequality is a non-issue. Should we scar the faces of all the good-looking people to make the ugly people, especially me, feel better? I don't want to see that. Inequality is a non-issue. It is simply based on jealousy, nothing more. It's time to expose this fallacy for what it is. Crap.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by vegetariantaxidermy » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:34 pm

What is wrong about inequality? It is a non-issue.[/quote]

Clearly most people don't think so, which is why society has evolved the way it has.[/quote]

I'm not saying people don't think it is an issue, I'm just stating that they are wrong. Inequality is a non-issue. Should we scar the faces of all the good-looking people to make the ugly people, especially me, feel better? I don't want to see that. Inequality is a non-issue. It is simply based on jealousy, nothing more. It's time to expose this fallacy for what it is. Crap.[/quote]

I guess it's you against the rest of society then. I've found that most people tend to care about others and have a social conscience.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by ForgedinHell » Mon Aug 20, 2012 9:59 pm

vegetariantaxidermy wrote:What is wrong about inequality? It is a non-issue.
Clearly most people don't think so, which is why society has evolved the way it has.[/quote]

I'm not saying people don't think it is an issue, I'm just stating that they are wrong. Inequality is a non-issue. Should we scar the faces of all the good-looking people to make the ugly people, especially me, feel better? I don't want to see that. Inequality is a non-issue. It is simply based on jealousy, nothing more. It's time to expose this fallacy for what it is. Crap.[/quote]

I guess it's you against the rest of society then. I've found that most people tend to care about others and have a social conscience.[/quote]

And I believe they are wrong. They confuse the issue of inequality with other issues. What they are really against are such things as poverty. Now, we can have poverty, and equality, that is the state where everyone is impoverished. Or, we could have a situation of extreme inequality, but where even the poorest are exceedinly well off by today's standards. Inequality itself is a non-issue. It only becomes an issue because people mistakenly equate it with other "evils" for lack of a better word.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by John » Mon Aug 20, 2012 10:22 pm

I think that to say that some inequality is acceptable is a reasonable position but to say that there's nothing wrong with any inequality is highly problematic, for me at least.

For example, should we not be bothered about equality of treatment before the law? I would suggest that most people would argue that we should even though in practice the ability to pay for better lawyers etc., means that we don't. Still, most people seem content to accept that in many areas equality is at least an ideal that should be strived for even if we're destined to fall short in the delivery. The veil of ignorance is a thought experiment to design a society so it's not just about the economy.

That said, I would argue that some economic inequality is probably useful because it helps provide incentives and encourages the sort of risk taking the societies generally find quite useful but I would also argue that it's not a non-issue because excessive inequality is more likely to lead to a serious lack of social cohesion and leave the poorest at the mercy of the richest. I also think it's counterproductive economically because economies are not fuelled by the spending of the super-rich.

However, what did surprise me about the result was that I've heard many Americans justify lower taxes for the rich etc., on the basis that they have the idea that one day they'll be amongst the rich so they possibly would chose a less equal solution even from behind the veil of ignorance. It seems this view isn't as prevalent as I thought though.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by Thundril » Mon Aug 20, 2012 11:39 pm

ForgedinHell wrote: And I believe they are wrong. They confuse the issue of inequality with other issues. What they are really against are such things as poverty. Now, we can have poverty, and equality, that is the state where everyone is impoverished. Or, we could have a situation of extreme inequality, but where even the poorest are exceedinly well off by today's standards. Inequality itself is a non-issue. It only becomes an issue because people mistakenly equate it with other "evils" for lack of a better word.
I guess if you think about material wealth simplistically, in isolation from everything that material wealth implies, then you may reasonably hold the opinion that relative inequalities in material wealth are not important, compared to absolute levels of access to necessary goods and services.
But life isn't like that, is it?
Material wealth brings with it political and cultural influence, which is wielded by the already wealthy in favour of the already wealthy. This is a positive-feedback loop resulting in more power, more cultural, ethical, political influence, in the hands of those whose interest is best served by convincing people that the current set-up is the best for everyone, or at least that thinking about changing things is a dangerous evil.
Brainwashing in Western countries may be a lot more sophisticated than it ever was in the USSR, but it's all the more effective for that.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by ForgedinHell » Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:25 am

John wrote:I think that to say that some inequality is acceptable is a reasonable position but to say that there's nothing wrong with any inequality is highly problematic, for me at least.

For example, should we not be bothered about equality of treatment before the law? I would suggest that most people would argue that we should even though in practice the ability to pay for better lawyers etc., means that we don't. Still, most people seem content to accept that in many areas equality is at least an ideal that should be strived for even if we're destined to fall short in the delivery. The veil of ignorance is a thought experiment to design a society so it's not just about the economy.

That said, I would argue that some economic inequality is probably useful because it helps provide incentives and encourages the sort of risk taking the societies generally find quite useful but I would also argue that it's not a non-issue because excessive inequality is more likely to lead to a serious lack of social cohesion and leave the poorest at the mercy of the richest. I also think it's counterproductive economically because economies are not fuelled by the spending of the super-rich.

However, what did surprise me about the result was that I've heard many Americans justify lower taxes for the rich etc., on the basis that they have the idea that one day they'll be amongst the rich so they possibly would chose a less equal solution even from behind the veil of ignorance. It seems this view isn't as prevalent as I thought though.
What does wealth inequality have to do with equal treatment before the law? You are arguing that some peope are too poor to get legal services? That's an argument against poverty, not inequality. The two are distinct issues. And the spending of the super-rich? Unless the super-rich put their money under a mattress, it is being spent somewhere and creating income for someone. Inequality is a non-issue. People confuse it with other issues, like poverty. It's a mistake to do so.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by ForgedinHell » Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:27 am

Thundril wrote:
ForgedinHell wrote: And I believe they are wrong. They confuse the issue of inequality with other issues. What they are really against are such things as poverty. Now, we can have poverty, and equality, that is the state where everyone is impoverished. Or, we could have a situation of extreme inequality, but where even the poorest are exceedinly well off by today's standards. Inequality itself is a non-issue. It only becomes an issue because people mistakenly equate it with other "evils" for lack of a better word.
I guess if you think about material wealth simplistically, in isolation from everything that material wealth implies, then you may reasonably hold the opinion that relative inequalities in material wealth are not important, compared to absolute levels of access to necessary goods and services.
But life isn't like that, is it?
Material wealth brings with it political and cultural influence, which is wielded by the already wealthy in favour of the already wealthy. This is a positive-feedback loop resulting in more power, more cultural, ethical, political influence, in the hands of those whose interest is best served by convincing people that the current set-up is the best for everyone, or at least that thinking about changing things is a dangerous evil.
Brainwashing in Western countries may be a lot more sophisticated than it ever was in the USSR, but it's all the more effective for that.
If you are speaking of influence, then that is not an issue of inequality but of civil rights. Put it this way. If Bill gates wanted to buy my house to throw me out in the cold, he couldn't do it. If one has a government that protects civil liberties, then it doesn't matter how wealthy someone is compared to another, they cannot bully the other around.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by John » Tue Aug 21, 2012 9:33 am

ForgedinHell wrote:What does wealth inequality have to do with equal treatment before the law?
Rawls was interested in defining a desirable society not just the distribution of wealth within that society. I used the justice example to illustrate the point that there are aspects of life where it is generally considered desirable to promote equality.

I assume you only view poverty in the absolute sense though and take the view that if someone isn't starving they aren't living in poverty?

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by Thundril » Tue Aug 21, 2012 10:55 am

ForgedinHell wrote: If you are speaking of influence, then that is not an issue of inequality but of civil rights. Put it this way. If Bill gates wanted to buy my house to throw me out in the cold, he couldn't do it. If one has a government that protects civil liberties, then it doesn't matter how wealthy someone is compared to another, they cannot bully the other around.
i wasn't thinking about influence in that way, FiH. And I do realise that some wealthy people (and Bill Gates is an example) use their wealth in very positive ways.
I was thinking more about the structure of society, in which people with large amounts of money can hire lobbying firms, can eat in the same restaurants and go to the same golf clubs, as the people who make political decisions. Wealth determines the quality of representation you get in legal disputes, or even whether you can afford to go to court in the first place. Wealth determines the quality of education you get, and therefore the combination of your education, with its associated social skills and connections, plus access to the wealth you start out with because your parents are wealthy, means there is a structural feedback which works against social mobility. Capitalism's best feature is the degree to which the individual is free to make his or her own way in life (especially economic life) but beyond a certain point it tends to extreme disparity in wealth which militates against that socio-economic mobility.
In the US, ( admittedly I am looking from the outside, but reading US political commentators) it seems to be the case that politicians win elections largely based on the amount of money they spend on their campaigns. Here in the UK, football success is determined largely by the amount of cash the teams' owners spend on new players.
Across the world, the amount of money paid to a small number of culturally influential people (movie stars, musicians, sportsmen) isolates the people with potential to change ideas and values into wealth-bubbles, where their tendency to challenge the current structure is smothered in personal comfort and privilege.

These are just a few examples, perhaps the most glaringly obvious ones, but ISTM that disproportionate wealth itself becomes disproportionate political power and cultural influence. Since I believe that it is unhealthy to concentrate political power and cultural influence in too few hands, it follows (from my POV) that it is undesirable to concentrate wealth too tightly also.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by John » Tue Aug 21, 2012 11:30 am

Thundril wrote:i wasn't thinking about influence in that way, FiH. And I do realise that some wealthy people (and Bill Gates is an example) use their wealth in very positive ways.
I was thinking more about the structure of society, in which people with large amounts of money can hire lobbying firms, can eat in the same restaurants and go to the same golf clubs, as the people who make political decisions. Wealth determines the quality of representation you get in legal disputes, or even whether you can afford to go to court in the first place. Wealth determines the quality of education you get, and therefore the combination of your education, with its associated social skills and connections, plus access to the wealth you start out with because your parents are wealthy, means there is a structural feedback which works against social mobility. Capitalism's best feature is the degree to which the individual is free to make his or her own way in life (especially economic life) but beyond a certain point it tends to extreme disparity in wealth which militates against that socio-economic mobility.
In the US, ( admittedly I am looking from the outside, but reading US political commentators) it seems to be the case that politicians win elections largely based on the amount of money they spend on their campaigns. Here in the UK, football success is determined largely by the amount of cash the teams' owners spend on new players.
Across the world, the amount of money paid to a small number of culturally influential people (movie stars, musicians, sportsmen) isolates the people with potential to change ideas and values into wealth-bubbles, where their tendency to challenge the current structure is smothered in personal comfort and privilege.

These are just a few examples, perhaps the most glaringly obvious ones, but ISTM that disproportionate wealth itself becomes disproportionate political power and cultural influence. Since I believe that it is unhealthy to concentrate political power and cultural influence in too few hands, it follows (from my POV) that it is undesirable to concentrate wealth too tightly also.
Eloquently put.

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Re: John Rawls, the veil of ignorance and American attitudes

Post by ForgedinHell » Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:39 pm

Thundril wrote:
ForgedinHell wrote: If you are speaking of influence, then that is not an issue of inequality but of civil rights. Put it this way. If Bill gates wanted to buy my house to throw me out in the cold, he couldn't do it. If one has a government that protects civil liberties, then it doesn't matter how wealthy someone is compared to another, they cannot bully the other around.
i wasn't thinking about influence in that way, FiH. And I do realise that some wealthy people (and Bill Gates is an example) use their wealth in very positive ways.
I was thinking more about the structure of society, in which people with large amounts of money can hire lobbying firms, can eat in the same restaurants and go to the same golf clubs, as the people who make political decisions. Wealth determines the quality of representation you get in legal disputes, or even whether you can afford to go to court in the first place. Wealth determines the quality of education you get, and therefore the combination of your education, with its associated social skills and connections, plus access to the wealth you start out with because your parents are wealthy, means there is a structural feedback which works against social mobility. Capitalism's best feature is the degree to which the individual is free to make his or her own way in life (especially economic life) but beyond a certain point it tends to extreme disparity in wealth which militates against that socio-economic mobility.
In the US, ( admittedly I am looking from the outside, but reading US political commentators) it seems to be the case that politicians win elections largely based on the amount of money they spend on their campaigns. Here in the UK, football success is determined largely by the amount of cash the teams' owners spend on new players.
Across the world, the amount of money paid to a small number of culturally influential people (movie stars, musicians, sportsmen) isolates the people with potential to change ideas and values into wealth-bubbles, where their tendency to challenge the current structure is smothered in personal comfort and privilege.

These are just a few examples, perhaps the most glaringly obvious ones, but ISTM that disproportionate wealth itself becomes disproportionate political power and cultural influence. Since I believe that it is unhealthy to concentrate political power and cultural influence in too few hands, it follows (from my POV) that it is undesirable to concentrate wealth too tightly also.
No, I understood you correctly, and you are wrong. The problem is not inequality, but a society that allows government to interfere in the lives of people to the point where people can use it to bully others around. But that is a problem that exists even if everyone had the same wealth. Groups of people could get together, that are larger than other groups, and use their now unequal wealth to lobby against the other group. The problem you mentioned, once again, has nothing to do with inequality, but something else.

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