Critique of A Theory of Justice (Part 1)

I am in the process of reading John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. What strikes me is his assumption of the world being fixed. That individuals do not change with time as they grow and experience more. His distribution of wealth is similarly fixed in time and is bequeathed by random chance. The purpose of his conception of justice is to nullify “the accidents of natural endowment.”

In a statistical economic framework, individuals maximize their entropy-freedom, based upon the constraints that they are given.  When we look at the society from a wider veil of ignorance, one where we as the framers of the society are unable to uniquely identify the individual members, we treat those individuals the same. They have different knowledge, characteristics, and allotment of resources. They act with their full knowledge, the sort that Hayek calls practical knowledge. What is uniform is our ignorance of their specific and uniquely identifiable features.  This is very different from Rawls. He assumed that we ignored our ability. We are here allowing it, not denying it.  This has some fundamental impacts on the outcome.

We take actors as being rational in a Hayekian sense where they act only based of of the information that they possess. Our judgement of their action as being rational is irrelevant. what may appear to be irrational and silly to us, may in fact be an act of fundamental prudence. Any person is only an imperfect judge of another. This is point that as far as I’ve read Rawls glosses over. It is however of a profound impact on a system of fairness that relies upon the arbitrary judgement of some third party.  While the third party may be disinterested they are ignorant of the information that the other individuals used to make their decisions.

I cannot even claim to lay out a set of principles to define a theory of justice.  Justice is a process that evolves from society. It grows and changes with it. What may be just for one society under a particular set of constraints is no longer just when those constraints change. This is also true when comparing societies. How can we arbiter what is “fair” when we possess such profound and impenetrable ignorance? So what can we seek? I propose that the principle of maximum entropy provides a sufficiently weak perspective as to have any use. This principle when applied here states that the distribution of resources amongst individuals will be the one that maximizes the information entropy based upon the resource constraints of that society. An application of a system that restricts this maximum potential will create a stress within the society. Eventually that stress will dissipate as the system “relaxes” into the one based on greater entropy.  This is how social structures form and evolve, especially when considered under a Hayekian framework.

Justice is a fluid and elusive concept that continually changes. The idea of justice as Rawls notes forms the basis of the idea of the social contract between individuals and society. There is not one social contract, but there are many. For the society to function these contracts must be complementary.  Like any other contract, and using one of Rawls own criteria, an individual must be free to enter and leave contracts between individuals. Here I extend this to to the idea that individuals can enter and leave contracts between themselves, other individuals, groups of individuals, and the society as a whole. Nozick presented an interesting proposal with his parable of the slave. He posed an idea that even in a democracy an individual can be a slave to the tyranny of the majority. In later works, he said that an individual could not sell themselves into slavery, because a society had to stand for something.

An individual can only be free if they are allowed to break their contract. Some contracts, such as my commissioning contract, had specific penalties, where if I broke the contract, I would go to jail. In a sense, as an naval officer I was a slave. I could not break my contract, I allowed this to occur for 10-years and let it expire. So I was not a slave, although for a fixed period of time it would appear that I was. as long as I am free to give up my citizenship, I am still free. That is my social contract with my country. It carries privileges that as long as they are benefit me more than I value that which I give up, then I choose to be a member of the society. If that reverses then if I am free, then I should be allowed to leave. My ability to leave is a measure of my specific entropy.  The members who are have more wealth are the ones who are more likely to leave a society or refuse to participate if society demands that they give up more than they receive. Fairness can only be judged by the individual.

Policy that disadvantages any one group over another, serves only to reduce the entropy of the society. It may guarantee a higher entropy differential between members, however, the overall social entropy is reduced. Everyone is more equally less free. Rawls designed a philosophy where it is “fair” for socieTy to mandate that the least advantaged should be no worse off. This reduces the social entropy to a point of where we are back in the stone age. The good point of Rawls, is that he established a set of criteria which was logically consistent with the outcome. He just did not understand the consequence of his concept of “fair”.  The judges in his society would be like Napoleon in Animal Farm, more equal than others.

This is enough for now. I needed to get these burning ideas out of my mind and onto paper.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Power for the People: A Cryptographic and Nuclear Renaissance « Statistical Economics

  2. Pingback: Fighting povertry – but how? | Undskabens Hotel

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