2 AN IDEAL SOCIETY
2.1 WHAT IS AN IDEAL SOCIETY?
2.2 SETTING UP PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE
2.2.1 FIRST APPROXIMATION
18.104.22.168 THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS
22.214.171.124 A HYPOTHETICAL CONTRACT
2.2.2 MORAL JUSTIFICATION
126.96.36.199 MORALLY IRRELEVANT FACTORS
188.8.131.52 DISCUSSING DISTRIBUTIVE PRINCIPLES
3 UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME FOR AN IDEAL SOCIETY
3.1 WHAT IS A UBI?
3.2 UBI REALISES RAWLS' PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE
3.2.1 DIFFERENCE PRINCIPLE
3.2.2 FAIR EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY
4 FUNDING SOURCES
4.1 INCOME TAX
4.2 CONSUMPTION TAX
4.3 MIXED MODEL
I argue for the claim that a universal basic income (UBI) provides the basis for an ideal society, i.e. one that provides the greatest justice possible. By first analyzing four key approaches in political philosophy - utilitarian, libertarian, meritocratic and egalitarian distributive principles - it will turn out that the latter are best suited for establishing an ideal society. In particular, John Rawls' egalitarian principles of justice guarantee for all members of a society equal liberty rights and additionally claim rights, which can compensate for the inequalities resulting from the destiny of birth. Then, I will show why a UBI can realise Rawls' distributive principles particularly well and why therefore, a UBI provides the basis for an ideal society. In the last part, different funding sources for a UBI will be assessed philosophically. A (negative) income tax system and a consumption tax system are analyzed along the three criteria of fairness, simplicity and efficiency. Finally, a mixed model is discussed, which seems to be the most promising strategy for funding a UBI. However, since a (negative) income tax is not an optimal solution, a mixed funding model should rather contain a consumption tax and further tax sources.
Imagine a society in which all people are free to do, to learn and to work exactly what fills them with joy and what lets them exploit their talent and their potential - at any point of life. Imagine a society in which everyone can decide upon one's biography autonomously. A society in which nobody is forced to take jobs with inhuman working conditions - dangerous, low-paid or unfulfilling jobs. Imagine a society in which mothers and fathers can take as much time as they need to be there for their children. A society in which nobody is financially dependent on one another. In which everyone can make decisions without being restrained by social expectations or financial fears. A society in which nothing prevents you from self-realization. In which the gap between the rich and the poor is almost closed - in which there is even no poverty at all. A society with great prosperity and without social exclusion. In which there is genuine, fair equality of opportunity. Imagine a society in which every member has a claim to a dignified life and to participate socially, culturally and politically. What would be needed to make such a utopia become reality or at least to approximate it?
I argue for the claim that a universal basic income provides the basis for an ideal society.
In order to justify that claim, I will first analyze which principles of justice are required for an ideal society (section 2). Then, I will show why a UBI can realise those principles particularly well (section 3). Finally, I will discuss different funding models and show how they are to be assessed philosophically (section 4). In more detail, the thesis is structured as follows:
In section 2, I will analyze which principles of justice are required for an ideal society, i.e. one that provides the greatest justice possible. In order set up such principles, I will start with a first approximation by making use of some thought experiments. Then, I will provide a moral justification for the previous assumptions. That justification will be led by the claim that a distribution of social goods within a society should not be based on individuals' social status and their natural endowments, for those are morally irrelevant factors. By analyzing four different key approaches in political philosophy, namely utilitarian, libertarian, meritocratic and egalitarian principles, I will find out whether and in how far the distribution of social goods is based on morally irrelevant factors within each of those approaches. It will turn out that John Rawls' egalitarian principles are best suited for establishing the greatest justice possible and thus an ideal society. In section 3, I will first define the UBI and subsequently show why it can realise John Rawls' principles of justice particularly well. Rawls' first principle states that all members of a society should be provided with equal liberty rights and thereby formal equality of opportunity. That principle is already realised by being implemented in a society's constitution. I will therefore put the focus on his second principle, which cannot be realised in such a straightforward way. With that second principle, Rawls' additionally includes claim rights, which provide effective equality of opportunity and are to be implemented in various institutions. A UBI realises both parts of Rawls' second principle: the Difference Principle and the principle of fair equality of opportunity. In section 4, different funding sources for a UBI will be assessed philosophically along the three criteria of fairness, simplicity and efficiency. An income tax system, a consumption tax system and finally a mixed model will be analyzed. It will turn out that a mixed model containing a consumption tax and further funding sources seems to be the most promising strategy for funding a UBI. In section 5, I will conclude with an overview of the results.
AN IDEAL SOCIETY
One role of political philosophy is to develop a theory of an ideal society, which means the 'best' social order we can hope for. At first glance, it might seem more pragmatic to deliberate about already existing societies and try to improve their dynamics. However, by taking a step back and placing the focus on a theoretical reasoning about hypothetical societies, we refrain from considering all the obstacles which occur in our non-ideal reality. Instead, we can set up the full fundament for an ideal society without its potential being restricted by practical problems. Using this method, we know at least what the ideal would be, instead of precluding it in advance. Once we set up an ideal theory, we can apply it to (several) real societies and try to reform them by approximating the requirements of the ideal. Then, we can still evaluate whether prevailing circumstances totally prevent us from implementing the requirements or whether there is still a chance to realise them. This becomes especially clear when we think of 'radical' proposals, such as implementing a UBI, which is often dismissed from the outset due to its unpredictable social and economic consequences. In section 3, we will see in what way a UBI could actually implement the principles of an ideal society particularly well. But let's start with section 2 which consists of two parts. First, we will answer the probably most pressing question so far, namely what 'ideal society' means. Second, we will set up principles which define an ideal society.
2.1 WHAT IS AN IDEAL SOCIETY?
Asking different persons what 'ideal society' means would probably lead to diverse answers. Some may say that an ideal society consists of the most beautiful humans. Others may rather associate it with its members being perfectly healthy, intelligent or productive. In terms of political philosophy, such parameters are not fundamental. Rather, an ideal society, i.e. the best social order, is one that provides the greatest justice possible. How are we to approach matters of justice? Basically, we have to find out what kind of distribution of goods among members of a society is most just. (Rawls, 1 971 , p. 4) First, we have to define which social goods individuals are entitled to, whereupon they can advance claims in order to receive their due from the distributor of those goods. How are we to decide what individuals are entitled to? Here, justice requires that where two individuals are equal, they should be treated equally. (SEP, 2017c)
Now, what do the terms 'individuals', 'social goods', 'distributor' and 'equal' refer to in our context? The 'individuals' relevant for our purposes are the members of a society. In particular, those are (at least) all adult citizens of that society1. The 'social goods' which are to be distributed are rights, opportunities and resources (income and wealth). If resources would be infinite, we would not have to ask who to give what, but could give everybody infinitely many material goods. Thus, the question of justice would not arise. But resources are not infinite. So, we assume that resources are limited, but that there is enough of what is needed for all members of a society to survive and to have a realistic chance of achieving their goals. The 'distributor' who has the power to allocate the goods is in our case the government of society. Members of a society are 'equal' in the sense that they have an equal moral status. That is because they have the human capacities of feeling, deciding and acting intentionally. Based on those capacities, individuals develop certain interests regarding their private life, but also regarding political matters, i.e. how the environment they live in should be organized. (SEP, 2018b) Especially because individuals' political interests are morally relevant, justice only allows for a democratic social order.
2.2 SETTING UP PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE
Having clarified what an ideal society is and how we can approach it, we can now turn to the discussion of distributive principles. First, we will make use of thought experiments in order to approximate which principles could be best suited for an ideal society. Second, we will state a moral justification which validates the previous assumptions. The moral justification in turn consists of a discussion of utilitarian, libertarian, meritocratic and egalitarian distributive principles. We will see why the egalitarian principles promoted by John Rawls can provide the greatest justice possible.
Before we turn to the moral reasoning about which distributive principles provide the greatest justice possible, let's start with some initial thoughts. In this section, we will first have a look at two thought experiments and second, develop assumptions about a hypothetical contract which might result from those thought experiments. Later, it will turn out that those initial thoughts are actually justified from a moral point of view.
184.108.40.206 THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS
Considering questions concerning distributive justice, we are facing the following dilemma: those who are rich and have decision-making power are usually not really concerned about establishing the greatest justice possible in their society, for they would not significantly profit from it. On the other hand, those who would profit from, and actually need, a greater implementation of justice, namely the worst-off in society, have hardly any impact on political decisions - even in democracies. Under such circumstances, it hardly seems possible to reach genuine justice. If we want to find out how the greatest justice possible can be accomplished, we have to make use of our imagination.
Let's start with a first thought experiment: imagine that every single member of a society gathers in order to discuss a new design of their society. Everyone can make suggestions, every voice is heard and the ideas can be democratically deliberated. Wouldn't that improve the current situation of only a few members having the power to make decisions? Surely it would - at least everybody would get an equal opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. But still, two problems of a different kind remain, which prevent us from agreeing on truly just principles.
The first problem concerns differences in personal interests: asking the members directly which conditions they would favor for their society may probably lead to answers which are too biased by interests that are based on personal factors, such as age, appearance, natural endowment, worldview, religion, social position, wealth, etc. Such factors easily distort the view on issues of justice. (Rawls, 1971, pp. 120 f.) A young, handsome and intelligent guy who has grown up in an academic family surely has different interests than a poor girl who does not have any promising life prospects. A discussion among all members would probably flow into a pure confrontation of contrasting or even contradicting interests and ideas of a renewed society. The chances for the members to come to a consensus are very low.
The second problem concerns differences in knowledge and bargaining skills: even provided that every member is given equal opportunities to participate in the process, the contract the members agree on will still depend on who can convince the others best. The voice of those who don't know much about politics, or how to bargain successfully, will still not influence the decisions. With regard to those problems, such circumstances do not necessarily guarantee a contract with fair and just principles and might, in consequence, not have sufficient moral force.
How can we avoid those problems? To find out, we have to alter our thought experiment. Therefore, I will borrow John Rawls' structure of his thought experiment of the original state2. In order to generate a fruitful and promising basis for the deliberation about principles of justice, we have to alter the initial conditions of the participating members. Imagine, each member is given a pill which makes them (temporarily) blind about their own and the others' identity (social status and natural assets). They are in an original state and perceive everything under a so called veil of ignorance. The members have no idea how old they are, how they look, which character traits, worldviews and conceptions of the Good they have, how much money they have or which family they were born into. They just know that they actually have some life plan, but not which. The members also don't know details about the particular society they actually live in. However, they do know '(...) general facts about human society. They understand political affairs (...) the principles of economic theory (...) the basis of social organization and the laws of human psychology. (...) There are no limitations on general laws and theories (...).' (Rawls, 1971, p. 119) As in the first thought experiment, the members are gathering in order to deliberate what the basic structure of their society should look like. Every member's suggestions are given equal consideration and are discussed rationally3. The basic rules the members finally agree on represent their principles of justice and are specified in a hypothetical social contract. (Rawls, 1971, pp. 11-23) In contrast to the first thought experiment, the experiment of the original state shows more moral force. The members don't anymore differ in knowledge and power, but are situated equally. Every suggestion will be respected equally and eve rybody will have the same chances of convincing the others. Whether or not a suggestion prevails does not depend on personal bargaining skills, but merely on the strength of the arguments for or against particular suggestions. (Rawls, 1971, p. 1 19) The principles of justice which are determined in the hypothetical contract are therefore guaranteed to be fair. The thought experiment of the original state is suitable for illustrating ideal conditions under which a society's members can make decisions totally unaffected by their identities and thus personal interests and abilities. (Rawls, 1971, p. 11) Now, being in the original state, what principles would the members agree on?
220.127.116.11 A HYPOTHETICAL CONTRACT
Imagine you, as a rational being, are among the members in the original state and you are beginning to think about ways to design your society. But you don't know who you are, whether you are strong or weak, rich or poor. So, you try to imagine what kind of society you would want to live in, provided that you could possibly end up with any identity.
Probably, you want to ensure that, no matter what your aims might be, you are provided with the same rights and opportunities as anybody else and that you are in any case treated fairly, with respect for your interests. Sensibly, you would at the same time try to cover your back for the worst case. Or, even better, agree on conditions in which it does not make a great difference which identity you find yourself with.
For instance, you want to have property - to own a piece of land which you can use as your home. You also want to have the liberty of expressing and living according to your own worldview, your religion and your convictions - whatever they might be. And you want to have genuine opportunities to pursue any life goal - to have unhindered access to education, training and to any job which suits you. But also, you want to have the liberty of not choosing any job at all and still be treated fairly. No matter which lifestyle you may end up preferring, you want to be able to participate in society, without being excluded. And you want to participate in political decisions and your voice to be respected. And you want to live in safety, without constantly fearing that someone could force you to do something, or deprive you of your freedom, or even of your life.
Moreover, you want to have access to several resources, not only to survive, but also to live a healthy life: access to clean water and nutritious food - food that doesn't make you sick in the long run. But that doesn't seem enough: you can only exercise all the liberties and opportunities you have been thinking about, if you have sufficient means to be able to pursue any life plan. That doesn't mean that you necessarily demand just being given an uncountable amount of money with which you can fulfill any of your wishes, no matter how luxurious they might be. But at least you want to be given the opportunities and minimal resources necessary to reach your goals.
Now, you might counter that I am wrong; that you, or any other member, would not necessarily choose as I suggested. You may object that I am not consequent enough in imagining the original state, because I am still presupposing that the members do have a certain character trait, namely that they are risk-averse and not willing to gamble with their fortune. Why should that be the case? Why wouldn't the members possibly agree on even greater benefits, greater opportunities and power for the best-off and in return accept more burdens for the worst-off? My preliminary answers to those questions are the following:
First, although in the original state everyone is deprived of one's identity, individuals are still rational. And that means that they would choose the rules for their society by trying to effectively pursue particular goals. Surely, humans don't only have reasonable goals, although they still might be rational in some sense. In general, it's hard to assess objectively which goals are reasonable to what extent. However, I assume that humans do have certain goals in common, independently of particular identities: humans want to survive and to live a healthy and happy life. And that is why individuals in the original state would certainly avoid the risk of their lives, health or happiness being in severe danger. Important to note is that this kind of risk-aversion cannot be traced to one's character. It rather inherently belongs to human nature. This answer shows why the members in the original state would be risk-averse in that sense and cover their backs.
Second, being deprived of one's identity entails that character traits such as greed would not play a role. The members would therefore not want to have more than they need. As long as their basic needs are guaranteed to be satisfied, they cannot have a feeling of lacking something. They are not driven by any character trait which triggers feelings of dissatisfaction with what they have, no matter how much it is. The situation is similar to the state of a baby which eats only until it has a feeling of satiety - because it still lacks a manifested identity and does not yet comprehend society's influence. Let's look to reality: some persons tend to accumulate things without ever being truly satisfied. But that is because of their attitudes and their character. All desires which go beyond what we need are dependent on our identities and our individual beliefs which result from those identities. Moreover, in the original state, members are not influenced by the market, which is interested in increasing consumption. Outside of the original state, in our real-world, the situation is as follows: although we might have everything to survive and live a happy life, the market manipulates us, so that we misleadingly think we lack something - that we need more than what we have. Just think of all the mass consumption in industrial countries (Matsuyama, 2002, pp. 1035 f.), of obesity problems in the US (Sarwer/Grilo, 2020, p. 135) or the fact that we live in a 'throwaway culture' (Silecchia, 2017, pp. 1 f.). Conclusively, since all those factors are not existent in the original state, the members would not take the risk of choosing rules which promise extremely high benefits for the best-off and, in turn, almost none for the worst off.
Maybe you are still not convinced and might insist that the members could choose differently. Even if that is true, there is still a moral justification behind the principles I assume members in the original state would agree on. If you don't think that you, as a member, would choose in that way, then you should still choose like that, from a moral point of view.
2.2.2 MORAL JUSTIFICATION
We have approximated questions of distributive justice by invoking our imagination. In the thought experiment of the original state we have seen how promising it is to ignore facts about our contingent identities when thinking about matters of justice. But we have also seen that merely making initial assumptions is by far not strong enough. Let's now turn to actually validate the initial assumptions by developing a moral justification. In the next sections, it will therefore become clear why it is not only plausible, but even morally required not to base the distribution of social goods on morally irrelevant factors. First, we will clarify what morally irrelevant factors are. Second, we will discuss utilitarian, libertarian, meritocratic and egalitarian distributive principles and analyze whether and in how far they base distribution on morally irrelevant factors. By doing that, we can find out which principles would match the idea of an ideal society most closely.
MORALLY IRRELEVANT FACTORS
Let's start with some thoughts. We are all different. Everyone is born into a certain family and culture in which individual social dynamics and rules prevail. We all enjoy a different kind of upbringing, we experience different levels of support from our family members and our social environment and we are left with different expectations and ambitions. Different families are in different financial situations, which also affects our opportunities during and after childhood. Moreover, everyone grows up with different talents and endowments. But did we ever have a chance to decide to be born into our particular family? Is it my doing that I can solve mathematical problems better than you, while you are more creative than me? Obviously, the answer is no. Rather, all those factors are arbitrary. But why are they not only factually arbitrary, but also irrelevant from a moral point of view? The crucial point here is the connection between morality and responsibility. We didn't choose our social status and natural endowments. They are neither our doing nor our fault, but are assigned to us when we are born. That means that we are not responsible for those factors. And because we are not responsible for them, we cannot be blamed or praised, i.e. morally judged, because of them. Imagine someone tells a poor child who has already lost most of her teeth and squints that she is ugly. Wouldn't we immediately counter that this comment is unfair, because it's not her fault?
Surely, one can object that we are at least partially responsible for what we are good at and for how ambitious we are in life: we can actively work on ourselves, decide which abilities we want to improve to what extent and even develop skills we did not have before. It may be true that it's not entirely arbitrary which talents and abilities we have. But even then, our opportunities and the potential to develop those abilities are in any case still dependent on our genetic resources, our upbringing and many further external circumstances we can hardly be held responsible for.
Now, back to the broader picture: the fact that our social status and natural endowments are morally irrelevant factors entails that we should not suffer or enjoy particular discriminatory or privileging consequences on basis of them. And that can be directly applied to issues of distributive justice: basing distribution of social goods on morally irrelevant factors is unjust. Let's now turn to the discussion of libertarian, meritocratic and egalitarian distributive principles and see how they cope with morally irrelevant factors.
Having clarified the nature of morally irrelevant factors, we can now turn to the discussion of different distributive principles. By using an analogy of a life race, I will visualize the conditions of each system. To keep it simple, the three participants A, B and C represent all members of a society. We can assume that every individual has certain goals in life, represented by G in the right. However, not everybody has the very same set of goals. We all aim at different things. Certainly, most individuals want to survive at least, but then there are usually additional goals beyond mere survival. That diversity of life goals is represented by the different shapes around the Gs. We should therefore not think of the race as a competition for a single prize. Rather, every participant is running the 'race of life', each trying to achieve his or her own 'prize', i.e. conception of a good life.
Now imagine, individuals are born into a society, develop their own conception of the Good (their goals) and run the race in order to achieve it - all with different success. One's financial and social situation, talents, abilities, resilience etc. determine how fast one is able to run. But how successful individuals are is not only dependent on social and natural contingencies. In how far individuals can pursue their goals by making use of their individual situation is in turn contingent on how society is structured, i.e. how social and political institutions are organized and which principles of justice find application. In what way the basic structure of a society can influence the conditions for the race of life will be explained in the following discussion of utilitarian, libertarian, meritocratic and egalitarian systems. Without any implemented structure, the race looks like follows:
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Utilitarian theory morally assesses objects (in a very broad sense, e.g. intentions, actions, principles etc.) by their consequences or outcomes In particular, the highest utilitarian principle is to maximize utility. (Bentham, 1823, pp. 2 ff.) The understanding of utility reaches from pleasure, advantage, good (Bentham, 1823, p. 3) to happiness (Crisp, 1997, p. 7). Within the discourse of distributive justice, utilitarianism falls under the realm of welfare-based principles. In that context, the best distribution in a society is the one that brings about the most welfare in total. (SEP, 2017a)
What are the implications of that account? Utilitarianism can be interpreted as being collectivist, for its principle is to maximize the utility of the collective - in our context, the welfare of society - as a whole. That doesn't mean that 'the collective' is to be understood as an own entity. Rather the welfare of the collective is calculated by summing up the (quality of) welfare of the single individuals. (Bentham, 1823, p. 4) But utilitarianism stops at that point. There are no further requirements. And that entails morally unbearable risks: as long as welfare is maximized, utilitarianism leaves open the question of how to achieve that goal. In other words, there are no requirements of how to treat particular individuals in order to attain the greatest welfare in sum. What if the greatest welfare can be attained by establishing slavery? What if the pain of a minority of slaves is worth the even greater pleasure for those who enjoy their services? Another example: what if the general welfare can be maximized by excluding a certain minority - let's say disabled or old persons - from taking part in daily social life. The majority of young, healthy and members may live a much better life without being bothered by the problems of the disabled and old. We see that, in order to maximize the utility of the collective, in some cases a utilitarian system might not only allow for, but even require a restriction of liberties of some (the slaves, disabled, old) for the sake of greater benefits for others.
There is another approach to reject the collectivist nature of utilitarianism: consider the fact that often a temporary sacrifice is needed in order to enjoy a greater benefit in the future. From the point of view of individuals that might not be a problem. Individuals can autonomously decide for themselves which sacrifice is worth making - provided that only they themselves are affected by that sacrifice. But if we consider that from a collective point of view, a moral problem occurs: according to the utilitarian idea it would be justified to decide over individuals or groups that their sacrifice would be worth for the sake of a larger benefit for others, or for the future. In that case, individuals or groups wouldn't have a decision-making power over (or right to consent to) their sacrifice.
Those examples show that additive or maximizing methods, as promoted by utilitarianism, which consider consequences for the whole collective, bear the risk of disrespecting particular individuals' or minorities' moral status, i.e. ignoring their interests, restricting their liberties and establishing distributive inequalities exclusively in favor of the majority. In consequence, in a utilitarian system all goods - rights, opportunities and resources - may be distributed based on morally irrelevant factors. And that can barely be related to genuine justice.
How could a utilitarian system be illustrated in terms of the analogy of the race of life?
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Imagine, A and B belong to the majority of physically and mentally healthy members of a society, while C suffers severe depressions. The utility of the collective of those three members might be maximized by using C as a slave for A and B. A and B could make C complete all daily tasks that both of them regard as annoying. A and B could focus only on things they like doing all day long and would be extremely satisfied. They would provide C only with food and water. In consequence, C's personal and political interests would be completely disrespected. He would not have any rights, opportunities or resources. That means that C would not be provided with access to the race of life. He couldn't even think of having any chance of achieving his goals.
Is there a way out for utilitarians which does not imply disrespect for individuals or minorities? Maybe justice could mean, in consequentialist terms, that each individual is provided with whatever means are necessary to realise his or her individual conception of a good life, to fulfill his or her dreams and live a life as happily as anybody else. In that case, nobody's moral status would be disrespected. Would that satisfy our idea of justice? Remember, justice means to treat equals equally. But humans are different with respect to how they make us of their resources. So, in order to guarantee the consequence of everyone being equally happy, individuals would have to be provided with different means. In other words, although the outcomes might be equal, according to this particular interpretation of utilitarianism, individuals would have to be treated differently. And that can certainly not be regarded as just.
Imagine, a mother has twins who are craving for chocolate, so the mother gives each child one chocolate bar. One of the twins, A, is happy, but her brother, B, cries and wants more. If the mother decides to indulge B's wish and gives him another chocolate bar, so that both are equally happy in consequence, would we claim that the mother treated A and B equally? Certainly not. A may complain about being treated unfairly, especially considering the fact that she acted in a modest way, while her brother was ungrateful. Justice would require to give both the same amount of chocolate. Only then could we say that the mother treated her children equally.
Surely, consequences are important for matters of justice. But the actual location of justice, in the first place, lies in the way those consequences are brought about. As Immanuel Kant (and later, John Rawls) claims, we should never treat humans merely as means to a certain end, like maximizing utility. Instead, humans are to be treated as ends in themselves. (Kant, GMS, §428) That requirement is actually indicated by the common meaning of 'treating', when we claim that justice requires to treat equals equally.
Let's summarize: Focusing on consequences for a whole collective does not preclude individuals or minorities from being disrespected (e.g. slaves, disabled, old). But equalizing consequences for particular individuals does not preclude some individuals from being treated unfairly (twin A) in relation to others (twin B). Should we therefore refuse to think of consequences at all? It seems impossible to deliberate about matters of justice without considering which consequences certain principles would imply for individuals. For instance, a society should avoid making decisions which result in high unemployment and poverty. A society should also care about making its members happy. But before thinking of possible consequences, certain morally unacceptable risks should be avoided in the first place, no matter how good their outcomes might be. Distributive justice therefore requires to define superior, deontological principles which guarantee that the moral status of all individual members is respected. Think back to the case of slavery: justice requires to prohibit slavery, although it means accepting the fact that those who would have used the slaves may have experienced more pleasure than they do under a prohibition law. Before asking what is good, or better, or best, we should ask first what is the right thing to do. The consequentialist approach of utilitarianism does not suffice: we need a mixed approach which does consider consequences, but defines certain fundamental deontological principles in the first place. We will now see which of the following approaches acknowledge this requirement.
The fundamental idea behind libertarian theory is that we, as free and autonomous individuals, inherently own ourselves, including all our characteristics, skills, talents and whatever we produce using them (Locke, Second Treatise of Government, §27). Being the owner of oneself means having the natural right, i.e. prior to and independent of society, to do whatever we want to do. (Nozick, 1974, pp. 231 f.) But only provided that we respect the rights of others to do the same. Out of that idea arises the requirement that society should provide every member with equal fundamental liberty rights which must always have the highest priority. By no means is any individual or institution allowed to override someone's liberty. (SEP, 2018a) Libertarians therefore strongly criticize the utilitarian idea of collective utility by claiming that it doesn't respect individuals as separate, purposeful human beings. In that context, libertarians follow Immanuel Kant's maxim not to treat humans merely as means for a certain end, but always as ends in themselves, which is reflected by the self-ownership idea. (Nozick, 1974, pp. 32 f.)
One of the most influential libertarians, Robert Nozick, examines the distribution of property in his Entitlement Theory. Basically, there are two, and only two, principles for someone to be entitled to a holding. The first principle is called principle of justice in acquisition. If a person A mixes her naturally owned labor with an originally unowned holding, A is entitled to that holding - provided that there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.' (Locke, Second Treatise of Government, §27). That first principle is inspired by another prominent libertarian, John Locke, who claims that in the state of nature, i.e. prior to any social order, humans have a natural right to property which is justified by that mixing procedure. The second principle is called principle of justice in transfer. If A acquires a holding, which B is already entitled to, by transmission based on free consent within a free market (i.e. by donating, buying or trading and not by stealing or blackmailing), A is entitled to that holding. (Nozick, 1974, pp. 218 ff.)
According to Nozick, a minimal state, in which the government is only limited to protecting individuals' liberty and property, is the maximally acceptable social order (Nozick, 1 974, p. 217). That implies that the members of a society are deprived of their right to forcefully protect their property. That right is transferred to a superior institution (e.g. police). Why should individuals agree to such a violation of their liberty? Nozick claims that individuals would willingly give up their liberty to use force by themselves, since superior institutions can guarantee a protection of their liberty and property in a better way than individuals themselves. That way, they can live in peaceful and calm cohabitation, instead of constantly watching out if somebody intends to violate their liberty or steal their property. (SEP, 2018a)
A libertarian society should not be further ordered by any imposed pattern or structure which goes beyond a minimal state (Nozick, 1974, pp. 262 f.). There should not be any paternalist or moral legislation which imposes specific behavioral norms or virtues, i.e. a conception of the good life, on individuals. The same applies to the free market: any regulation by imposed patterns would violate individuals' fundamental liberties. All inequalities which result from what people do within the market are morally acceptable. A libertarian government does not only lack the duty of balancing inequalities, but is not even allowed to do so. (SEP, 2018a) Any redistribution, such as taxing labor, in order to support less well-off people in a society, would mean that the state coercively takes away an individual's income, which he or she is actually fully entitled to according to the idea of self-ownership and the libertarian principles of justice. Nozick claims that income taxation can be even morally put on a level with forced labor. Just as forced labor takes away someone's time and effort, taxation takes away a part of the fruits of one's labor. That implies that the government owns a part of its citizens' labor, thus a part of the citizens themselves. (Nozick, 1974, pp. 243-248) The maximally permitted taxing of individuals is for the sake of collective needs, such as police or a judicial system which protects peoples' property rights within a minimal state (SEP, 2018a)
The libertarian principle of providing everyone with equal liberty rights avoids the risk which is implied by utilitarianism, namely that individuals' liberties might be violated. But although a libertarian system provides such a great freedom for individuals, it entails unfair consequences: what is clearly dependent on morally irrelevant factors in a libertarian system is the distribution of income and wealth: those are distributed by the free market, i.e. they result from free exchange and voluntary transactions, without being regulated by government. Such an absolutely unhindered free flow results in income and wealth being distributed based on social and economic (dis)advantages, for which individuals cannot be held responsible. And that has a direct effect on individuals' opportunities. In a libertarian system every member is given formal equality of opportunity: no matter what family one is born into, those who are naturally gifted are allowed to exercise their talents and achieve their life goals. The distribution of opportunities may therefore not be based on morally irrelevant factors in theory. However, it does matter, in fact, in what kind of family one grows up: if one lacks financial and mental support by one's parents and cannot afford decent education, one cannot make effective use of one's opportunities. In terms of our life race analogy, that means that individuals set off from very different starting points, depending on their social and economic circumstances. Those who are born in wealthy families have clear advantages in contrast to poorer members of a society.
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Imagine, A is born into a very wealthy family and aims at becoming a successful lawyer. His parents send him to the most prestigious and most expensive law school in the world. He doesn't even have to be extraordinarily talented or hardworking to receive a good degree - with a sufficient amount of money he can more or less 'buy' it. Having a degree from that school is a guarantee for being recruited by the best law offices and becoming one of the most well-known lawyers. In consequence, A might not even have to run the race of life, but can comfortably and unconcernedly walk towards his goal which has been in feasible reach since his birth. Now, suppose C also aims at becoming a successful lawyer. He is actually more talented than A. But his parents cannot afford to send him to any law school and thus he has no chances at all to become a lawyer. Instead, he is doomed to take over his father's joinery business, which is the only hope for the family to keep their moderately decent living standard. We can see that A and C have extremely different chances of achievement within a libertarian system. Escaping from poverty seems hardly possible, whereas coming from a wealthy family most likely guarantees a decent income and a (relatively) free life. So, having opportunities just formally doesn't always help.
A crucial problematic consequence of the lack of genuine opportunities is that the fundamental liberties of the worst-off members of a society might be substantially restricted. It may be true that liberties would not be violated by any particular person, or group, or the state. That might at least give individuals a feeling of freedom. But that doesn't change the fact that less well-off members might in fact often end up not having genuine opportunities to choose their life path. No matter what the cause is - a direct or an indirect violation of liberties - in the end, a libertarian system cannot provide real freedom for many of its members. In terms of our example, C may not feel genuinely free. He cannot do what he wants, although he lives in a libertarian society which promises freedom. The focus on freedom within libertarianism is absolutely fundamental. However, by not further shaping the basic structure of society, libertarianism seems to ignore the severe differences of individuals' realistic chances of achievement which result from the morally irrelevant accident of birth.
Similar as libertarians, proponents of meritocratic systems oppose utilitarianism, for it treats humans merely as a means for achieving certain ends and not as responsible individuals (SEP, 2017a). From that idea arises the desert-based view of distributive justice according to which individuals deserve certain benefits in light of their productive labors, contributions or efforts in a free market (Riley, 1989, pp. 137 f.). In contrast to the libertarian system, by defining criteria for desert, a meritocratic system does impose behavioral expectations on its members. In that sense, what is regarded as virtuous and valuable is to work hard. Proponents of meritocracies promote equalizing and guaranteeing free education and training opportunities, as well as providing accessible health care for everyone. (SEP, 2017a)
What would the basic structure of a meritocratic society look like in terms of the life race analogy?
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1 In how far distributive principles - particularly considering the allocation of income and wealth - apply to children and foreigners is not of concern in this paper.
2 John Rawls' thought experiment is slightly altered in this context. Moreover, Rawls talks of the 'original position'. I prefer calling it the 'original state', for it is to be imagined as a state of consciousness rather than a position within my interpretation.
3 'Rational' is to be understood as aiming at being guaranteed as many social goods as possible and choosing efficient means to pursue that aim. Feelings like envy are excluded: the members are not interested in whether others have more or less. Each just wants to have as much as possible. (Rawls, 1971, pp. 123 ff.)
- Quote paper
- Andjelika Eissing-Patenova (Author), 2020, Justice with Universal Basic Income, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/934428