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Brief Description of Rawls' Theory of Justice

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In the framework of justice theory developed by Rawls in 1971 society is considered to be a mutually cooperative endeavor that is established with the purpose of receiving shared gains (Rawls 1971). The latter is obtained through participation of every member of society in the market economy. Remuneration of the results of work in the market economy are distributed among people based on the principle of cooperation. The principle implies that those shares of paychecks that are gained as a result of mutual cooperation inside the society are reducing the size of that paycheck share that originates from individual work outside of the society. According to Rawls, net payment rates (after taking into account taxation and subsidies) should not be equalized in the society since it will eliminate people’s motivation to work productively. Instead, he suggests that there is a need for reduction of the marginal rates of taxation from the existent confiscatory rates. That would facilitate widening of the remuneration inequality and, thus, improve efficiency of work as well as revenue yield (Nagel 1973).

Nozick’s Criticism

Nozick’s definition of justice is somewhat different from that of Rawls. According to the latter, people gain more benefits from individual work in the market economy and little value is received from mutual cooperation in the society (Nozick 1974). Unlike Rawls, he considers that people have strong incentives to become independent from the society if marginal rates of taxation are set according to Rawls’ principle. Moreover, he agreed that high marginal tax rates are not acceptable in the just society.

From the point of view of Nozick, economy in Rawls’ framework is considered to be a market socialism while he actually developed ideas of pure capitalism. Theory of justice developed by Rawls operates with composure under the circumstances of competition between capitalism and market socialism, which was taking place in many European countries. However, his determined focus on the central role of the career, realization of challenges of jobs and further improvement of talents, which Rawls defined as “self-realization”, as well as his emphasis on the dominance of basic freedoms leave no doubts that Rawls had capitalism in mind (Nozick 1974).

Moreover, according to Nozick, justice theory that was developed by Rawls reminded of an admission of guilt about the status quo insofar as it established the concept of justice from the existing practice and excluded the likelihood that in some situations some unjust issues may appear entrenched in market economy, capitalist social relations, or private property (Wolf 2006).

One of the key elements in Rawls’ theory of justice is the treatment of natural endowments that were severely criticized by Nozick. According to Rawls, individual’s share in the society is determined by his or her natural endowment or talent, in other words. Therefore, those people that have more skills and abilities enjoy larger shares in the society and thus substantial remuneration for work. At the same time, the impact of skills and abilities of people on distributive shares in the society is strongly restricted. Rawls considers that the abilities and skills of people affect distribution of shares in the society only to the extent when they improve welfare of those people in the society who do not possess these abilities. The latter in particular has become the subject of criticism in the literature (Wolf 2006).

Nozick criticizes Rawls for assembling the original position in order to secure the choice of the end-state principles. According to Nozick, people are not able to give preference to the ideas of historical privileges on the grounds that principles of historical privileges seem to them to be just. However, ethical considerations, including justice, are not acceptable in the framework of the original position of Rawls. People are thought to make choices exclusively on the base of self-interest meaning that all that they care about is the end state. Principles of historical privileges bring people to an end state that creates favorable conditions for those people that have more skills and abilities compared to others. Since people are supposed to not be aware of their skills and abilities, they most likely would prefer to discard principles of historical privileges.

Nozick considers that Rawls designed original setting of his economy in such a way that principles of historical privileges can never be chosen. Rawls strongly rejects the natural liberty system by setting economic conditions against the theory of historical privileges. Rawls discards the theory of historical privileges due to the fact that the latter allows arbitrary factors to exercise impact on distributive shares of people in the society. According to Nozick, Rawls unambiguously established the original setting of the theory as well as its choice situation in order to exemplify and understand his negative assessment of the possibility that natural arbitrary endowments can affect distributive shares of people in society (Wolf 2006).

In the framework of the theory of justice, Rawls established the idea that people are endowed with skills and abilities on the arbitrary principle. According to his concept, if people decide to make investments and improve their talents, skills and abilities, then those decisions are also considered to be the products of factors that are normally out of people’s control and therefore arbitrary. Nozick challenges this idea, arguing that if someone applies this principle to other spheres and brings it to the logical conclusion, then it may turn out that there is nothing in the society that is under control of people. Thus, this endangers the background idea that all people are considered to be free individuals.

Finally, Nozick challenges Rawls’ idea of natural assets endowment randomness. He argues that all people have the right to possess natural assets like talents and skills. Since results of work originate from natural endowments, then people have the right to possess the results of work. Therefore, it is justified to let arbitrary allocation of talents, skills and abilities to have impact on the distribution of remuneration shares between people in the society (Wolf 2006).

Personal Perception of Nozick’s Criticism of Rawls’ Theory of Justice

In reality, the optimal justice theory is somewhere in between Norzick’s and Rawls’ ideas. Setting up high marginal tax rates is unfair just as much as setting them low. Norzick’s sharp criticism of Rawls’ marginal taxation principle is arguable. In cases Rawls’ principle is established, people in the society who have more abilities and skills with a clear perception of justice cannot rationally agree to live and work in Norzick’s economy with low wages and low income. Therefore, breaking the so called “contract” is not unjust overall.

Rawls’ idea of arbitrary endowment with talents, skills and abilities is rather ambiguous and may have positive and negative implications. On the one hand, it can have a positive implication due to the idea that distribution of remuneration in the society should not be affected by the arbitrary natural endowment with talents, skills and abilities. On the other hand, the idea of arbitrary natural endowment may exercise negative implications, including impact on the distribution of the welfare. Nevertheless, it is fair if talents and skills have partial impact on the distribution of work remuneration, or shares in the society cooperation. Yet, their impact should be limited in order not to hurt the worse off in the society.

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