John Rawls and the Cancer of Extreme Inequality

Presently, I am slogging through John Rawls‘ “A Theory of Justice“, the brunt of which rests on these two basic requirements of a just society:

First, each person is to have an equal right to the most basic extensive set of liberties comparable with the liberties of others.

Second, social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both a) reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage and b) attached to positions and offices open to all…

The first appears rather standard, particularly to an American. Liberties and rights should be guaranteed to apply to all citizens in an equal fashion.

In practice, of course, the easiest way to circumvent this requirement is to play fast and loose with definition of citizenship itself. This phenomenon should be very familiar to an American, particularly in an age where rights are happily denied to those labelled as “illegal,” despite participation in our economic system, which is the very root of out national identity.

The second is more interesting. Rawls accepts inequality, but argues that it is only permissible when it benefits everyone, and when opportunities to move on the social ladder are open to everyone.

Clearly, if we take Rawls’ requirements as dogma, the United States in 2012 has a serious problem. The United States would be a prime example of an unjust society. Our level of inequality benefits only a select few. Our level of inequality is cancerous.

One could argue that it always has been, though I would also argue that we made serious inroads for a while (thank you labor, thank you unions). However, The economic tides have very much turned against individuals seeking to move up.

I keep returning to the situation of adjunct instructors, and how the phenomenon is completely unspectacular in the grand scheme of things and indicative of this cancerous growth of economic inequalities and therefore, power inequalities.

Inequality is wildly popular in the US. Hollywood made an industry out of telling stories of people with lives and abilities vastly superior to our own. Jesus can walk on water, we have to swim. It’s also true, that a certain amount of inequality is necessary.

What proponents of the current level and growth of inequality miss (and they are clearly legion), is that the extremely wealthy in the United States are no longer constrained by national borders. Free marketers make the assumption that once all resources move to a select few, the market will collapse and reset. This is the heart of neo-classical economics. If things get really bad, the system will fix itself. But what if the winning players can just quit the game?

As an example, this idea of a “resetting system” certainly hasn’t worked for Michigan. Why? Michigan (and least of all for Detroit) isn’t a closed system! The wealthy of Michigan are free to invest is other more profitable areas, other states or countries, while the not so wealthy at home are left in the dust and without capital. The point is, the rich have many choices. We don’t have that many.

Mr. Romney is the inequality candidate. In fact, he feels that people (like me) screaming of the problems of inequality are just “envious.” Personally, I don’t give a shit about his dancing horse. I just want non-employer sponsored affordable health care and reasonable wages for my fellow Americans.

Granted, Mr. Romney has never been poor so we should wonder why anyone should believe him when he speaks on the subject. Vote for him, and you, well, vote for him.

About these ads

About Peter Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,598 other followers

%d bloggers like this: