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It's not just about who the government is going to pick as the winner, and who's going to pay and/or suffer for it; Apartheid is a very stark example. A cleverer government--likely one with a broader selectorate--is going to have some way of preferentially assigning restricted benefits to the target group to some maximal point without pushing the excluded into outright rebellion. Apartheid incited violence; racial quotas in federal jobs merely inspire grumbling among the excluded.

Shangwen: "racial quotas in federal jobs merely inspire grumbling among the excluded."

Racial quotas are so last century, exclusion now is much more sophisticated - did you see this NY Times article on the difficulties Asian students face when applying to elite universities http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/opinion/asians-too-smart-for-their-own-good.html?

Interesting point about the trade-off between benefits to the in-group and rebellion from the out-group. One thing about social distance is that the out-group may have absolutely no idea of how the in-group lives, and vice versa.

I feel like the phrase "non-aggression principle" reconciles all the issues described in this post.

Actually, I look at the entire world economy as an apartheid system. Some countries are fortunate enough to have lots of clustered industry. In them, industry creates an environment in which other industry can thrive. Other countries got left out as the clusters formed.

On this, we have imposed a system which is basically apartheid. People in the countries with industrial clusters prevent people from the less fortunate countries from entering, thus excluding them from the jobs in the clusters and keeping their own wages high.

To me, this is the basic, fundamental reason that we live in a world divided into rich and poor countries. And the differences in welfare between countries created by this system dwarf the differences created in South Africa in the past.

Paul, excellent point.

Frances: Yes, I guess I was being too retro with "racial quota". Obviously affirmative action, diversity enhancement, etc., are what I should have mentioned. I've also seen the Asian-discrimination issue in the papers before, but not that particular article. As for the awkward issues that those group difference stats always raise, let's just not discuss them.

Another weird example is Singapore, with its real-deal, old world racial quotas, and all its other social engineering ratios. Whenever I go to Asia, it's always interesting to see just how much freedom people seem to trade off (or how much deprivation of it they will accept) in exchange for economic growth. A cousin of mine there, who is single, can only buy or rent housing in certain buildings, because she is not going to have children. Another cousin of mine was subsidized by the government to go a fancy govt-sponsored singles club, because he was identified as socially desirable breeding material; his older brother didn't get this treatment, because his reported income was lower. There is a surprisingly high level of tolerance for this in east Asia (read: wherever there are Han Chinese), partly because of historical tradition, but also because there is a belief that Han social engineering has been relatively successful. I find all of this creepy. On the other hand, unlike the lower middle classes who want to move to the US and Canada, the Asian upper classes look at North America as a kind of carny-infested theme park with cheap parking, so there may be other dynamics that reinforce support for social planning.

Shangwen - I agree with you that this is the way it's been. But cultures can change rapidly. The one child policy - producing a generation that has never had to share - along with technology that is democratizing the Chinese language by changing the way people write (typing characters rather than producing perfect calligraphy) - will have profound cultural effects. I'm so encouraged whenever I discover that one of my Chinese friends can't make rice without a rice cooker - it's so nice to see that Westerners aren't the only ones being dumbed down by technology.

"A GAI ... benefits employers by subsidizing (thus putting downwards pressure) on wages."

This is only true if there is a work requirement for receiving the GAI.

If the GAI is strings-free, it will incentivize some people *not* to work.

This will raise the price of labor (while maintaining monetary velocity/spending/AD).

This will encourage employers to invest it labor-productivity enhancement.

All in a virtuous cycle.

The best thinking and analysis I've seen on this subject:

http://slackwire.blogspot.com/2010/09/public-options-general-case.html

@Frances- At least in the US, Asian students do not face as much exclusion as white Catholic/Protestant students.

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/

@Shangwen
I don't understand American universities that much but isn't Asian-American under-representation at Ivy-league colleges (given their test scores) a factor of them all competing against each other to get into similar majors e.g. STEM? And the Jewish over-representation because they tend to choose majors where there is less competition?

Shangwen:

There are no "racial quotas" for federal jobs in Canada. What you will see is that certain jobs (usually low-level clerks with basic education requirements) are reserved for "Employment Equity Groups", women, racial minorities, Aboriginals, or the disabled.

This does not override the Merit Principal that a candidate must demonstrably meet all job requirements. For Officer-level positions (actually administering a program or carrying out a policy duty for the public) this is never seen, the education requirements and bilingualism requirements see to that.

I applied for a federal job in Montreal, I got to the testing stage. I was dropped over a test result I did not agree with and I invoked the long review process which is now coming to a conclusion. My conclusion after reviewing the evidence is that department and office were either incompetent or did not want to deal with an external candidate.

The discussion is fine so far, but I'm worried that it's about to veer off-topic.

Let's try to keep the discussion on big picture structural issues. Any comments that I consider racist, xenophobic or otherwise inappropriate will be deleted without explanation.

Frances: "The discussion is fine so far..."

Really? Cause for me, the nausea started to set in the moment affirmative action got compared to apartheid. GMAFB. Not a big fan either of commenters' oblique references to unmentionable "awkward" theories of racial differences, i.e. the internet equivalent of talking under one's breath.

I'm OK with this discussion. People form coalitions that consist of pools of capital -- social, financial, and physical. Access to this pool is restricted to the coalition. You cannot discuss this without discussing social relations, many of which have an ethnic component. The coalition is based on trust, you are expected to put into the pool, and so you have a right to draw from the pool. You are more familiar to the members of the pool and are rooted in the community, so that others can perform credit analysis more efficiently, can vet prospective employees, and can appeal to the community to obtain a measure of justice without needing to file lawsuits.

In my city there are ethnic business communities -- Irish, Chinese, Palestinians, Indian, etc. They are proud of helping their own.

There was a recent notable example of a prominent Palestinian investor who was revealed to be running an real estate ponzi scheme. He was a rising star in the community engaging in affinity fraud, similar to Bernie Maddoff in the Jewish community, but on a much smaller scale. The department of building inspection was at one point strongly under the influence of Irish mobsters (said loosely, they didn't do much beyond beating up inspectors who didn't play along). Their main rival was a group of Chinese builders.

Let's talk about why affinity schemes are possible, and about the web of social and credit networks that some communities have access to while others do not.

One coalition benefits if its rivals have a smaller pool, or a non-existent pool, in the same way that one business benefits if its rival has less access to credit, or an employer benefits if their employees do not have enough reserves to conduct a thorough job search.

So you have a cycle in which one group, whether by incumbency or luck, gains access to a relatively large pool, and so has an advantage that snowballs, driving out rivals. The bigger their relative pool, the more jealously guarded is access to it and the greater the sense of group membership. Unless government (or a mob) steps in to break up the pool, you have an ossified permanent advantage. Look at the situation with Chinese in Indonesia. That is why it is not enough to outlaw apartheid. It is very hard to dislodge these pools and the advantages they provide.

The point being, that one's access to these pools of resources greatly determines ones options in life as well as how difficult it is for them to succeed or fail in many endeavors. This is not to say that if your last name isn't 'Patel', that you will not be able to own an SRO hotel, but it is ridiculous to close your eyes and pretend that everyone has the same opportunities or the same outcomes.

K: "Really? Cause for me, the nausea started to set in the moment affirmative action got compared to apartheid. GMAFB."

What was apartheid if not a quota system for whites - the quota being 100% of the good jobs, good schools, good neighbourhoods, representation in parliament, etc..

Granted, the comparison is a bit silly in the US (or Canada), but if you compared apartheid to, say, affirmative action in Sri Lanka (notably preferences for the Singhalese majority in employment and university education) coupled with the assorted other anti-Tamil (or pro-Singhalese, depending on how you want to characterize it) policies that accompanied it (which policies were partly responsible for the long and bloody civil war in that country), it's not so silly a comparison. The step between "addressing historical wrongs" and "oppressing the "other"" is a REALLY narrow one, and often depends on which side of the line you're on. Irshad Manji (unintentionally, but cleverly) made this point in "The Trouble With Islam" when she characterized Irael's pro-jewish policies - evidence of its status as an "apartheid state" to its critics - as a form of affirmative action program for a traditionally disadvantaged group (namely Jews).

Bob,

"What was apartheid if not a quota system for whites"

-No political representation
-No citizenship
-No human rights
-No police protection or access to justice


If that's a quota system, then slavery is a "forced labour quota" and the third reich had a quota system for murder. Calling apartheid a quota system or comparing it to federal government hiring practices is not "silly". "Ignorant" is the most charitable description that comes to mind.

On a point of clarification, I did not compare the public service to apartheid. I clearly posited it at the mild range of a long spectrum of various types of selection and exclusion. Nonetheless--and sticking to the point of Frances' post--federal deparments do have certain preferential policies, most recently priority hiring for CF veterans. For various political and cultural reasons, veterans are now perceived as a vulnerable population. Within the HR side of the civil service, there is also an unwritten practice of tailoring jobs for specific individuals or groups to ensure hiring; if you know someone inside federal HR or the public service commission, just ask them what a "purple squirrel" is. (No, it isn't a reference to dark skin.) This is for a minority of jobs, but it is still true that public sector employment has long been used, if only partially, as a tool of social policy to provide secure jobs for groups perceived as disadvantaged. Chasing tumbleweeds is an old but clear example of this.

One of the problems with poverty alleviation programs is that "the poor" (like the unemployed, the rich, Americans without health insurance, etc.) are heterogeneous and discontinuous. Many people move in and out of poverty; others enter or leave it permanently; far worse is the permanent multigenerational underclass, who are as dissimilar from the working poor as the working poor are from the rich. Stories of failed policies that make it into the news are usually about this last group.

K - one thing that was really fascinating about the Apartheid Museum was the way that controls breed controls. That is, one starts with a system of separation, and that leads to a system of pass books and racial classification, complete government control over large parts of the housing market, regulation of every aspect of industry, then.... and then.... and then ever escalating use of force...

"Unionization and minimum wages are another strategy: to force companies to pay workers a living wage"

I don't see unionization as being another strategy; rather, I'd say that it's exactly the *same* strategy as Apartheid: Improving wages and job security by eliminating labour market competition.

Colin - no, there are important differences. In a situation where the employer is able to exploit monopsony power and lower wages to below-competitive-market levels, a union can provide a valuable counterweight. Unions also press for health and safety measures for their workers - given everything that we know from behavioural economics about people's tendency to think in the very short-term, unions which say "we're going to press for protection for workers from...".

Also Apartheid was really truly nasty. What I didn't realize before coming here was the extent to which maintance of apartheid required strict controls on markets. For example, the government in the 1960s prevented private bus companies from servicing the black townships because it would have made it harder to maintain racial segregation (and cut in to the large profits generated by the government-owned railways).

I too think Paul Friesen's point is a good one. But I think it can be generalised. Paul says it is industrial clusters that make some countries rich and others poor. It might be any number of things: physical geography and natural resources, political/economic system, culture, whatever, and his point would still work. Who is and is not deemed to be a member of a "country" is always some mix of who your parents/grandparents/ancestors were and where you or they were born or have lived, with some others maybe being allowed to join the club if the existing members let them. Those libertarians who want unrestricted migration have a consistent position. But I wonder what (say) Canada would look like with unrestricted immigration? How much would the population jump? What would be the main languages? Would we have the same sort of economic system with the same amount of healthcare, education, and other support? Would it even remain a parliamentary democracy? AFAIK, Canada's current system of cherry-picking immigrants seems to have most voters' support, more or less. How many existing voters would support dropping all restrictions? (I wonder what immigration policy First Nations would choose if they could go back in time and enforce whatever policy they wanted?)

"Apartheid and racist legislation is the wrong answer to the problem of poverty."

Perhaps, but not for the reasons you give.

Apartheid constrained economic growth because sanctions made it difficult to source qualified white labour. Education and training opportunities were as a result opened up for coloureds and blacks.

In the interests of avoiding historical revisionism, let's not exaggerate the material standard of living of working class whites under the Apartheid regime.

Nick,

"AFAIK, Canada's current system of cherry-picking immigrants seems to have most voters' support, more or less."

As a justification, of course, that doesn't hold any more water than the observation that apartheid also had broad voter support. The greater moral question is who are the voters and what entitles them to exclusive domain over a particular part of the planet?

If I imagine myself trying to choose a system that would most optimize my expected welfare if I were going to be assigned a random human identity (between now and the end of time), then allowing small subsets of people exclusive domain over large fractions of the earth's resources would rank very low in my choice set (no matter what method of government those subgroups choose for themselves). From the perspective of Rawlsian justice, this is the definition of injustice, and it therefore implies a much more serious challenge to the legitimacy of the state. As you say, a fully libertarian migration policy is the only consistent position, but it's also the only moral position.

David Brooks has this article in the NYT today. Basically, he argues that even noticeably larger redistribution efforts are overwhelmed by the underlying ability of elites to protect and enrich themselves, and by their control of the rules. This is a disturbing truth.

Frances: "one starts with a system of separation, .... and then ever escalating use of force..."

This is similar to the problem Brooks mentions. When redistribution efforts are left to a set of rules, those rules must be enforced by a group of enforcers (not the voters). The enforcers then experience the benefits of being inside that system, and quickly learn how to keep their jobs. Maybe there are institutional or cultural constraints on how far they can go--a relatively weak Canadian elite may have more to do with a southward talent drain than a more egalitarian ethos--but there is nothing cynical in casual observations about things like "the poverty industry".

"The Occupy movement is driven by those who aspire to a middle class life, but are struggling (and sometimes failing) to keep themselves above the poverty line."

Come on now Frances. You can't possibly believe that. The Occupy movement is driven by the same organizations that have been the driving force behind all of the anti free-trade protests since the 1990s. These people despise nearly every aspect of the "middle class life". If I walked in to an Occupy protest handing out an advertisement for a job opening in the financial sector that paid 80K/year, how many applications do you think I'd get?

People who genuinely aspire to a middle class life but are struggling to keep themselves above the poverty line are nothing but props to the Occupiers. In the 1990s their props were workers in developing countries. But over the last 15 years standards of living in emerging markets have improved far too rapidly for them to be useful. So we hear much less about how Vietnamese factory workers are being exploited and much more about “the 99%” in developed countries.

K: understood. A way to re-phrase the question: why should these clubs we call "countries" necessarily have a spatial dimension? Is it because national defence doesn't work well if clubs overlap in space?

Interesting conversation. One reason I'm in South Africa right now is to learn more about the work of one Charles Manning. He's an international relations theorist who was influential in the development of modern ideas about international society - but also was a strong believer in apartheid. Subsequent scholars have tried to ignore the apartheid aspect of Manning's work, just as one ignores one's elderly relatives' offensive jokes at family parties. Yet, as this conversation suggests, nation states' controls over migrant flows do have similarities to apartheid.

Nick,

"A way to re-phrase the question: why should these clubs we call "countries" necessarily have a spatial dimension? Is it because national defence doesn't work well if clubs overlap in space?"

It seems to me that we can't escape from the fact that limited resources require government to arbitrate disputes, and also to take action in favour of the public good, given the well known failures of multilateral Coaseian bargaining (including bargaining with unborn generations). Independent of a need for defence, it's hard to imagine *not* tying specific governments to specific areas of land, so I don't think defence is a cause of borders. Well defined jurisdictions are just a requirement of law and order.

There is, however, a basic logical inconsistency among right-libertarians who demand open borders but exclusive private land use. Free migration doesn't solve anything if all land is privately owned. It simply raises land rents which means that the gains from migration accrue exclusively to land owners. There is no freedom in a world that's 100% owned, which is why *true* libertarians are geolibertarians (Georgists), who recognize the justice of a global, globally redistributed, land value tax. At least, that's what I'd pick if I was forced to choose from behind the Rawlsian veil.

On a point of clarification, I did not compare the public service to apartheid. I clearly posited it at the mild range of a long spectrum of various types of selection and exclusion. Nonetheless--and sticking to the point of Frances' post--federal deparments do have certain preferential policies, most recently priority hiring for CF veterans. For various political and cultural reasons, veterans are now perceived as a vulnerable population. Within the HR side of the civil service, there is also an unwritten practice of tailoring jobs for specific individuals or groups to ensure hiring; if you know someone inside federal HR or the public service commission, just ask them what a "purple squirrel" is. (No, it isn't a reference to dark skin.) This is for a minority of jobs, but it is still true that public sector employment has long been used, if only partially, as a tool of social policy to provide secure jobs for groups perceived as disadvantaged. Chasing tumbleweeds is an old but clear example of this.

The Public Service Commission is no longer directly involved in hiring, it just does enforcement how and a few broad pools. Using an internal competition inappropriately is another tactic to limit selection. Language requirements is the easiest one of all to use. BBB French knocks out a good swath of people. I have a B-Reading and have taken French lessons to prepare for the two other tests, that's how I wound up in my current predicament. My problem was that I am a Purple Squirrel and a Dark Horse Candidate the size of a Clydesdale.

A Priority is not a departmental policy, it is in the Regulations of the Public Service Employment Act. There is a priority for people with War Service (WWI, WWII and Korea) but it is almost a dead letter now. Formerly when the Post Office was still a department this was the main way it was used, to employ veterans, often disabled, as carriers and postmasters. It had been that way since WWI.

K,

The absence of political rights/citizenship in South Africa was a function of minority rule, not Apartheid per se, and was required to give effect to Apartheid. Had whites made up the majority of South Africa's population (as the Singhalese did in Sri Lanka, for example), political rights/citizenship for Africans or "Coloured" would have been moot. You're focusing on the form, not the substance. And I'd echo Shengwen's point that we're talking about a spectrum of exlusionary policies.

Colin - no, there are important differences. In a situation where the employer is able to exploit monopsony power and lower wages to below-competitive-market levels, a union can provide a valuable counterweight. Unions also press for health and safety measures for their workers - given everything that we know from behavioural economics about people's tendency to think in the very short-term, unions which say "we're going to press for protection for workers from...".

This statement surprises me, because when I read the original blog post, I assumed that the point was that all of the examples listed were examples of "[e]xcluding outsiders, and promising jobs for insiders" with the intent of "win[ning] some votes."

Was that not the intended comparison?

Bob,

OK. So what actions by a government towards a racial group are *not* substantively the same as Canadian federal government affirmative action programs? Do genocide and slavery count, or are they also on the spectrum? How about not providing the protections of personal security and justice to a particular racial group? Anything not on the spectrum?

Nick:

I think your points are good ones. Abundant natural resources can certainly play the same role as manufacturing clusters. This was more important in the past than it is today. (Think Ruhr Valley in the past vs. Japan today). But even today, oil supplies make some countries rich. Even agricultural resources can make a country like New Zealand rich if they are abundant enough relative to the population.

I have done some thinking and modeling about the effects of increased migration. It is discussed in my free on-line book at www.andwhyisthat.ca chapter 8. I am not really advocating the immediate removal of all restrictions, for the reasons you suggest, among others.

rsj:

I certainly agree with your points about the varying access to networks different types of people have in a society. I think this is the way we need to think about, for example, the relative poverty of our first nations.

K
"allowing small subsets of people exclusive domain over large fractions of the earth's resources would rank very low in my choice set (no matter what method of government those subgroups choose for themselves). From the perspective of Rawlsian justice, this is the definition of injustice, and it therefore implies a much more serious challenge to the legitimacy of the state. As you say, a fully libertarian migration policy is the only consistent position, but it's also the only moral position."

I believe you make the same "mistake" (its, of course, not actually a mistake, but rather a normative viewpoint) as Rawls did.

Imagine there were two possible states of the world, Wa and Wb.

In Wa, 10% are very wealth, the other 90% are poor (implying an equivalent probability distribution of being born very wealthy or poor)
In Wb, everyone is somewhere in the middle.

In terms of Rawlsian maxi-min, Wb is of course strictly preferable. But it relies on people being very risk averse. I doubt that they are.
In terms of more utilitarian criteria, Wa or Wb would be preferable, depending on which one has the higher expected utility. If those very wealthy are wealthy enough, Wa might be the winner. I would say that more people think this way than in the Rawlsian super-risk averse way.
But even that might be still too risk averse for some people. People paly the lottery after all, even though the expected gain is almost certainly negative (and quite a few are probably aware of this). A lot of people seem to be very content to take bad chances, as long as there is a big enough reward attached to them.

So, its all a normative question. I agree with you that especially the last approach is probably not very moral (there is things we shouldn't bet on, probably). But still, I think its more difficult than you are suggesting.

Alex1, do you mean that in Wb everyone makes exactly the same income?

If not, Wa and Wb are exactly the same world.

Alex1,

I'm not that strictly Rawlsian.

For one, maximin is a silly criterion, but I think you are on weak grounds expecting people not to be risk averse in general. Risk aversion backed out from financial markets tend to imply extremely high levels of risk aversion, i.e. very concave utility functions. But certainly they would trade some inequality for increased global consumption.

Secondly, Rawls apparently only considered the optimization over currently existing humans. But the Rawlsian thought experiment is such an awesome device, I can't see why you wouldn't apply it to solve issues of intergenerational equity. And considering the intertemporal veil problem, it becomes clear that growth optimizing arrangements, which may require incentive structures that significantly increase inequality, tend to be decisively important for asymptotic utility. Which again leads us back to land value (and other externality) taxation as the pre-eminent moral choice.

For me, though, the Rawlesian veil is as much a convenient personal, subjective guide as it is a moral framework. It allows me to quickly get a feeling about complex issues of justice by simply consulting my gut: How would I arrange this system so as to feel best about the prospect of subsequently being assigned a random identity among the affected individuals? It is really just rational choice but extended to the perspective of humanity as a whole. It seems like the "correct" perspective for the benevolent central planner.

The union I belonged to before I retired didn't exclude or try to exclude anyone. The employer was (and still is) free to hire the most qualified applicant, by their criteria, and that includes external applicants. The only thing the collective agreement requires is that, once hired, the employees must belong to the union. So far as I know (and I know a fair amount having been involved in the "union movement" for a few decades) this is the same pretty well all over Canada and has been for a good long time.

The collective agreement is, of course a contract binding on both parties and negotiated between them. There is nothing in the one I dealt with that prevents labour market competition.


Alex,

Generally the trade off is between concentration of wealth and lower than optimal growth, or less concentration of wealth and faster growth. When wealth is concentrated, then so is power, and incumbents exert their resources to destroying competition and enshrining their advantage.

Rather, what happens in a democracy is that the wealthy need to obtain the consent of the majority to prevent redistribution and to continue to have the government enforce their claims on vast estates, and so they spin yarns first about why it would be immoral to tax them more, and when the moralizing fails, they spin yarns about why such great concentrations of wealth are a necessary condition for growth, when in reality they impede it.

K, Bob Smith:" Had whites made up the majority of South Africa's population (as the Singhalese did in Sri Lanka, for example), political rights/citizenship for Africans or "Coloured" would have been moot. "
An interesting snippet reported in Time Magazine, when the magazine still mattered: In 1974 in Mississipi, a journalist overheard a conversation between two politicians. One of them was upbraiding the other about his softening racial views. To which the other answered: " I hate (very bad word) as much as always but my son will be running in the 2nd district and there it's 65% (very bad word).

K:

"It is really just rational choice but extended to the perspective of humanity as a whole. It seems like the "correct" perspective for the benevolent central planner."

rsj:

"Generally the trade off is between concentration of wealth and lower than optimal growth, or less concentration of wealth and faster growth. When wealth is concentrated, then so is power, and incumbents exert their resources to destroying competition and enshrining their advantage. "

But this, essentially, is my main issue with the Rawlsian veil as a device. It is just rational choice - but rational choice is always based on a set of preferences. And most people who use it, assume a very modern set of ethical preferences. But, as a tool, the veil isn't limited to that. In fact, changing the preferences, one can justify almost anything with it. For a long tome it was seen as absolutely morally legitimate to argue that some are born rich and some are born poor and that is just how the world works and there is no point in trying to change it (or that it even is a crime to try and change it). And that can be justified with arguments that are functionally very similar to the veil.

In this sense I prefer a Kantian framework, which actually forces me to make moral choices, over a framework that allows me to make rational choices (of course, what exactly that means, is a wholly different question...)

Alex,

"For a long tome it was seen as absolutely morally legitimate to argue that some are born rich and some are born poor and that is just how the world works and there is no point in trying to change it (or that it even is a crime to try and change it). And that can be justified with arguments that are functionally very similar to the veil."

How?

Are you saying that if we take a less modern minded defender of extreme inequality (say Ghengis Khan, Cecil Rhodes, Charles Koch) and confronted him with the predicament of reassignment to a random human identity, *but* with the possibility of first being able to rearrange the rules of the economic system, that he would choose to maintain (or increase!) inequality because despite the overwhelming likelihood that he would end up as a pauper, he would be a happier pauper knowing that all is right with the order of the universe? I.e. his ethical preferences would outweigh his material preferences.

You have more faith than I do, that said "ethical preferences" are anything more than a convenient hypocrisy. I have no doubt that if confronted with the mere thought experiment, that they would "choose" to maintain the status quo. But they'd be lying, and they'd know it.

"a framework that allows me to make rational choices"

Unless you are a social planner, the veil of ignorance is not a framework for you to make choices. It's a way to think about the consequences of public choices.

K
You have more faith than I do, that said "ethical preferences" are anything more than a convenient hypocrisy. I have no doubt that if confronted with the mere thought experiment, that they would "choose" to maintain the status quo. But they'd be lying, and they'd know it.

But all or nothing bets *could be* incredibly attractive to quite a few human beings, and there is nothing within the framework that rules them out (and nothing that forces me to declare that an *ethical* decision either - in fact I can completely ignore that question). And if you use the veil to critque a present distribution you also ipso facto open the possibility for any defender of the present distribution to defend it using the same argument (namely that he likes all or nothing bets and thus sees nothing wrong with the present distribution). Calling that a hypocrisy is rather unfair, because the counterargument is a fair extension of the original argument. Of course, you could complain that it is just hypocrisy and they would not actually do that in reality. But the thought experiment is by definition not a "reality" (otherwise you open yourself to the (pseudo)-theological critique that the thought experiment actually really happened, that people actually chose the current distribution from behind the veil and that thus criticising it ex-psot is pointless).

What I am trying to get at here is that the veil does not really add any value as far as I can see. You either like the present distribution or you dont. Either way, you'll carefully construct your preferences to ensure the veil demonstrates exactly your point of view of the distribution. As a result, a framework that actually forces me to say "I like this because it is ethical" and not "I like this because I am all for taking a huge all or nothing gambles" will actually be better at eliminating the hypocrisies you were hinting at.

Maybe, if all of my rambling doesn't make sense, another way of stating it could be that a framework only can make ethical judgements if it has a method of evaluating preferences, as opposed to only deriving outcomes from exogenously set preferences (that doesnt sound very clear either, I know). The veil in Rawls work only works because he initially assumed that people had certain preferences (a pretty realistic assumption, I don't doubt that) but, given these ethical preferences, any other analysis would have ultimately yielded a similar result. Why do we (dis)like the result? Because we (dis)like the worldview underlying it.

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