Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
and so on. Each owns what the other lacks. We now imagine a rule is imposed,
whereby when A is not using something he owns, B has the right to use it, just so
long as he returns it when A needs it, and vice versa This ‘communising rule’ will,
Cohen maintains, increase ‘implement-using’ freedom (Cohen, 1979: 16–17).
A capitalist response to this example would be that A and B could increase their
implement-using freedom by entering a contract, either a kind of barter, or a money-
based relationship. Cohen’s counter-response is to argue that in the example A and
B are roughly equal and, therefore, capable of entering a freedom-enhancing
contract, but if you generalise across society then that equality does not exist. In
fact, there is another response to Cohen, which appeals to efficiency and indirectly
to freedom: while Cohen’s argument is in many ways sound – capitalism entails
unfreedom as well as freedom – one has to look at the empirical consequences of
different economic systems. Cohen’s ‘homespun’ example does not help because it
is a very simple situation in which there are no communication problems. One
argument for capitalism is that it avoids an excessively powerful state; it might even
be argued that liberalism is the unintended gift of capitalism. The history of socialism
has been characterised by an attempt to acquire the advantages of coordination
associated with the market, while avoiding the inequalities generated by it.

Cohen contra Rawls

We now turn to Cohen’s response to Rawls. As we have seen Rawls does not defend
unregulated capitalism, and advances a theory of justice that would entail a
significant redistribution of income to the worst-off. What then is wrong with
Rawls? There are three main Marxist objections:

  1. Rawls has an incoherent model of human psychology (motivation).

  2. Rawls restricts the principles of justice to the basic structure of society, and that
    conceals exploitation.

  3. Rawls rejects self-ownership as morally irrelevant to the distribution of resources.
    Curiously enough, on this point Cohen sides with the ‘right-wing’ libertarian
    Nozick against Rawls.
    The first two objections are closely related to one another. If you recall, people
    in the original position are motivated to maximise their share of the primary goods,
    but from behind a veil of ignorance, meaning that although they are self-interested,
    they are forced by the way the original position is set up to be impartial. Rational
    people will, Rawls argues, select the two principles of justice, including the difference
    principle, which entails maximising the position of the worst-off (maximin). The
    original position is intended to model how real people couldbehave. The difficulty
    is that the theory itself pulls in two different directions: on the one hand Rawls
    assumes that we – that is, ‘we’ in the real world, and not in the original position

  • can develop a commitment to giving priority to the worst-off in society, and the
    difference principle is the structural device by which this is achieved. But how much
    the worst-off actually receivewill depend on everyday human behaviour. Consider
    the distribution in Table 4.1: under maximin the richest quarter gets 50 units and
    the poorest quarter gets 15 units. Imagine you are in the top quarter. What
    motivations will you have in the real world, assuming you endorse Rawls’s theory?

92 Part 1 Classical ideas

Free download pdf