Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Behind the veil

Michael Huemer points out the numerous problems in John Rawls' maximin criteria.

Rawls argued that, behind a veil of ignorance where you can't tell your final position in society, people would agree on a rule that maximised the position of the worst off.

Economists have generally argued this is nonsense - it implies a degree of risk aversion behind the veil that is never seen anywhere else. 

Huemer goes through the problems. A snippet [note that OP means the Original Position, behind the veil]:

II. Diminishing Marginal Utility

Wealth has sharply diminishing marginal utility, above a certain minimum level. So there’s not much reason for the parties in the OP to try for greater wealth, above the amount they would get under the Difference Principle.

a) That’s an argument for not maximizing expected wealth. It’s not an argument for not maximizing expected utility. The diminishing marginal utility of wealth is already taken into account by utilitarianism (obviously), so it can’t be an argument against utilitarianism.
b) If there is really a minimum amount of wealth that you need for a decent life, and additions above that amount give little or no improvement in your welfare, that still wouldn’t support the difference principle. Rather, it would support the principle, “maximize the number of people who are above the minimum.”
c) Rawls hasn’t supported those factual assumptions anyway. It’s plausible that there is a minimum amount of wealth needed to have a decent life, and there is also an amount above which you get no noticeable benefit from more wealth. But those two amounts are obviously not the same amount.


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