The Right Coast

March 18, 2006
Anti-Capitalism From Rawls
By Mike Rappaport

In a letter written shortly before his death, Rawls wrote:

The large open market including all of Europe is aim of the large banks and the capitalist business class whose main goal is simply larger profit. The idea of economic growth, with no specific end in sight, fits this class perfectly. If they speak about distribution, it is most always in terms of trickle down. The long-term result of this — which we already have in the United States — is a civil society awash in a meaningless consumerism of some kind. I can’t believe that is what you want.

So you see that I am not happy about globalization as the banks and business class are pushing it. I accept Mill’s idea of the stationary state as described by him in Bk. IV, Ch. 6 of his Principles of Political Economy (1848). (I am adding a footnote in §15 to say this, in case the reader hadn’t noticed it). I am under no illusion that its time will ever come – certainly not soon – but it is possible, and hence it has a place in what I call the idea of realistic utopia.
Tyler Cowen is upset, as he should be. But as much as I admire much of what Rawls tried to accomplish -- in A Theory of Justice, not so much in Political Liberalism -- I can't say that I am surprised. Rawls formed his views during the 50s and 60s, when capitalism was not properly appreciated. And it would be quite remarkable for him to have "grown" enough to have done so. Rawls struck me as very conventional about his views -- conventional for a Harvard Professor -- and therefore would have little inclination to change his mind on these basic questions.