John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness

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Over at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site, they are having a symposium on John Tomasi’s new book Free Market Fairness.  The book takes a Rawlsian approach to political philosophy, but argues that Rawlsians should treat economic liberty as one of the basic liberties.  Under this approach, economic liberty would not simply be ignored by Rawlsians and treated as part of the matters that are subject to the difference principle, but would be given a very high priority similar to personal freedoms.   The symposium includes a lot of important philosophers and is well worth reading.

Here is a brief summary of one aspect of Tomasi’s argument by Samuel Freeman, a Rawlsian scholar and one of the participants:

[John Tomasi’s] position purportedly supports both laissez faire and a restricted welfare state capitalism. (pp.116-117)  The latter–“democratic limited government”–he says resembles the views of Hayek and Friedman.  There’s little indication that [Tomasi] would endorse more extensive social welfare systems characteristic of Northern European capitalist social democracies.

Tomasi says: “the central moral claim of market democracy [is] that thick economic liberties are among the basic rights of liberal citizens.”  (p. 121)   He understands basic rights in terms of Rawls’s first principle of justice, the principle of equal basic liberties.  For Rawls the basic liberties include liberty of conscience and freedom of thought and expression; freedom of association and the rights and liberties that maintain freedom and integrity of the person (including freedom of occupation and a right to hold personal property); equal political liberties and the rights establishing the rule of law.  Rawls explicitly rejects economic rights, including ownership of means of production, as among the basic liberties, saying that the scope of economic rights are to be defined and regulated by his second principle, including the difference principle.

I am happy to see Tomasi’s book.  Back when I was a junior in college in 1979, I took a course in Rawls’s Theory of Justice, and wrote a paper that argued that Rawls should have included economic liberty as a basic liberty.  My professor thought that the paper, if revised, was publishable in a philosophy journal, and it has always been one of my regrets that I didn’t make the effort necessary to do so.  (The paper also argued that there was no justification for applying the difference principle to a single country rather than to the world.)

There are some differences between Tomasi’s book and my former approach.  I wasn’t a Rawlsian, but a Nozickian.  I was merely arguing against Rawls’ justification of welfare liberalism; I did not think his approach was the best one.  It seems that Tomasi does.

These days I continue to believe these critiques of Rawls are well taken.  I also continue to believe that his basic approach is the wrong one, but I am no longer a Nozickian.  Instead, I am a welfare consequentialist.

(Note: I deleted a sentence from the end of the post, which upon reflection seemed to raise complicated issues that are unnecessary to my basic point.)