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March 29, 2011


I was unable to grasp the total viewpoint of the article (due to my ignorance of social science) but this debate on Merit and Distributive justice attracts me a lot.

I will say two points here (Slightly Offbeat of the topic):

First, (as per Robert Owen, Welsh social reformer) no one was responsible for his/ her will and his [or her] own actions because his whole character is formed independently of himself; people are products of their heredity and environment.

And secondly any state derives its legitimacy from its institutions. Its these institutions that give State credibility and roots to live in the society of hostile crowds. Once the society decides to delegitimize the State institutions there is no way any State can stay there. I assume same principle can be applied on the self-destructive meritocratic spell that binds the society under the illusion of fair chance to succeed in American Dream.

Ordinary people have no confusion on what they want. It is only in your ranks that you continue to have no policy for distributive justice WITHOUT affecting their status quo.

Himanshu, if you want a more systematic introduction to these topics, I'd suggest Sandel's book, Justice. Or better yet, start with his excellent Harvard undergrad lecture that I link to here. It's free and is really well done.

There is also a lively debate unfolding on this essay on 3 Quarks Daily that may provoke further thoughts.

A slightly longer version of this article has just appeared in the Humanist, May/Jun 2011.

Steven V. Mazie suggests that the Occupy Wall Street movement should go Rawlsian. I agree.

Occupy Wall Street is leveraged too heavily on the rhetoric of rage rather than reciprocity. Rawls would argue that Occupy is fully justified in its criticism of the political and economic structures that propagate massive concentrations of wealth; he saw the “basic structure” of society as the “primary subject of justice.” But Rawls would lament the tendency of the “99 percent” to misdirect their energies into hatred of individuals in the 1 percent. He would have them save their hostility for the policies and institutions that have permitted only the wealthiest to enjoy significant gains from the past two decades of economic growth.

Rawls’s boldest claim — that inequality in society is only justified if its least well-off members fare better than they would under any other scheme — could provide a lodestar for the protests. Rawls was no Marxist: this “difference principle” acknowledges that a productive, free society will be home to at least some degree of inequality. But the principle insists that if the rich get richer while wages and social capital of the poor and middle class are stagnant or falling, there is something seriously wrong.

More here. Btw, my essay above will appear in two college level anthologies starting in 2012, one from Sage Publications, the other from McGraw-Hill. Nice thing is that they contacted me after seeing it in the Humanist magazine!

Here is a new article, The Reproduction of Privilege, that talks about the decline in social mobility in America and how today's educational system is perpetuating the preservation of privilege based on income and social class.

The “income achievement gap” – differences in standard test scores and grade point averages – between children from families in the top 10 percent of the income distribution and those from families in the bottom ten percent has been growing. Reardon has found that the income achievement gap between children from the highest and lowest income deciles is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born in 1976.

“The children of the rich increasingly do better in school, relative to the children of the poor — that is, they score higher on standardized tests and they graduate from college at much higher rates. This has always been true, but is much more true now than 40 years ago,” Reardon told The Times in an email. “This means that social mobility has gotten rarer – the ‘American Dream’ is increasingly difficult to attain.”

Thanks Namit Sir, for the suggestion. I have added the book in my future reading list. The essay of Christopher Hayes posted on this blog is good.

In a random web search, I discovered that two college instructors in California have recently assigned this piece to their freshman class of students for reading and discussion. The students have done so on an open blog. See here and here.

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