Phelps tolkar Rawls

rawlsFå verk har påverkat den politiska filosofin som John Rawls bok A Theory of Justice, med dess lockande tanke om en slöja av okunskap bakom vilken människor väljer grundläggande principer för ekonomi och politik. En av de principer som Rawls menar att människor kommer att välja är den s.k. differensprincipen, som säger att ekonomisk ojämlikhet ska vara så ordnad, att den gynnar de sämst ställda. Detta har av många tolkats som att Rawls pläderar för en långt driven egalitarianism, med stark utjämning av inkomster och förmögenheter.

Ekonomipristagaren Edmund Phelps tillbakavisar i en färsk intervju i Journal of Economic Perspectives denna tolkning (s. 119–120):

One is that I came under the influence of John Rawls (1971). I was quite taken with his idea of maximin: that economic justice involves making the portion going to the person earning the least as high as it can be. I was just curious to see how that would play out in a mathematical model of taxation. At another level, I saw that Rawls was being portrayed in a distorted manner by people who wanted to use him for their causes. Some people wanted to use him as grist for their platform of egalitarianism, while I thought that what was interesting and especially distinctive about Rawls was that, yes he was in a sense an egalitarian, but he was paradoxically an egalitarian who was willing to tolerate a lot of inequality for the sake of those at the bottom of the heap. He was interested in the absolute rewards to the people at the bottom, not their relative rewards. I was fascinated when I stumbled on the result that the marginal tax rate on the last dollar of income of the highest earner should be zero because to leave it at some number above zero would mean foregoing the opportunity to cut a deal with that earner to work a little more in return for a cut in the marginal tax rate on the last dollar. In a way, I was showing people: don’t think that with Rawls you’re getting egalitarianism. If you’ve read his book, he’s really saying that he wants to deploy incentives to increase the amount of tax revenue in order to have the largest amount of funds possible for subsidies to lift up the contributors to the economy at the bottom of the heap.

Jag har alltid funnit det märkligt att svensk politisk debatt rymmer en väldigt grund, nästan icke-existerande, analys av begreppet rättvisa, trots att ordet används flitigt. Det finns andra förståelser i den filosofiska litteraturen än ”lika inkomst och förmögenhet för alla”. Rawls står för en sådan, annan förståelse, men det finns förstås många andra, alltifrån utilitaristiska till rättighetsetiska, som nästan helt lyser med sin frånvaro i debatten.