Markets and Legislatures: A Shift

So I was reading A Theory of Justice tonight, and came across this passage:

“In the ideal procedural, the decision reached is not a compromise, a bargain struck between opposing parties trying to advance their ends. The legislative discussion must be conceived not as a contest between interests, but as an attempt to find the best policy as defined by the principles of justice.” (357)

Rawls then goes on to contrast the ideal legislative procedure with the ideal market procedure:

“The ideal market is a perfect procedure with respect to efficiency. A peculiarity of the ideal market process, as distinct from the ideal political process conducted by rational and impartial legislators, is that the market achieves an efficient outcome even if everyone pursues his own advantages.” (359)

The difference, as I understand it, is what kind of things count as good outcomes. Compliance with principles of justice is a good outcome for the legislative process, while efficiency is a good outcome for the market process. Of course, it goes without saying that the two are not identical.

Given this, I must wonder what Rawls, if he were alive today, would think about the legislative process. Because to me, the legislative process has clearly deviated so far away from Rawls’ characterization of its ideal that he would probably not recognize it. In fact, I would even go so far as to argue that the legislative process is now almost exclusively a compromise, a balancing of competing interests.

Upon reading this passage, I was reminded of a meeting I attended last Friday, hosted by a certain chairman of an appropriations subcommittee (remember, there will never be any names on this blog), in which representatives from several different industries attended and made their cases to this particular Member of Congress regarding an upcoming appropriations bill in the next Congressional session.

Retrospectively, that meeting appeared to be nothing other than the competition of interests. The reason why the meeting took place is clear as day: an important appropriation bill is coming up in the next Congress, and it will affect the industries being reprensented. The industries want to make their interests known to a member of Congress with control to the funding, and the Congressman benefits because he gets to know which industries he needs to work on, and in turn, he gets a nice fat check for his re-election campaign in November. Of course, should he get re-elected, he will no doubt take into the articulated interests of these industries when crafting that appropriations bill.

Of course, none of this implies that the appropriation bill that ends up becoming law would be “wrong” in any normative sense, but whatever else it might be, it certainly is not a product of a legislative procedure in teh Rawlsian sense. The normative question that then gets raised is this: should legislatures adhere to this ideal as closely as possible? I would argue the affirmative, so I found the meeting that I attended last week deeply troubling.


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