WWJRD: What Would John Rawls Do? (regarding the Bail Out?)

Chris Bertram provides a possible answer to this question:

“Lefty: I know, but there’s this thing called the difference principle.

Pancho: What’s that then?

Lefty: Well it says that we should arrange the way our society works so as to give the least advantaged people the best prospects they can have …. it’s kind of hard to apply it in the middle of a crisis, but it might justify something like the Paulson plan, if that’s what it took ….

Pancho: I have my doubts, how can it be in the best interest of the least advantaged to throw money at the guys who made the bad decisions? Won’t they just make risky choices again, and land us all in a similar mess in a decade or two?

Lefty: Maybe. But let’s assume it is true (we do a lot of that) that throwing money at the bankers is in the long-term interest of the least advantaged, because that’s what’s necessary to save the system.

Pancho: Assume away … you usually do ….

Lefty: Well then, the difference principle says that justice requires the Paulson plan.

Pancho: What? But that’s crazy!

Lefty: Sometimes philosophy makes counterintuitive recommendations ……”

Of course the real, and the only, question is this: will the bailout actually help the less advantaged, i.e., Main Street rather than Wall Street? And this seems to me something that pure ideal theory cannot really resolve, especially since we are in the very midst of the crisis, having no way of knowing just what the true market value of those bad assets are, and uncertain whether taxpayers will lose, break even, or turn a profit.

In other words, the justificatory power of the difference principle, as it is applied to the Paulson plan, turns on an empirical reality that we do not know yet. So far, all we have heard is that if we don’t do anything, the Four Horsemen will rise and signal the end of the world as we know it. We keep hearing: now it’s not the time for deliberation, because if we don’t get this thing pushed through Congress THIS VERY FUCKING HOUR, the sky will fall!

Which goes back to my original point: a week simply isn’t enough to really deliberate the in’s and out’s of the biggest bailout in American history. It seems that Congress and the media have all been convinced, when in fact both Paulson and Wall Street have offered no persuasive empirical evidence. In fact, all Paulson is doing is merely asserting, and this assertion can be boiled down to one sentence: Give us ze money Lebowski, or we’ll cut off your johnson.

Finally, as an aside, the philosophical dialogue is in desperate need of revival. It boggles my mind why philosophers don’t try to write more philosophical dialogues. I mean, shit, even someone as stylistically gifted as Nietzsche didn’t even write one, what’s up with that?


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