Beyond the Welfare State: John Rawls and the property-owning democracy
As people reject the status quo around the world, what might the left try to replace it with? One American philosopher makes an argument for a progressive vision.
Around the world, the political left is reeling against right wing populism. Faith in democracy and human rights is at a new low for Western young people. In France, the main center-left party has been all but ruled out as a contender for the presidency next year. In the United States the finger pointing has begun over who to blame for Trump's election, and in Italy, the Prime Minister resigned after failed referendum was taken as a vote of no confidence expressed by popular discontent.
But why the populist wave? Why now?
One philosopher has a suggestion as to why this is happening. The current economic model that the major political center-left parties have been using over the last twenty years is not satisfying and needs to be replaced; but with something that offers a clear break and improves live for everybody.
The late American political philosopher John Rawls, argued that the Welfare state, defined as a capitalist system where the state assures a basic level of survival for citizens but does not interfere with major economic decisions, will fail to ensure that citizens have a real chance of influencing politics, or to have sufficiently equal opportunity in education and employment. The welfare state will therefore generate a demoralized underclass. An underclass which will vote as it must to try and improve its position.
Hmm… people would feel like they have no real say in who runs the country? Reduced opportunity as the income becomes unequal? Dr. Rawls may have been onto something, philosophically speaking.
What then, would he replace Welfare Capitalism with? How would he fix the problem of disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction?
First, a quick lesson in his philosophy. Rawls postulated two principles of justice which he entitled Justice as Fairness, based on what he supposed we would all want in society if we were unsure of our position in it – an excellent overview of his philosophy is available here.
Those principles of Justice as Fairness are:
First Principle: Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all.
Second Principle: Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions:
They are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity;
They are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle)
With the first principle always taking precedence over the second, and the equality of opportunity taking precedence over the difference principle. The first principle also includes the idea that political liberties must have “fair value".
This is why he rejected the Welfare state, as major economic inequalities would still be allowed, and the fair value of political liberties is no longer assured as a handful of tycoons could dominate the political life of the state, leaving the majority of the population with little real political power.
So, if the Welfare State doesn't fit these two principles, what does?
Rawls proposed two systems which would satisfy his principles. One was Democratic Socialism, the other was a system he entitled The Property Owning Democracy.
The Property Owning Democracy is a system where the state assures that the average individual has a chance to actively participate in the market economy around them, rather than just ensuring that they don't starve. This system, he suggests, will lead to a larger share of the population owning productive property, having real political power, and having a real chance of advancement than the bare bones welfare state.
In such a system, the state would assure that everybody had excellent education and job training options that they could really use, access to health care, and the ability to choose a job without fear of horrible consequences if they do face unemployment, and a general atmosphere of freedom to make life choices in. Such a system would also assure that most people have a real opportunity to own productive assets, rather than allowing monopolies to dominate the economy.
The key difference between this and Democratic Socialism, according to Rawls, is that socialism implies worker, or state, owned firms. While a Property Owning Democracy still features private ownership of the means of production. Rawls was less concerned with who owned the elements of the economy, than with the effects of that ownership.
What is the real life version of this system?
There are many examples. The Nordic model, as explained by Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, summarizes it rather well. Similar ideas are seen in the thinking behind the Great Society in the United States especially in the promotion of college aid during that time.
Is this what people want? Some commentators think so. Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York has stated his belief that, “the message would have won the election" if the Democratic Party had run on Bernie Sander's message of equality and progressivism. In United Kingdom, Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition is led by the Labour Party, led by the unabashedly socialistic Jeremy Corbyn, who has retained control of his party despite adversity. Of course, a majority of Americans still wouldn't vote for an openly socialist candidate, and many people think President Obama, a New Democrat centrist, is a socialist himself. This suggests strong opposition to the progressivism demanded by Justice as Fairness.
John Rawls was the most important political philosopher of the 20th century. His ideas have gone on to influence philosophical thought profoundly, even the works of those who disagreed with him. His ideas on how to make liberal democracy work for everyone are of vital importance to anyone who wants to understand why unrest happens in western countries, and what we can do to help fix it.
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Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.
- Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
- The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
- The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.
- Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
- The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
- The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
The world is just? That’s news to a lot of people.<p>The study is the most recent addition to a long line of work focusing on the belief in justice, our behavior, and our reactions to evidence that might suggest injustice occasionally occurs. This study focuses on a personal belief in a just world, (PBJW) rather than a general belief in a just world (GBJW). The difference between them must be highlighted.</p><p>GBJW is the stance that justice prevails all over the world and that people tend to get what they deserve. PBJW is more focused on the individual's social environment and their belief that they tend to be treated justly. While several studies show PBJW correlates with a higher sense of well-being and a variety of other positive effects, a high GBJW is associated with less life satisfaction, negative behavior, and callousness towards the suffering of <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-3216-0" target="_blank">others</a>. This study controlled for GBJW, and focused on PBJW as much as possible. </p><p>To assure that culture was not a factor, the study included students at universities in both Germany and Turkey. </p><p>The researchers gave students at the four participating universities a series of questionnaires that asked if they ever cheated in class, if they perceived the world to be just, if they though that justice always prevailed everywhere, their tendencies towards socially appropriate behavior, their life satisfaction, and if they felt like they were treated justly by their teachers and fellow students. </p><p>The answers were statistically analyzed for relationships. While some of the connections seem trivially true, others were surprising. <strong></strong></p><p>PBJW turned out to only be an indirect predictor of if a student was likely to cheat. Both a belief in a just world and a lower likelihood of cheating were mediated by the justice experiences of the students, with more of these positive experiences lowering the rate of cheating and improving their belief in justice. This was also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. </p><p>These effects existed across all demographics in both countries. </p>
What does this mean? Is a belief in justice a self-fulfilling prophecy?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6oMv-azHNCA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>In a way, it seems to be. People who have reason to think the world is just to them tend to interpret events in a way to sustain that belief and behave in a just manner. In a larger sense, the take away from this study is that experiences of justice, both from peers and instructors, is vital to student's wellbeing and understanding that the rules that exist about cheating are part of a larger, legitimate, system. </p><p>The researchers, citing previous studies on the perception of justice, note that "justice experiences (1) signal that university students are esteemed members of their social group, which in turn conveys feelings of belonging and social inclusion and (2) motivate them to accept and observe university rules and norms. These cognitive processes may thus strengthen their well-being and decrease the likelihood that they cheat."</p><p>The authors also suggest that if you want people (not only students) to act justly; consider treating them with "civility, respect, and dignity."</p><p>Sometimes, all it can take to help somebody act virtuously is to treat them well. Likewise, people treated harshly can rarely find reason to play by rules that don't protect them. The findings of this study will certainly add to the literature on how we perceive justice in the world around us, but might also help us remember that there are real consequences to our actions which can be much larger than we imagine. <strong></strong></p>
This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
- The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
- Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
- This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images<p>Experts don't want to place kids at the back of the line, regardless of how strong their immune systems appear. At least one company, Moderna, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids-moderna-plans-pediatric-trial-2020-9" target="_blank">hopes to begin testing</a> vaccines in pediatric volunteers by year's end.</p><p>Innate immune response is especially high during childhood (compared to adaptive immunity). This makes evolutionary sense: nature wants an animal to survive until its ready to procreate. Turns out the children in the study possessed high levels of cytokines that boost their immune response. The biggest impact is made by IL-17A, which appears to protect the youngest cohort from the ravages of the coronavirus. </p><p>While both age groups produced antibodies to fight off the infamous spike protein, adults that produce neutralizing antibodies actually suffer a <em>worse</em> fate. Herold says this "over-vigorous adaptive immune response" might promote inflammation, triggering acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). </p><p>This matters for vaccine development. As Herold says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our adult COVID-19 patients who fared poorly had high levels of neutralizing antibodies, suggesting that convalescent plasma—which is rich in neutralizing antibodies—may not help adults who have already developed signs of ARDS. By contrast, therapies that boost innate immune responses early in the course of the disease may be especially beneficial."</p><p>Herold says current vaccine trials are focused on boosting neutralizing-antibody levels. With this new information, researchers may want to work on vaccines that boost the innate immune response instead. </p><p>With <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html" target="_blank">at least 55 vaccine trials</a> underway, every piece of data matters. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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