Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Rawls and talents: first reflection

1. It is highly unlikely that the color of the skin could be treated as a talent in a society governed by just institutions. For our knowledge of production and exchange tells us that it is highly unlikely that a society where the color of a person's skin is treated as a relevant qualification for a social position could be governed by non-improvable institutions - meaning, institutions that produce the least inequality compatible with a certain level of wealth for the worst off members of it. In fact, it is easy to think that racial discrimination prevents people having the capacity to increase the total cake of goods for society from being matched with the social positions where they would acquire the ability to do so. If that is true, it follows that by forbidding employers to treat race as a relevant "qualification" in assigning positions of responsibility, the society can easily increase its total wealth. And this suggest that it might be possible to improve the position of the worst off by simply placing in key social positions the more talented people that were prevented from getting there by racial discrimination and placing the less talented ones in their place. This would increase the distributable wealth without necessarily requiring more incentives for the more talented, hence reducing inequality without damaging the goods available to the worst off members. If one considers self-respect, beside wealth, it is even clearer that racial origin can never be treated as a talent in a society fulfilling the overall scheme of Rawlsian institutions.

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