Rawls, Libertarianism, and the Employment Problem

Social Philosophy Today 34:133-152 (2018)

Authors
Larry Udell
West Chester University
Abstract
Barbara Fried described John Rawls’s response to libertarianism as “the unwritten theory of justice.” This paper argues that while there is no need for a new theory of justice to address the libertarian challenge, there is a need for an additional chapter. Taking up Fried’s suggestion that the Rawlsian response would benefit from a revised list of primary goods, I propose to add employment to the list, thus leading to adoption of a full employment principle in the original position that ensures that anyone who wants to work will be able to do so. I argue that although Rawls famously proposed government as employer of last resort, he never integrated that comment into his theory, which lacks a full employment principle and says nothing about the injustice of involuntary unemployment in its ideal theory. I first refute the received view of Rawls’s treatment of employment as required by its importance for citizens’ self-respect, then show that in fact, the full employment assumption is the result of the role of general equilibrium theory in Rawls’s model of a well-ordered society, and indicate why developments in economic theory and economic policy support the proposed revision.
Keywords Conference Proceedings  Social and Political Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 1543-4044
DOI 10.5840/socphiltoday201862655
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