[I’m curious to know your answer, so please vote in the poll at the bottom of the post.]
While listening to a podcast on the idea of a free society this morning, I was struck by the different ways people use the word “fairness.” The speaker, Peter Boettke, is a well known professor of economics at George Mason University. He was recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal as the “standard bearer” of a revival of Austrian economics, although many in Austrian circles think others are more deserving of this appellation.
During his presentation, Boettke said that a free society establishes a set of firm rules by which everyone must play and then allows people to work out their own “destinies,” or whatever you want to call it. This, according to Boettke, is justice. The statement that struck me was his assertion that “justice is about fairness; it’s not about results.”
The reason I really perked up my ears at that point is because for the last year I’ve been having an on-again, off-again debate with my old college friend Vic McCracken about the comparative merits and demerits of the conceptions of justice outlined by Murray Rothbard and John Rawls. Rawls’s well known formulation, “Justice as Fairness,” states in contradiction to Boettke that a just system is precisely one in which outcomes are equal. So to Rawls, justice is fairness, which is about outcomes! (If you know Rawls’s work, you see I’m simplifying his model somewhat, but I’m trying to keep it basic.)
I’d be surprised if Boettke were unfamiliar with Rawls’s construct, which is probably the most influential one of the last fifty years among American elites, so I wonder if he was consciously contradicting Rawls in his speech.
Time for you to weigh in!