Monday, August 02, 2004

The Veil of Ignorance in Ohio (and Elsewhere)

I was reminded of the veil of ignorance when I read in The New Republic online that Kerry may have a shot at winning Ohio because, according to Democrat pollster Stanley Greenberg, "Bush's support among …"Country Folk" has weakened":
The Country Folk are the most anti-corporate in the Republican base (33 percent warm and 35 percent cool thermometer readings). By 57 to 41 percent, they reject the assertion that Bush's economic policies are proving successful, affirming instead that the middle class is not sharing in the income and employment gains. They are particularly upset with rising health care costs and the fact that people are financially squeezed. Over half agree (60 percent) that Bush is neglecting domestic problems.
The ignorance, of course, lies in the "folk wisdom" that corporations are bad, that a president is responsible for economic performance in the short run, that government is responsible for health care and the cost of health care, and that a president is responsible for economic performance in the short run. (See, "folk wisdom" makes me so crazy that I start repeating myself.)

"Folk wisdom" isn't restricted to Ohio, of course. It's widespread. Ohio's "Country Folk" have no monopoly on economic ignorance.

Blatant economic ignorance reminds me of John Rawls's legendary veil of ignorance, which according to Wikipedia,
is a method of determining the morality of a certain issue (e.g., slavery) based upon the following principle: imagine that societal roles were completely re-fashioned and redistributed, and that from behind your veil of ignorance you do not know what role you will be reassigned. Only then can you truly consider the morality of an issue. For example, whites in the pre-Civil War south did indeed condone slavery, but they most likely would not have done so had there been a re-fashioning of society because of which they would not know if they would be the ones enslaved. It is a philosophical idea related of method of two people dividing a cake: one cuts, the other chooses first (see pie method).
The "wisdom" of Ohio's Country Folk and their ilk -- rural, suburban, and urban -- illustrates a deep flaw in Rawls's formula for so-called social justice. The veil of ignorance, aside from being a useless thought experiment, works only if you believe that people can simply make up rules about such things as how an economy should work and what outcomes it should produce.

Free-market capitalism is the best economic system because -- when it's left alone -- it produces more income and wealth than any alternative system. And it's good for everyone, not just those "filthy capitalists" and their corporations. Yes, the rich get richer, but so do the poorer -- except for those whose incentives are blunted by the lure of welfare benefits.

Free-market capitalism was invented neither by a bunch of economic ignoramuses operating behind the veil of ignorance nor by Adam Smith. It evolved over centuries of trial and error. Smith merely tried to understand it and explain why it works so well.

Karl Marx and his intellectual heirs retreated behind the veil of ignorance and brought forth Communism, Socialism, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, and other impoverishing schemes -- all in the name of social justice. The veil of ignorance is aptly named.