Posted by | August 14, 2012 15:47 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Philosopher John Rawls developed the idea of the “veil of ignorance.” The idea is that you should form your opinions on programs without knowing your own circumstances (in other words you don’t know if you are rich or poor, healthy or sick, white or black etc.). Benjamin Hale contrasts this with the Romney/Ryan “veil of opulence” where we make decisions based on how the most fortunate would react (it’s not fair to make them pay for social programs).

The question of fairness has widespread application throughout our political discourse. It affects taxation, health care, education, social safety nets and so on. The veil of opulence would have us screen for fairness by asking what the most fortunate among us are willing to bear. The veil of ignorance would have us screen for fairness by asking what any of us would be willing to bear, if it were the case that we, or the ones we love, might be born into difficult circumstances or, despite our hard work, blindsided by misfortune. Society is in place to correct for the injustices of the universe, to ensure that our lives can run smoothly despite the stuff that is far out of our control: not to hand us what we need, but to give us the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness. The veil of ignorance helps us see that. The veil of opulence keeps us in the dark.

The two presidential campaigns have very different notions of fairness. Only the Obama campaign has one that is predicated on fairness to all parties.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.