Contra the Veil of Ignorance

An argument for income equality has often been based on the moral argument for fairness called the Veil of Ignorance. Originally put forth by John Rawls, this argument holds that equality is fair because it is the social distribution we would find ideal if we were perfectly ignorant.


Four General Disagreements

I disagree in four general ways that the Veil of Ignorance argument justifies advocating income equality:

  1. Under perfect ignorance, I do not think that society would even probably find an equal distribution ideal. Although it is possible, I do not think that this is the only, or even the likely scenario.
    1. We would want the best possible situation for everyone, or the best possible situation for one’s own self. The best possible situation for everyone can occur in at least five different ways than argued by the Veil of Ignorance and the best possible situation for one’s own self does the same. These five different possibilities are expounded below the current set of four points.
  2. If a theory holds under perfect ignorance, I do not think the same theory holds in the real world. In the real world people are not perfectly ignorant and I think it is a rather ignorant statement to suggest that they should be. If we are to create some fictitious construct, it would be far better to imagine perfect information rather than perfect ignorance. Of course, under perfect information we all know that the free market is the ideal system.
  3. Finally, the pragmatic-moral argument overrides the logical-moral argument for goodness. While the Veil of Ignorance may be a justified moral belief before considering its effect, a consequentialist, or pragmatic, morality demonstrates that the Veil of Ignorance is not moral by virtue of its negative effect. In the real world we have empirical evidence demonstrating that creation of a system of income equality leads to system-wide failure. If something is true in theory but not true in the real world then the theory is incorrect.
  4. The argument is a red herring because income distribution is an effect of an economy, not a cause. The idea that creation of income equality will cause an ideal economy is a non-sequiter. If equality of income is ideal, and I don’t think it is but let’s consider that I may be wrong, it would arise as a result of the ideal economy, not pre-exist the ideal economy as a cause of it. We know this because of the same empirical evidence pointed out point 3, that creation of a system of income equality causes market failure.


Five Different Possibilities

It is also possible that these five possibilities, or even all 6 once we include Rawl’s possibility, are different perspectives on the same ideal system:

  1. The best possible situation for one’s own self or for everyone could be a state of perfect morality. What is “best” to begin with? It is a moral distinction. Given that the best income distribution is the income distribution which happens to occur in a social state of perfect morality, there is no reason to expect that it would be an equal distribution.
  2. It could be that everyone is perfectly happy. Perfect happiness does not imply equal income as different people have different preferences for differing wealth and income.
  3. It could be that a state of sufficiency is preferred, and there is indifference about variation so long as each person is at least sufficient with some level of income.
  4. It could be that a person doesn’t want income because they don’t want to work, or have varying preference for work. For example, there could be men or women who geniunely prefer to be stay at home parents. Or there could others who are willing to work less and have less of an income.
  5. It could be that people want to have all income and power, failing to consider or intentionally disregarding others. While we may not like to admit this possible outcome, it may be the case. Since it is not possible for everyone to be all powerful, is not a good solution to allow them to compete? Through this competition they could break out of the Veil of Ignorance, realizing that none of them can become all powerful, and deciding on some other option once they are informed. Alternatively, it could be that someone does succeed in winning the competition and becoming all powerful. Whether this is due to blind luck or not, does it imply that the outcome is morally wrong? Are luck and heterogeneity bad per se? Or could they be good per se? Could they be the will of God and the beauty of differences?

Keep in mind that I do not deny Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance as a possibility. I merely disagree that it is the outcome, or even the likely outcome. If we consider that there are 6 possibilities, under a Veil of Ignorance would we not conclude that they are all equally likely? Yet, if this is the case, then the free market dominates with 5 out of 6 of the possible chances.


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