Against Equality: Readings on Economic and Social Policy by William Letwin

By William Letwin

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And accordingly, Rawls's conclusion must be rejected: rational calculation in accordance with human nature would not yield an egalitarian society, since the many human beings who prefer risky undertakings to 'safe bets' would rationally create a society which offered the possibility of great rewards as well as small rewards. Quite a separate flaw in Rawls's argument is his assumption that the designer could feasibly prescribe the distribution of goods in a society without thereby influencing at all the total volume of goods available to be distributed.

Some avoid risk: they would prefer a certainty of £15 to equal chances of winning £10 or winning £20, and they tend to take out more insurance than is rational. Some are neutral: they subscribe indifferently to fair lotteries and to fair insurance. Some seek risk: they would prefer equal chances of winning £10 or winning £20 to a certainty of winning £15, and they under-insure themselves. We may suppose, accordingly, that these will respond differently to Rawls's proposition. Those who are neutrally disposed toward risk would regard as equivalent every pattern • The 'expected value' of a gamble is defined as the sum of the possible pay-ofTs, each weighted by the probability that it will occur.

Quite a separate flaw in Rawls's argument is his assumption that the designer could feasibly prescribe the distribution of goods in a society without thereby influencing at all the total volume of goods available to be distributed. Suppose that the designer faced a choice between two dispensations: one that gave every member of a community £5000, the other that gave half the members of the same community £5000 each and the other half £10,000 each. Which should he rationally prefer? Many people would answer, as Rawls would, that the second dispensation is rationally superior, in as much as, compared with the first, nobody is worse off than before and half are better off.

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