Dworkin part one Notes for September 16

Main points

Dworkin’s article gives a novel rationale for markets. As he notes, liberals have given one of the two arguments for markets.

  1. Markets are the best means to achieve a social goal, such as producing wealth, utility, or efficiency.
  2. The market follows from respecting individual liberty.

Dworkin adds a third, surprising rationale for markets. They are necessary for defining and implementing equality. Specifically, his idea is that we cannot say what an equal share of resources is without considering what people would trade for in an open market.

We talked through the details of the first half of Dworkin’s article.

I concede

I don’t have time to even mention the details of our discussion. So I will confine myself instead to making a concession.

Towards the end of class, I went on at some length about whether we really believe that the fact that some outcome reflects a person’s choices really absolves society of responsibility for helping that person. I chose a dramatic example of someone who had chosen to forgo health insurance and was bleeding to death. I asserted that no decent society would turn such a person away from health care on the grounds of insufficient funds, even though that reflects this person’s choices.

Zach objected that I had chosen an unrealistic example. Dworkin argues that people in his hypothetical insurance market would buy insurance and I hadn’t refuted his claim.

I think that’s a fair point. I’d also like to add another argument against what I said.

My additional objection is that my point is irrelevant to Dworkin’s project. Dworkin is trying to define what it is for a society to treat its members as equals. He maintains that it does so if it provides them with equal resources, as he defines them. As Max pointed out, what people want is deeply relevant to this project.

My point had nothing to do with equality. It was about benevolence or paternalism. That is, I did not maintain that a society that allowed my improvident person to bleed to death would treat that person unequally. All I said was that it would be cold and that it would be very different from our own. Our own society, as Bernice and others pointed out, is paternalistic when it comes to health care. We insist on providing a certain level of care whether those who receive it made the relevant choices to receive it or not.

Dworkin could grant my point. He could say that he has defined what it is for a society to treat its members as equals. I have defined what it is for a society to treat them in a benevolent or humane way. The two are different and thus compatible.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what Professor Brown meant when she said that the members of a society are responsible for their benevolent preferences.

So my point was a doubly bad one. Zach, I honor the place where your rejection and my concession are one.

This page was written by Michael Green for Freedom, Markets, and Well-Being, PPE 160, Fall 2008. It was posted September 16, 2008.
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