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How to Have it All without Embarrassment: Freedom, Equality and Pareto-optimality

Dr Gijs van Donselaar

Lecture organised by the department of Ethics

Everyone welcome!

Philippe Van Parijs’ argument for the introduction of a so-called Unconditional Basic Income (UBI), which, after the collapse of Marxism in practise and theory, has attracted many from the left, has to face up to two related embarrassments.

1. It allows, even sanctions, parasitic or exploitative economic relations between people who work hard and people who are lazy.

2. It cannot ‘socially prefer’ greater over lesser stocks of external resources.

Van Parijs’ argument seems to be driven by on the one hand by a concern for equality of so-called ‘real freedom’, the freedom to choose whatever one might desire to choose, and on the other hand a concern for Pareto-optimality in the allocation of combinations of income and leisure that people enjoy.

I argue that the two embarrassments find their origin in a mistaken interpretation of the very concept of real freedom itself, an interpretation that fails to distinguish between a person’s opportunity for discrete choice and a person’s bargaining power. I will then argue that all that is attractive in equal freedom can be reconciled with Pareto-optimality by a distributive principle that I call ‘the rule of Maimonides’, which avoids exploitative relations and has no problem in ranking greater stocks of resources as more desirable than lesser stocks. 

Gijs van Donselaar obtained his doctorate at the University of Amsterdam. A few years ago he was employed in Amsterdam as a University Teacher. Before that he worked at a number of Dutch universities. His research interests include contemporary theories of justice, game theoretic analysis of social & political order, the foundations of liberalism.

Laatst gewijzigd:30 oktober 2012 20:39