Now, if no one deserves his success, then, Rawls reasons, no one has a legitimate claim against the government’s plan to “spread it around,” to paraphrase Obama’s words to Joe the Plumber in 2008. Since no one did anything to earn or deserve his aptitudes and opportunities, a person’s “natural assets” must be treated as a common stock upon which all citizens have an equal right to draw.
Translation: the government has the right to confiscate and redistribute a person’s fruits whenever it wants.
Rawls contends that individuals should indeed be at liberty to employ their talents and opportunities for their own purposes—as long as doing so benefits “the least advantaged.” This is only “fair,” Rawls explains, for just as no one deserves their success, no one deserves their failures. Both “the advantaged” as well as “the disadvantaged” are alike the products of factors beyond their control.
And whatever is beyond the power of one’s labors can’t possibly be deserved.
What this means, though, is that there are no limits to what the government can do with the fruits of a person’s natural assets. It also means that there are no limits to what the government can do with a person’s natural assets themselves.
This is the vision of Obama, Rawls, and the left.
Fortunately, for the rest of us, it is not supported by its own reasoning.
Rawls conflates that which is not deserved with that which is undeserved. Think about it: just because you may not have a belief in X, doesn’t mean that you disbelieve in X. Neither Aristotle nor Bill Maher believes in the divinity of Jesus. The difference between them is that Aristotle didn’t believe because he had never heard of Jesus (who wasn’t born until nearly 500 years after his death). Maher, on the other hand, knows about Jesus but rejects the notion of his deity.
Similarly, a person who steals $500.00 is undeserving of it. But one who receives it as a gift is not. The latter doesn’t deserve the gift—a deserved gift is a contradiction in terms. Yet he is not undeserving of it either. Moreover, at that point, it becomes his. That is, he is then entitled to do with it as he wishes.
Obama’s and Rawls’ reasoning for the welfare state is flawed. Sadly, however, this will not stop them from trying to grow it ever further.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.