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J. Rawls on Social Goods - Dictionary of Arguments

I 92
Public goods/social goods/Rawls: primary social goods are rights and freedoms, opportunities and powers, income and prosperity. These goods are social because of their connection with the basic structure of a society; freedoms and powers are defined by the rules of the larger institutions; income distribution and prosperity are regulated by them.
Rawls: The theory of common goods goes back to Aristotle and is shared by such diverse authors as Kant and Sidgwick. It is also controversial between utilitarianism and contract theory.
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I 93
Goods/Rawls: a good is the fulfilment of a rational interest. We can assume that a rational individual has a plan that can fulfill different desires without mutual interference.
Defining rational plan/Rawls: be a plan that cannot be improved. I. e. there is no other plan that is preferred.
Definition primary goods/Rawls: are those that all need, even if their plans differ.
For example, intelligence, prosperity and opportunities are means of achieving goals that a person could not achieve by other means. In the initial state (of a society to be established), where people do not yet know what role they will play, these goods are what they know they are striving for.
Problem: to create an index of available primary social and natural resources. Our principles, when processed in lexical order (see Principles/Rawls), help to do this.
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I 266
Public goods/Rawls: are above all indivisible and open to the public(1). If citizens want to benefit from this, it must be set up in such a way that everyone benefits to the same extent. National defense, for example.
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I 267
This means that public goods have to be steered by the political process and not by the market.
Problems: special problems arise for public goods:
1. the free-rider problem(2): There is a temptation not to do one's own part of the duties, because this amount does not have a noticeable effect on the overall result. For the individual, the contribution of others always appears to have already been made. Therefore, the state must take over the regulation of the corresponding public goods(3).
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I 268
2. Characteristic of public goods: Externality. The production of these goods is also at the expense of those who never profit from them. Not all wishes are taken into account. For example, someone who gets vaccinated helps others as well as himself, even if he will never be exposed to this infection. For example, environmental damage is not normally regulated by the market. For example, raw materials may be produced at a much lower cost than their marginal social costs. Here there is a difference between private and social accounting that the market does not register.
In this case, the indivisibility of public goods (e. g. infrastructure, freedoms, etc.) requires the state to take over the regulation. Problem: even in a society of fair people, the isolation of individual decisions does not lead to the fulfilment of the general interest.
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I 270
Economic form: the proportion of public goods in the economy as a whole is independent of the economic form - be it socialist or private - because the proportion of social resources spent on their production is independent of the question of the ownership of the means of production.


(1) See J. M. Buchanan, The Demand and Supply of Public Goods, Chicago, 1968, ch. IX.
(2) Buchanan, ch. V; Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action, Cambridge, MA, 1965, ch. I, II.
(3) See W.J. Baumol, Welfare Economics and the Theory of the State, London, 1952, ch. I, VII-IX, XII.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Rawl I
J. Rawls
A Theory of Justice: Original Edition Oxford 2005


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-07-29
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