Did Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, considered a tea-party favorite, mean to argue the Republican party should approach the economy through the lens of one of the founders of so-called U.S. economic distributive justice?

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Friday, Cruz criticized the Republican approach to finances and called for an “alternative course,” which he defined as “opportunity conservatism.”

“Republicans should conceptualize and articulate every domestic policy with a single-minded focus on easing the ascent up the economic ladder,” he continued.

In his piece, the Texas Republican was clear he was not arguing for the adoption of the “wealth-redistribution policies of the left.”

“Among other problems, collectivist approaches to our economy simply do not work,” he wrote.

However, Cruz went on to advocate for economics as viewed by a major proponent of “redistributive justice.”

“We should assess policy with a Rawlsian lens, asking how it affects those least well-off among us. We should champion the 47 percent,” he wrote.

“That does not mean adopting the wealth-redistribution policies of the left. Among other problems, collectivist approaches to our economy simply do not work. They fail to produce economic prosperity or to improve the material conditions of the populace. And they lead to bankruptcy and economic collapse, as Europe demonstrates daily.”

The use of the term “Rawlsian lens” is instructive.

Cruz was referring to John Rawls, the American political philosopher who was one of the 20th century’s most influential theorists on so-called equality.

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Rawls laid the foundations for what became the “economic fairness” movement of future progressives and may have informed President Obama’s economic politics.

A prominent Rawls work was “A Theory of Justice,” which he later redefined as “Justice as Fairness.”

In that theory, Rawls called for first establishing equal basic liberties for all citizens and then ensuring distributive justice of resources.

Rawls is known for advocating “equality” to guarantee liberties that represent so-called meaningful options for all in society and ensure distributive justice.

Rawls’ principals of equality changed over time, with the professor eventually settling on two basic concepts:

  1. Each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value.
  2. Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: First, they are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society.

Writing in the New York Times last October, Bard College professor Steven V. Mazie pointed out Rawls “would argue that Occupy is fully justified in its criticism of the political and economic structures that propagate massive concentrations of wealth; he saw the ‘basic structure’ of society as the ‘primary subject of justice.’”

Regarding Rawls call to ensure distributive justice, the website ProgressiveHistorians.com cross-posted an article titled “Obama, John Rawls, and a Defense of the Unreasonable,” describing how affirmative action fit Rawls’ mantra.

“Rawls said that there would be equality of opportunity with regard to positions of power. He also said that inequalities, which were necessary in a non-Marxist society, would ‘be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society.’ This last bit became known as the “difference principle.’

“What Rawls was getting at, put simply, was that if someone was going to get a leg up from the system, it should be the least fortunate, not the most. A perfect example of this idea is affirmative action: since we can’t make hiring and college admissions completely fair, they should be biased toward those who need them most.”

In attempting to divine Obama’s economic policies, some have pointed to Rawls, who died in 2002.

Laurence Tribe, a constitutional scholar at Harvard who taught Obama, has been described as an early mentor to the future president. Tribe was Rawls’ Harvard colleague and wrote about Rawls’ theories.

Chris Underation, writing in the American Communication Journal’s Winter 2011 edition, examined Rawls’ influence on current legislation.

“Using the paradigm of social justice set forth by John Rawls – a philosophy Obama evidently picked up during his time at Harvard – this article will examine contextually the rhetoric used by the president to push for healthcare reform,” Underation noted.

With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott


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