The children- Anne, Bob and Carla- should get

The question of a just allocation of resources has riddled societies for centuries, andcontinues to invite serious thought and deliberation. This paper is an attempt toenhance the understanding of the idea of justice, and make the pursuit of a justsociety more apparent. It draws heavily on a story narrated by Amartya Sen in hisbook, ‘The Idea of Justice’, where the reader is asked to decide which one of thethree children must be given the flute for justice to prevail. The simple illustrationprovokes deeper thought on the principles governing justice.An initiationJustice is best described as an enigmatic concept, one that has been dwelled uponand given a multiplicity of dimensions. It has invited considerable attention anddebate for centuries now, and yet remains an ideal no society can claim to haveachieved perfectly. One of the most indispensable theories in initiating adiscussion on justice has been given by the prominent political philosopher, JohnRawls, and critiqued and furthered by his student, Amartya Sen.In the ‘Theory of Justice’ (1971), John Rawls defines justice as a morallytriggered sense of fairness. He explains a thought experiment in which people,under a ‘veil of ignorance’, are asked to outline a just society. Under this ‘veil’,people are unaware about their position in the future society and it is implicitthat the society so envisaged will be fair to the least well off. In his initialwritings, Rawls calls for identification of a unique set of principles of justice.These principles can be sought through the original position in which people areput under the experiment.Amartya Sen argues that the pursuit of justice be seen as minimizing injustice,for there is at best an ‘Idea of Justice’. He brings out the divergence that exists inthe approach to justice, and asserts that a hypothetical experiment maybe unableto adequately account for the variety of cogent demands of people. The core ofhis argument is that a unique exposition of a perfectly just society isirreconcilable with the plurality of claims to justice.’Three Children and a Flute: An illustration’Amartya Sen reinforces his point with an intriguing story. The reader is asked todecide who amongst the three children- Anne, Bob and Carla- should get theflute. Anne stakes claim to the flute by saying that she is the only one of the threewho knows how to play it and that it would be unjust to deny the flute to the onlyone who has the skill to actually play it. If the reader only has this information,there is a strong inclination to oblige her with the flute.In the case of Bob, he asserts his claim to the flute by stressing that he is the mostpoverty-stricken of the three and has no other toys to play with. The other twochildren admit to being wealthier and having alternative sources of play. Thismakes a strong case for giving the flute to Bob.Lastly, Carla speaks up and calls attention to the fact that she is the one who hasworked hard to make the flute, and that it is only fair that she may be given theflute she has made. She alleges that when she had finished her work and theinstrument was made, ‘just then, these expropriators came along to try to grabthe flute’ from her. If Carla’s plea is all that the reader hears, there appears to bea compelling reason to give her the flute.Amartya Sen reveals that all the facts stated by the children are indeed accurateand agreed to by the others. He then admits that based on the three rationalesoffered, there is an inherent difficulty in arriving at a just decision. An attempt toarrive at a unique impartial resolution will inevitably involve some arbitrariness.Each of the reasoning offered perhaps appeals to theorists of different schools,and readers of different political loyalties may find themselves more drawn toone of the cases made than the other two.Going beyond the storySen explains that Anne’s plea is most likely to convince a utilitarian. Utility,quantified in hypothetical units called utils, is a convenient concept used byeconomists to decode the optimizing behavior of consuming agents. Consumertheory expounds that in a typical case, a buyer will optimize by choosing thebundle that offers him maximum utility (interpreted as reaching the highestindifference curve) subject to his budget constraint. A utilitarian hedonist maythus be adamant that if the flute is given to Anne, the satisfaction she derivesfrom it will be unmatched since she is the only one who knows how to play it.One of the originators of modern utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, put forwardthe Greatest Happiness Principle. This principle called for evaluating actionsbased on the desirability of their consequences, as judged by the presence ofpleasure and absence of pain. The evaluation of these pains and pleasures,however, had to be done accounting for the income and wealth of the person.The argument given is that at the heart of Bentham’s Theory is consequentialismthat is independent of the motives and status of the action maker. Thus, thisapproach suffered from a visible drawback.While it maybe widely agreed that a rich person is happier than one with meagerresources, there is less clarity as to whether the increment in happiness will bemore for the poor or the rich person if each of them is given the same amount ofadditional income or wealth. This concern is dealt with by the principle ofdiminishing marginal utility, which states that the utility derived from additionalunits of a good (including additional income) progressively falls as successiveunits of that good are consumed. The hedonist may find himself in a state ofconfusion now, for the flute seems to give a larger increment in utility for Bobthan for Anne, since he suffers from greater deprivation.Strongly advocating the case for Bob would be an economic egalitarian, whowould contend that such an act would make for a more equitable distribution ofresources. The principle of diminishing marginal utility would give him leveragein asserting that the flute would be more beneficial for the penniless Bob than forAnne or Carla. The egalitarian’s argument would touch upon an age-old debateabout which principle should govern economic justice- ability or equity. Hewould be more sympathetic to the needs of Bob, who is suffering fromdestitution, than endorse the skill of Anne to play the flute or the ability of Carlato make it.A libertarian, in his quest for strong and well-defined property rights and self-ownership, would endorse Carla’s plea. Considerable importance is given to theincentive structure in economics because it is instrumental for economic growth.A straightforward line of reasoning offered by the libertarian would be that ifCarla is not given the flute, there would be no incentive for anybody to carry outproduction in the future, for no one would be assured the fruits borne out oftheir hard work. So in the pursuit of a more just society, is the decision makerconcurring to forgoing stimulus for future production in the economy if he doesnot give the flute to Carla? On the other hand, it seems morally displeasing togive the flute to her, given the impoverishment from which Bob suffers or theunparalleled usefulness of the instrument for Anne.At this point, I find myself standing at a crossroad. Three pleas have been made.One favors human gratification, another asks for poverty reduction and the finalone gives impetus for future production. With the goal of making a just decision,I am unable to impartially identify which one of the three alternatives mustunfailingly prevail.I make an attempt at reconciling the three petitions with the objective makingthe society more just for everybody. The flute ought to be given to Carla first, togive reason for future production. If there is no flute made to begin with, thequestion of its allocation does not arise. The economy is invariably poorer in thefuture if a seemingly just decision is made not favoring Carla. Efficiency demandsthat she have the first claim to the flute she has created with her labour.Does this mean that Anne and Bob have no access to the flute, whatsoever? No.One proposition is that if the flute is really a source of adequate satisfaction forAnne, she will attempt to buy it from Carla, offering something else in return.With her labour sufficiently rewarded, Carla feels that a fair exchange has takenplace. She enjoys rights over what she has created, and an incentive structurefavoring future production in the society is maintained. Anne optimizes herutility as a consumer, and is clearly better off than she would have been withoutthe flute, since she chooses to purchase it from Carla. The exchange of the flutebetween Anne and Carla seems to be a Pareto improvement, since both of themare better off as a result of it. Thus, the overall welfare of the society isunambiguously higher with the exchange than without it.The question of Bob’s access to the flute, however, still remains. The egalitarianis unsatisfied with the proposition stated, for it does nothing to reduce economicinequality in the society. The proposition can be extended to include anarrangement for an authority to tax the exchange between Anne and Carla, andoffer Bob a transfer either in cash or in kind. In Sen’s story, the tax could belevied on the production or the purchase of the flute. The tax revenue that isgenerated could then be used to compensate Bob with some other toy or in anyother way that enhances his capabilities. The economic egalitarian, then, is likelyto be appeased with the resolution.It appears that an arrangement based on simple economic principles can solvethe seemingly unsolvable problem of ensuring that justice must prevail in thesociety. An impartial resolution can indeed be offered, addressing the concernsof the utilitarian, egalitarian and libertarian. The mechanism suggested is by nomeans unique, and may in fact be highly specific to the needs of the society, itshistorical evolution and socio-cultural fabric. This is recognized by Amartya Sen,who argues that there is no singular identification and establishment of theprinciples of justice.The illustration discussed here, however, seems to invite an easy solution in asimplified society. In reality, the mechanism proposed for a more just societymay not be as smoothly identified and made functional. There are many moreactors and goods involved, and information is not as easily and accuratelyavailable. Decision-making suffers from the problems of unclear objectives,excessive populism, clientelism and corruption. Policy proposals often do nottranslate into effectively implemented arrangements.Carla and Anne may be unable to arrive at an agreeable exchange, the tax ratemay be too high or too low, the tax revenue may be misappropriated and notgiven to Bob or ownership rights over the flute may not be well enforced. Theseare a few of the problems that may hinder the implementation of the propositionin the real world. As is widely recognized in development economics, well-developed and strong institutions thus have a key role to play. Drawing fromSen’s illustration, they are not only instrumental in economic growth, but also inthe pursuit of justice by reconciling the divergent claims of people.The essence of Sen’s argument is that diverse people make disparate demandsabout the principles that should underlie justice, and all these demands cannotbe satiated by arbitrary decision-making. It is for this reason that there is nosingular path to perfectly achieve the ideal of justice. It is here that theindispensability of well-thought- out institutions is recognized in enablingarrangement-based justice to prevail. The incongruent claims of people can beharmonized, and their demands can be pacified with the help of an institutionalframework.Some progress has thus been made in treading towards the ideal of justice. Thestory began as an impossible decision to make between Anne, Carla and Bob, butit concludes with a more attainable mechanism for a just society. Unlike thesimplified story, however, the smooth working of such mechanisms in the realworld requires strong and intelligent institutions. These institutionalarrangements are by no means unique, and have to be carefully designed toachieve the desired objectives. A key link is thus established between justallocation of resources and strong institutions, via arrangements founded oneconomic principles.ConclusionAccording to Amartya Sen, there is a difference between an arrangement-focused view of justice and a realization-focused understanding of justice. Theformer approach propounds that justice be conceived only in terms of creation oforganizational arrangements, institutional mechanisms and rules andregulations. Sen, however, calls for greater attention towards the realization-focused approach since it seeks to measure actual just outcomes in the society.He finds the need the evaluate justice based on the experiences people actuallyshare and the kind of life that they lead. The approach presented in this paperheavily relies on the arrangement-focused view, but must be complemented withan analysis of actual realizations to gauge whether justice is in fact beingenhanced.Amartya Sen’s initially puzzling question may not have an answer regarding whoshould be given the flute at once, but justice can perhaps prevail in the long runby mechanisms based on economic principles. Such mechanisms are founded onfirm institutions that allow for the varied demands of people from justice to beaccommodated. Their success must be assessed in terms of their real effects onthe lives of the people and actual accomplishments in advancing just outcomes.The resolution suggested in this paper is not unique, but underlines theimportance of robust institutions in advancing justice in the society.Bibliography? Sen, Amartya. The Idea of Justice. Allen Lane (Penguin Books), 2009.? Crimmins, James E., “Jeremy Bentham”. Stanford Encyclopedia ofPhilosophy (Fall 2017 Edition). March 17, 2015; substantive revisionFebruary 1, 2017.


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