Volume 34, 2018
Justice: Social, Criminal, Juvenile
Rawls, Libertarianism, and the Employment Problem
On the Unwritten Chapter in A Theory of Justice
Barbara Fried described John Rawls’s response to libertarianism as “the unwritten theory of justice.” This paper argues that while there is no need for a new theory of justice to address the libertarian challenge, there is a need for an additional chapter. Taking up Fried’s suggestion that the Rawlsian response would benefit from a revised list of primary goods, I propose to add employment to the list, thus leading to adoption of a full employment principle in the original position that ensures that anyone who wants to work will be able to do so. I argue that although Rawls famously proposed government as employer of last resort, he never integrated that comment into his theory, which lacks a full employment principle and says nothing about the injustice of involuntary unemployment in its ideal theory. I first refute the received view of Rawls’s treatment of employment as required by its importance for citizens’ self-respect, then show that in fact, the full employment assumption is the result of the role of general equilibrium theory in Rawls’s model of a well-ordered society, and indicate why developments in economic theory and economic policy support the proposed revision.