The agrarian justice a long journey


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The agrarian justice a long journey

  1. 1. The Agrarian Justice The Agrarian Justice: A Long Journey 1 Abstract In the realm of population opinion, the problem of agrarian justice had been raised systematically as an issue by Thomas Paine way back towards the close of eighteenth century in the Europe and America. The Paineian ideas did not however constitute a theoretical rigorous model on the concept of justice. It was moreover confined to the issue of distribution of land only. In the theoretical economics, which developed towards the close of nineteenth century, the dominant concept has been that of the Pareto optimality as the chosen criterion of judging the worthwhile of an activity. There has been no separate and distinct conception of justice. In the mainstream economics, the subject of justice is today simply reduced to be the problem of attainment of economic efficiency in terms of Pareto optimality on the part of an individual economic agent, who is a party to exchange in a competitive market of a free world. The agricultural sector of economic activity is treated as no exception in this world-view. The agrarian justice is merely a subset of justice in the economic realm. In the recent literature, there are however alternative concepts of justice, and specific treatment given to the theme in general. These are undoubtedly characterized by the conceptual tensions and theoretical debates surrounding it. It is nonetheless arguable that the new horizons are worth visiting. The comparison between the ideas of John Rawls and John Roemer in the context of contemporary demands for agrarian justice is worth undertaking to strike on the new horizons on the theme of justice. The journey is long but worth treading upon to gain further insight. Key Words: justice, equity, distribution, agrarianism, Pareto optimality, efficiency, John Rawls, John Roemer, political economy, utilitarianism Prologue A civilized and moral economic agent has unfailingly been concerned about justice rather specifically. The impersonality in judgment, fairness in deals and impartiality in outcomes has continuously been the passionate concern for many. There is a history of centuries of efforts and a concomitant history of pervasive failures in this endeavor across the epochs of civilization. The countryside has been no exception in this regard. In the realm of ‘subsistence goods’, the problem of agrarian justice had been raised systematically as an issue by Thomas Paine way back towards the close of eighteenth century in the Europe and America. The Paineian ideas did not however constitute a theoretical rigorous model on the concept of justice. Despite these lacunae, it had nonetheless motivated a number of theoreticians down the ages to devote themselves to the enquiry on the theme of justice in the countryside. The Paineian proposal was important as being a precursor of the single-tax movement, which was popularized a century later again by Henry George in his “Progress and Poverty”. Agrarian justice has thus been a battle cry of the advocates of land reforms for a long time. The irony is 1 It was originally published in the Assam University Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, 2007, with an extended title. Mahmood Ansari 1|Page
  2. 2. The Agrarian Justice this that the concept associated with it has been just narrow enough to include merely the concerns with the distribution of land in the countryside. Gone are the days of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however. In the twentieth century and continuing to the new millennium, there is resurgence of interests in the concept of justice in all the camps of thought. This is not to undermine the fat that there are significant departures from the accepted verdicts on the theme of justice in the contemporary literature. There are modern specific contributions of Richard Hare and Jack Harsanyi in the utilitarian camp, and Robert Nozick in the libertarian setting. There is also John Rawls on the liberal platform. There is John Roemer on the socialist podium. In other words, there are undoubtedly new horizons emerging in the field. An impartial assessment would be a pointer to statements that these are in the nature of contribution to the new economics of agrarian justice but the debates are not wholly settled. Recently, the issues of just distribution of food and ensuring food security in general have become an important consideration. The activists on the front of environment and ecology have also joined the bandwagon of justice proponents recently on the matter of distribution of seeds and both underground and surface water in the countryside. All in all, the arguments have not only centered that agrarian justice is a precondition of economic growth but rather a direct demand for instituting egalitarian distribution of resources and commodity have been made for the sake of justice having an intrinsic value in the life of human beings. In the actual world, the attainment of justice in matter of land distribution, water uses and food entitlement has not been however an easy task. In what follows is simply this. It is argued presently that there are conceptions of justice beyond the moral philosophy and normative economics shared by the frameworks of utilitarianism and libertarianism. These new horizons are worth visiting. The chapter is divided into three principal sections. The political economy of agrarian justice, the mainstream economics of justice and the contemporary theorizing on justice under the framework of ideas of the liberal philosophy of John Rawls and the analytical Marxian economics of John Roemer are dealt in these sections. The conclusion follows at the last with a view to compare the ideas of the two giants in the context of contemporary demands for agrarian justice. 1. Political Economy of Justice In retrospect, there is a tradition that harks back to the analysis in Book VII of Aristotle’s Politics. In this tradition, the “goods of the body” (subsistence goods), “amenities” (convenience and luxury goods) and “psychic goods” (goods of the soul or mind) are distinguished from each other. It is asserted that these goods are desired in an ordinal sequence with each successive level becoming important after the preceding level is satisfied. Under such framework of analysis, the agrarian household provides the goods of first level, which is related with the basic production and consumption unit in the subsistence agriculture. The artisans and merchants, who thrive on strength of the specialization and village exchanges in the rural-urban continuum, provide the amenities of second level. The third level however reflects the desires of a healthy citizen, who is not drawn into the debauchery and self-indulgence. Such a person finds the honors and status associated with the public service and statesmanship combined with mental and ethical self-improvement to be the rewarding life of a “friend of wisdom”, a Mahmood Ansari 2|Page
  3. 3. The Agrarian Justice philosopher (Lowry, 1999). The classical conception of justice as it stands in this tradition is to be achieved in matter of all these goods produced at various levels in the society. In the Aristotelian tradition, there are thus two kinds of emphasis attached with the conception of justice: one, the fulfillment of material needs and attainment of personal endowments of the agents; second, the satisfaction of personal subjective values of individuals with regard to the human interaction in the society. Justice is in essence a virtue of individuals in the polis (a citystate). In the post-Aristotelian European Enlightenment tradition, justice has been considered a provision of maintaining people in their perfectible rights, and distributing these rights rather equally among the people as mediated by the just institutions in the society. It is difficult but to judge as to what is that which is right. Justice has also been conceived in yet another simple way: ‘giving people what they deserve’, and giving them ‘equally’. It is again always difficult to determine as to what is that which people deserve. It is equally controversial as to what should be the criteria of desert and in which form to give something to the people. Be that as it may. What is however clear that justice is is essentially related with some conception of ‘fairness’ and ‘impartiality’. A perusal of recent concrete history as influenced by the post-Aristotelian European Enlightenment tradition leads us to Thomas Paine (1793) who wrote the pamphlet on the “Agrarian Justice”. This was printed in English in Paris. Since there were some sentences, which the publisher suppressed under asterisks in the preface to the London edition, it is worth quoting the first Paris edition. Paine declared: “It is not charity but a right, not bounty but justice that I am pleading for. The present state of civilization is as odious as it is unjust.” The significance of the declaration may be retrospectively gauged from the historic fact that an edition of the pamphlet was brought out in London by Thomas Williams, who was prosecuted by the Crown for publishing Paine’s “Age of Reason.” The Painein conception of justice was actually a reaction to a dominant sermon published by the Bishop of Llandaff, entitled “The Wisdom and Goodness of God in Having Made both Rich and Poor.” Paine reacted by denying that God ever made any rich and poor. It was rather declared by Paine that: “He made only male and female, and gave them the earth for their inheritance.” It is however the Men and Women, who created the landed monopoly. It was thus declared that the poverty and wretchedness of life of human beings are the direct result of the landed monopoly created in the country. The landed monopoly creates the greatest evil in the form of land alienation and dispossession, and these are instances of pervasive injustice. Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before (Thomas Paine, 1797). Paine proposed a plan to deal with the problem of poverty by providing for the taxation of accumulated property. The tax revenue collected must permit the machineries of the state to Mahmood Ansari 3|Page
  4. 4. The Agrarian Justice give each man and women reaching the age of twenty-one the sum of fifteen pounds, and every person fifty years of age or over ten pounds per year. This was the demand of a system of ‘social insurance’, which called for the system of graduated inheritance taxes and ground rents. The state was made responsible to bring the justice to the poor through the first measures. The Paineian proposal was identified with the philanthropic movement, which was started in Paris in 1786-87, and was later introduced in America. The classic pamphlet was issued as a proposal to the French Government, at a time when readjustment of landed property had become necessary through the Revolution. In the name of justice, what was required was to distribute the income from the land among the poor and destitute. It was in this way that the state could reduce and rather eliminate the phenomenon of poverty amidst plenty. A century later, in “The Crime of Poverty”, Henry George thus declared: In a rude state of society, there are seasons of want, seasons when people starve; but they are seasons when the earth has refused to yield her increase, when the rain has not fallen from the heavens, or when the land has been swept by some foe-not when there is plenty. And yet the peculiar characteristic of this modern poverty of ours is that it is deepest where wealth most abound …………………….…. in a rude state of society, as among the ancient Hebrews, giving each family its lot and making it inalienable we might secure something like equality. But in a complex civilization that will not suffice. It is not, however, necessary to divide-up the land. All that is necessary is to divide-up the income that comes from the land. In that way, we can secure the absolute equality. Nor could the adoption of this principle involve any rude shock or violent charge. It can be brought about gradually and easily by abolishing taxes that now rest upon capital, labour and improvements, and raising all our public revenues by the taxation of land values; and the longer you think of it the clearer you will see that in every possible way will it be a benefit (Henry George, 1885). It is worth arguing retrospectively with the benefit of hindsight that neither Thomas Paine nor Henry George could at all advocate the establishment of an agrarian society on the line of reasoning advanced by many erstwhile land reformers who preceded and followed them. There was no proposal for the redistribution of land holdings among the masses. There was no need underlined for the changes in the inheritance rules and laws pertaining to the real estate and land. Paine’s proposal was too moderate for some contemporary Agrarians. Thomas Spence’s pamphlet on “The Rights of Infants”, which was published in 1797, was dealing with the strictures on Paine’s Agrarian Justice. There was in a true sense a need of redistribution of landed property itself to bring justice in the countryside, and Paineian and Georgian proposals skirted the issue away from the public galore. In the radical circles, the agrarian question remained an unsettled issue, therefore. It is further clear that the political economy of agrarian justice had been narrow in reach and thus confined to merely a commodity called the land. The time has changed, and history has unfolded. It was a problem of landed monopoly only till yesterday in the domain of political economy, but it constitutes today the entire set of problems related with the distribution of land, water as well as the food in the countryside. There is no doubt that there are senses of injustice pervading in matter of land ownership, water uses, and food entitlement in the third world countries in particular, which demand resolution. 2. Mainstream Economics of Justice Mahmood Ansari 4|Page
  5. 5. The Agrarian Justice In the theoretical realm, there has been a growth of a discipline of mainstream economics proper. This has been orchestrated by making the erstwhile discipline of political economy to move away from the discipline of moral philosophy and philanthropic ideas. The political economy practitioners have contributed to the making of the discipline of Economics proper with an aspiration and irresistible desire to model the subject theoretically on the line of the physical sciences. This has been a die-hard aspiration on part of the enlightened and gifted practitioners of the political economy. The concepts of rational economic agent, economic equilibrium, and optimality have been the major theoretical heuristic devices in the mental experiment of an economist of neoclassical mainstream persuasion. These concepts have undoubtedly been influenced by the categories of physical sciences, which have been least connected with the conception of justice. The conception of justice has therefore been kept out of scope of economics proper in the last two centuries. It has been argued that the individual economic agent has desires and beliefs, and that the agent takes action consistent with his/her desires and beliefs. The human agent is a conscious actor, who is capable of deliberation and reasoning. Since an economic agent has therefore always the reason behind an action, s/he is, alternatively speaking, “rational” (Hamlin, 1986; Blaug, 1992). This is Utilitarianism. This is so much in contrast with the desire-less and belief-less physical atom in the Nature, following which the human agent is modeled in the economic analytic framework. Be that as it may. A rational agent, be that a peasant or a rural worker, is further assumed to be autonomous as well. The agent has unconstrained “negative” freedom in exchanging the property endowments and resources with another rational agent in an ideal competitive environment. The agent has absolute rights to life and liberty in the sense that nobody may justifiably interfere with his life and liberty, except in cases of self-defense or legitimate punishment (Harsanyi, 1982). In the schema, there are negative rights of noninterference, and the positive rights to aid or assistance from another agent and the state are not warranted. This is the economics of Libertarianism. The economics of utilitarianism and libertarianism constitute the core of neoclassical mainstream economics proper. The framework of analysis that emerges thus holds that there is a universe of atoms-ininteraction-with-each-other in the physical science, and as a counterpart, there is an economy of individual economic agents in interdependence relations in the economic science. A rational and free agent is conceived to be in action, and posited to attain a bliss point called the ‘equilibrium’. A rational and free agent of the utilitarian and libertarian world is conceived theoretically in economic interaction with another rational agent, and that too, only in the arena of exchange of resources and commodities in the economy. The agent-to-agent exchange takes place through the mechanism of demand and supply forces in the market. This is equally true of the countryside. In the course of economic interaction in the form of exchange among the peasant and worker economic agents, the price, bid by the fictitious auctioneer, that equates the demand and supply is called the equilibrium price. This price establishes the equivalence-inexchange since the equivalent is exchanged for the equivalent. The quantity-price relation is therefore unfailingly and explicitly harmonious. All the endogenous forces (internal to the model) conductive to changes come to a resting place at the equilibrium. The equilibrium is a state of consistent harmony, peacefulness, and restfulness, whenever and wherever the actor undertakes action in the economic realm (Caldwell, 1982; Hahn, 1973). The equilibriums achieved are the efficient outcomes of the interactions among the rational and free peasant and worker agents in the economic realm. In other words, the only activity of vital significance in the material realm of human life called the economic exchange attains ultimately the economic Mahmood Ansari 5|Page
  6. 6. The Agrarian Justice equilibrium, that is, a state of bliss signifying the market clearance by the operation of classical theorem of Invisible Hand. The neoclassical mainstream theory of capitalist market in combination with the rigorous theorem of economic exchange built around the widely accepted postulates of scarcity-need view of the prices is a simple mathematised story. The attempt at mathematization of economics since the beginning of present century and its general acceptability and respectability has subsequently added rigor, elegance, and sophistry to this methodological device of equilibrium in the abstract economic theory. The application of mathematics turned this useful fiction into virtual look-alike reality. In retrospect, the gravity had been the similar tool in the hands of physical scientists. The rationality heuristic together with the concept of equilibrium requires an optimality principle in economics. The optimality principle requires the agent behaviour and empirical phenomenon to be explained as “maximizing” or “minimizing” some objective functions, subject to a well-defined set of constraints. In the economic universe, a peasant or a worker as a rational individual agent is therefore presumed to be a maximizing entity. The agent is projected here to be calculating the optimal consequence of his action in the market with the lightning speed and that too in the environment of perfect information in the economy (Schoemaker, 1991). The optimality is a state of maximum possible individual efficiency in the activities and processes in the economy. A Pareto optimal situation is an idealized of the world, where the affairs of an economy come to a rest. A situation where no individual agent can be made better off without making someone worse off is considered to be the arrangement of maximum possible social welfare attainable. The economic exchange at equilibrium price is proved as being consistent with the Pareto optimality or maximum social welfare as well. The maximum social welfare is declared coterminous with the justice for all. The maximal level of justice is subsumed in the state of maximum possible social welfare attainable. The attainment of economic justice is endogenous to the optimal economic process, and is consistently tied with the attainment of the “first-best-world”. In such a world-view, the property rights are demarcated, and the property is a guarantor of liberty, and the actual capitalist market of an economy orchestrated through the mechanism of economic exchange is considered merely a replica of the thought-experiment of an economist. Such a state of the world, which is characterized by the postulates of individual rationality, process equilibrium, and economic optimality, does signify the attainment of the “first-bestworld” of economic efficiency. This state of the world is also declared a “just” and “fair” state of the world. The individual rationality postulate and Pareto optimality in production and exchange are argued to ensure the maximum possible justice for all. There is undoubtedly no role for the state to play in the theatre of justice, therefore. The rationality, freedom, and justice are integrated conceptions in the intricate framework of utilitarian and libertarian worldview, premised on the given distribution of property rights and endowments in land and other resources in the economy. The Pareto optimality is the article of faith of the neoclassical economists of all variants. The concept and principle of optimality was first used in physics to gain numerical results for otherwise intractable problems. In economics, the problems were as such not that much stubborn as it was in Physics. There has however been an irresistible desire to model the subject on the line of science. This is as much for the economists, who are diehard followers of the Utilitarianism and Libertarianism. This is in precise terms all about the contemporary mainstream economics, which has long left the embryo of philosophy out of which it came out in the world of academy. Mahmood Ansari 6|Page
  7. 7. The Agrarian Justice It is then tragic that the mainstream mental experiment of an economist reduces all human beings into an egoist, self-interested and greedy personae. In the framework of such a narrow conception of economic agent, first, it relegates all forms, patterns and systems of exchange among the agents to the background seat, and thereby, neglects the existence of market-like and non-market exchange institutions in the social economy. It ignores the concrete observation that the economic exchange is merely specie within the large genre of exchange activities in the human society. It thereby discards the role played by non-price factors in the form of norms, customs and power forces in the economic arena. The classical notion of something akin to natural equilibrium as a long run phenomenon is moreover very differently accommodated as the neoclassical economic equilibrium tool and technique of short run analysis of social entities and framework therein. Second, the most tragic aspect of the mainstream economics is simply however this that it further fails to explain the phenomenon and process of in-equivalence-inexchange, and correspondingly the exploitation and injustices of the parties to exchange, and the chaos in the circulation and production spheres of the economy. The utilitarian belief on the notion of justice in the market does not address at all the contemporary issue of social and economic justice. Neither does it address the issues of justice (as these are understood today) nor does it guarantee the attainment of such justices beyond the market. The libertarian concept of liberty and freedom is also far-off from the popular demands of positive economic freedom and social justice. 3. Contemporary Theorizing on Justice The contemporary theorizing on justice and specifically agrarian justice is built on the critique of the mainstream economic perspective only. There is no doubt that the Paretooptimality is regarded to be a criterion for optimal resource allocation, and a conception of justice is implicit in the Pareto optimality category in the mainstream economics. This criterion implies however controversial views on distributional justice. The Pareto optimality has rather been seen to be going easy along with a great amount of economic inequality and social discrimination in the world. This is not to say that the concept of justice is a clean terrain. The indeterminacy of the rigorous formalistic analyses that make up the contemporary economics literature in this field is well known. It is nonetheless underlined in the recent writings that there is the need to incorporate the concerns of political economy of justice of eighteenth and nineteenth century in the contemporary mainstream economics proper. A new thinking on the economics of agrarian justice must take the contemporary issues of exploitation and injustices, and resolve these in time. The frameworks of conceptualization of justice advanced by John Rawls and John Roemer do simply this. John Rawls has published two classic works in the liberal tradition: A Theory of Justice (1971), and Political Liberalism (1993). It is the most widely discussed theory of distributive justice in the liberal world in the past three decades, which has been proposed by Rawls in these classic works. Rawls proposes the following two principles of justice: (1) each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal 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; and (2) the social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two condition: (a) they are to be attached to the positions and offices open to all under Mahmood Ansari 7|Page
  8. 8. The Agrarian Justice conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and (b) they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least- advantaged members of the society (Rawls, 1993). In the Rawlsian scheme of justice, the principle (1) must govern the distribution of liberties, and principle (2a) must regulate the distribution of opportunities. In the Rawlsian system of justice, the principle (1) has priority over the principle (2). It is in addition to (2b) that it is possible to think of the principles (1) and (2a) as principles of distributive justice. John Rawls insists on the formal Equality plus the Difference principle. There should be formal equality in the distribution of liberties and there should be the maximization of welfare of the worst-off in the society to stain the distributive justice. It is in line with the Liberal idea. It is in this way that the Rawlsian principles of justice make all the principles of justice the principles of distributive justice. What is noteworthy is this that even the principles of retributive justice are to be included on the basis that they distribute negative goods. Rawls is not opposed to the principle of strict equality per se. There has been a tradition of advancing the principle of strict equality as the principle of justice: equal respect for persons. The main moral motivation for the Difference Principle is indeed similar to that for the principles of strict equality. The Difference Principle of Rawls do materially collapses to a form of strict equality under empirical conditions, where the differences in income in the society have no effect on the work incentive of people. The overwhelming opinion though is that in the near future, the possibility of earning greater income will bring forth greater productive effort, and this will certainly increase the total wealth of the economy and, under the Difference Principle, the wealth of the least-advantaged in the society. The concern of Rawls is but about the absolute position of the least-advantaged group rather than their relative position. If a system of strict equality maximizes the absolute position of the least-advantaged in society, then the Difference Principle advocates strict equality. If it is however possible to raise the absolute position of the least-advantaged further by having some inequalities of income and wealth, the Difference Principe of Rawls do not hesitate at all to prescribe the inequality up to that point where the absolute position of the least-advantaged can no longer be raised (Stevens, 2001). There has been extensive discussion of the Difference Principle in the last thirty years, and so. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate of India, does agree with the Rawlsian egalitarian conception of justice. John Rawls has used the Utilitarianism as the main theory for comparison with his own in ‘A Theory of Justice’. The Utilitarian objection to the Difference Principe is that it does not maximize utility. What is distinctive in Rawlsian framework is the opposition to the Utilitarianism of mainstream economics. Rawls views his work as a manifesto against utilitarianism in two ways: first, that he advocates a maximandum of an index of primary goods, not utility; second, that he advocates looking only at the minimum of a set of individual “welfare” levels, not the sum. The first point contrasts Rawlsian justice with welfarism in general, the second with utilitarianism (in our sense) in particular. In the philosophical literature, and in Rawls himself, both of these objections are seen as ones against utilitarianism (Roemer, 1996, p.128). It is clear that John Rawls has put forward the reciprocity paradigm of justice. The justice in the sense of impartiality is the result of consensus among the rational and autonomous agents through agreements, and therefore, the mutual advantage may be struck by bargaining among self-interested agents in the economy. James Buchanan and David Gauthier are recent proponents of the bargaining models of rational actors. The fairness for a group of people, call them either the mass of peasantry or an army of labourers in the countryside, involves arriving Mahmood Ansari 8|Page
  9. 9. The Agrarian Justice at the rules and guiding principles of social organization that pay similar attention to interests, concerns and liberties of everyone. In the Rawlsian framework, the basic liberty is a priority, and the basic goods need to be shared on a reciprocal basis so as to maximize the opportunity of the worse-off in the society. In the Rawlsian framework, the justice is in short the fairness. The Difference Principle is however criticized as a primary distributive principle because it mostly ignores the claims that people do deserve certain economic benefits in the light of their actions and contributions. The advocates of Desert-based Principles of justice do argue that some may deserve a higher level of material goods because of their hard work and contributions, even if their unequal rewards do not also function to improve the position of the least-advantaged in the society. The advocates of strict equality paradigm of justice do further argue that the inequalities permitted by the Difference Principle are unacceptable even if they do benefit the least-advantaged in the society. The argument is this that the relative position of the least-advantaged is more important than their absolute position. The Libertarians do object that the Difference Principle involves unacceptable infringements on the liberty, since it may require redistributive taxation to the poor. The Libertarians do commonly object that such taxation does involve the immoral taking of just holdings. It is also argued that the explanations of how people come to be in more or less advantaged positions may be relevant to their fairness, yet the Difference Principle wrongly ignores these explanations. John Roemer (1996) begins by framing the concept of distributive justice in terms of “the allocation of scarce (or limited) resources among alternative used”, and sets himself the task of applying modern mathematical tools of neoclassical economics to the efforts of political philosophers and economists to resolve the problems of distributive justice (Todd, 1999). Roemerian justice advocates an equal opportunity policy. Roemer offers a version of egalitarianism base on the idea of equality of opportunity for the people. According to this version, the opportunities for a certain good are equal when people who are alike in all qualities that are beyond their control have equal chances of achieving that good. The justice is attained when an equal opportunity policy do necessarily equalize outcomes in so far as they are the consequences of causes beyond a person’s control, but allow differential outcomes in so far as they result from autonomous choices (Roemer, 1996). Roemer does not argue for a specific set of factors “beyond a person’s control”, which may affect a person’s success. The Roemerian point is simply this that the equality of opportunity would demand far more equality of outcome than we now experience, even if the idea of what is “beyond a person’s control” is understood in a narrow and uncontroversial sense (Scanlon, 1995). In the Roemerian system of justice, a system for choosing among applicants to become opera singers, basketball players, or mathematics professors is said to violate equality of opportunity just because it makes success depend on differences in innate ability they are beyond the applicants’ control. It is clear that the Roemerian idea of equality of opportunity is only partially related to the notion that commonly goes by that name. The equality of opportunity, as most people understand it, is violated when some candidates for a position are preferred to others on grounds that are not relevant to that position. It is also violated when unfortunate circumstance, such as lack of education, prevent some people from competing fairly on the basis of their relevant abilities (Scanlon, 1995). It is the concept of relevant competition, and “relevant competition” appeals to the idea that competition is fair, and the fairness is ensured when it tests for the relevant abilities (as well as for personal qualities such as determination and discipline that are displayed in competitors’ “autonomous choices”). Roemer does not accept Mahmood Ansari 9|Page
  10. 10. The Agrarian Justice this version of equality of opportunity as a complete conception of justice. It is argued that the version says nothing about the size of the rewards that can justly be attached to various positions. Roemer rather appeals to the idea that a competition is unfair when competitors have unequal chances of winning, due to factors beyond their control. The “relevant competition” version of equality of opportunity is more plausibly based on the idea that the social reasons for having a position often entail relevant grounds for selecting individuals for that position. Roemerian justice asserts that it is an abuse of power to choose among applicants on some other basis, such as racial prejudice or friendship. It is asserted that the applicants are treated unfairly when unequal starting points prevent them from competing “on their merits.” A “levelplaying-field” is a precondition of fairness and justice. There are oppositions to the Roemerian conception of justice also. It is argued that the Utilitarian paradigm is lacking in criteria of justice other than the untrammeled satisfaction of people’s desires or preferences, or at least the choices the people would make, given a chance. This however does upon up the need to incorporate an unlimited domain of possible preferences of people in the society. If one has to determine whether a state is better than another, one would have to take account of the people who, for example, care more about someone else having less than they care about themselves having more, or people who care only that they have the same or conversely something different, from what their neighbors have. These people can be very difficult to satisfy (Blunder, 2004). Roemer, by virtue of the fact of his reliance on the Utilitarianism by way of incorporation of neoclassical tools and techniques, do unfailingly place himself at the centre of such criticism. This is despite his faith in Marxism. The Roemerian conception of justice is narrow because the crucial and challenging question in the field of distributive justice is completely ignored. The challenging issue is the distribution over time. The critics do argue that one could justify maximizing the profits by liquidating the whole earth over the next 125 years under an individually-oriented analytic system, since it would not adversely affect a single person with a current vested economic right in the future. But, is it justice? It cannot be treated a state of justice with the future generation. In order to have system of distributive justice, one must therefore design a system of administrative and policy values that do necessarily transcend the individual interests. There is need to think in terms of the community. There is need to develop an abstract commitment to the human race, which is the ultimate identification for anyone who presumes to raise the question of justice. Thomas Scanlon (1995) has rightly remarked that John Roemer’s emphasis on the dichotomy between those consequences people are responsible for and those they should be protected against pushes him to almost say rather implausibly that those whom we think should be helped are not responsible for their actions. This position leaves him open to conservative objections of the kind that he very properly seeks to avoid. In short, both Rawlsian as well as Roemerian justice has been the target of numerous criticisms from the perspective of all the other theories of distributive justice. Epilogue The conception and the problematic of justice have traveled a long distance from the ancient writings of Aristotle to the medieval reasoning of John Stuart Mill to the modern formulation of John Rawls and John Roemer. It is clear that the classic work of Thomas Paine Mahmood Ansari 10 | P a g e
  11. 11. The Agrarian Justice on the agrarian justice is in need of drastic revision and modification in the light of rather specific modern conceptual and theoretical works on justice. The Utilitarianism and Libertarianism may accomplish the necessary improvements required for the Paineian agrarian justice. The Utilitarian conception of justice of Mill and Sidgwick have however been rather one-sided and narrow, and have not been found to be standing healthy even after the defense put back by Jack Hare and John Harsanyi in the modern era. This is also the case with the theorizing of justice in the Rawlsian and Roemerian schemes. The requirement of modifications in the old thinking that the new-horizon ideas of Rawls and Roemer bring to bear on the theme of justice would not be sufficient in the backdrop of criticisms leveled against these paradigms of late. It is agreed that every modern theory of justice begins from the premise that citizens must be treated as equals in some respect (Sen, 1992). There must either be equality in the distribution of welfare (Harsanyi, 1982) or the primary goods (Rawls, 1971) or the capability (Sen, 1992) or the opportunity (Roemer, 1996). John Rawls advocates however a taxation proposal to bring equality in matter of primary goods, and John Roemer advances the income policy to attain the equality of opportunity. None of the conception of justice is premised on the direct equal distribution of the land, water and food. Such a conception would be needed in future so that an answer to the following questions is found. Are there all forms and types of rural markets the arena of freedom and liberty? In there any popular sense of agrarian justice connected with the provision of rights to land, privilege to water, and entitlement to food? Why do the rational peasant lord, employer and lender abrogate the rights to freedom of a tenant, labor and borrower peasant, and indulge in the discrimination against the latter for owning qualities that are not necessarily connected with the productive efforts? In other words, what is the explanation of the regularities behind the imposition of unfair and unjust implicit and explicit terms of contract among the peasantry in the land and labour markets? A long journey is awaited on the road to agrarian justice. Mahmood Ansari 11 | P a g e
  12. 12. The Agrarian Justice References Hahn, F.H (1973), “On the Notion of Economic Equilibrium in Economics: An Inaugural Lecture” in Bruce Caldwell (1993) (Ed.), The Philosophy of Economics: An Elgar Reference Collection, Aldershot, England Hamlin, A.P. (1986), “Individual Rationality” in Bruce Caldwell (1993) (Ed.), The Philosophy of Economics: An Elgar Reference Collection, Aldershot, England Harsanyi, J.C. (1982), “Morality and the Theory of Rational Behavior” in A Sen and B. Williams (1982) (Eds.), Utilitarianism and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Henry George (1885), The Crime of Poverty, Opera House, Burlington, Iowa John E. Roemer (1996), Theories of Distributive Justice, Harvard University Press Cambridge MacIntyre, Alasdaire (1988), Whose Justice? Which Rationality? University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana Nozick, Robert (1993), The Nature of Rationality, Princeton University Press, Princeton Paine, Thomas (1797), The Agrarian Justice, W. Adlard and Co., Paris Parfit, Derek (1984), Reasons and Persons, Clarendon Press, Oxford Rawls, John (1971), A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts Rawls, John (1985), “Justice as Fairness: Political, Not Metaphysical”, Philosophy and Public Action, vol. 14, no. 3 Ryan, Ayn (1993), Justice, Oxford University Press, Oxford Scanlon, Thomas J (1995), “Comments on Roemer”, Boston Review, April/May Schoemaker, P.J.H. (1991), “The Quest for Optimality: A Positive Heuristic of Science?” in Bruce Caldwell 1993. (Ed.), The Philosophy of Economics: An Elgar Reference Collection, Aldershot, England Sen, A K (1992), Inequality Re-examined, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Stevens, Jacob. 2001. “G.A. Cohen’s Revolution in Morals”, New Life Review, vol. 7, January Todd, Lowry (1999), “Review of John E. Roemer (1996)’s Theories of Distributive Justice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge”, Eastern Economic Journal, Winter Mahmood Ansari 12 | P a g e