Freedoms and fairness.docx - Freedoms and fairness A government has the power the actual force and the normative authority to make people and businesses

Freedoms and fairness.docx - Freedoms and fairness A...

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Freedoms and fairness A government has the power – the actual force and the normative authority – to make people and businesses do (or not do) what they otherwise would not (or would) do. How should it use this power in the economy and in regulating businesses? Perhaps the “free market” and “social responsibility” ideas which we have already studied are sufficient to answer this question. For governments often regulate to make markets possible (e.g. property rights, contract law), to solve market failures (e.g. liability law, labelling requirements), or to enforce social expectations or demands (e.g. minimum wage laws, tariffs on imports). In these ways governments use their power to make businesses do what free market or social responsibility ideas imply they should – governments ensure that markets are “efficient” and not “coercive,” and that businesses respect society’s “wants” and “democracy.” However, it is often thought that governments are also responsible for making a just “framework” for society, and thus for the economy and businesses too. Specifically, “liberal democratic” governments are often held responsible for protecting individuals’ freedoms and for ensuring the fairness of society. For example, they are expected to protect individuals’ freedoms of speech and association and to prevent racial and gender discrimination – and, importantly, they are expected to do so even if this infringes on markets or on majority opinions. Such responsibilities imply that governments should intervene in and regulate business much more than just to ensure markets function well and social demands are met. To consider these more distinctive ideas of government responsibilities in this class, we will consider the classical liberal “harm principle” of individual freedoms and the influential political philosopher, John Rawls’s challenging “egalitarian liberal” sense of equality of opportunity and wealth in society. Freedoms The most common idea of individual freedom is the classical liberal idea that individuals ought to be free to do as they wish as long as they do not harm others . Consider smoking, homosexuality, free speech, or business deals, for instance. Why should anyone be prevented or discouraged from doing these things? Only if they do harm to others (or risk doing so) does it seem right for government to intervene, to protect these other people’s freedom. Thus, people often say, “my freedom ends where yours begins” or “my freedom to swing my fist ends where your nose begins,” and it is 1 Freedoms and fairness
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usually considered it wrong – “meddling” or “interfering” – for anyone to stop others from doing harm to themselves.
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