Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Samuelson against “Rawls Gratuitism”

Igersheim Herrade , CNRS

My current research project focuses on the relationship between Rawls and the economists, in the period from the publication of A Theory of Justice in 1971 up to the late 1990s. Although falling within the scope of political and moral philosophy, it is well known that A Theory of Justice also had a great impact on economists. As such, Rawls put great emphasis on his desire to combine economics and philosophy, and particularly to engage with rational choice theory (1971, 15). After the publication of A Theory of Justice, aspects of it came in for criticism – often very vehement – by economists such as Arrow, Buchanan, Harsanyi, Samuelson, or Sen. Rawls’s immediate answers (1974a,b in particular) showed that he first wanted to maintain a dialogue with the economists, but the later evolutions of his works (1993, 2001) clearly demonstrated that he had removed himself from the economic realm, returning to his initial philosophical territory in order to overcome the internal inconsistencies of A Theory of Justice. Essentially based on Rawls’s (unpublished) correspondence with economists, a first paper (Igersheim [2021] under review) attempts to shed light on the (complementary) elements which can explain Rawls’s retreat from the realm of economics, and his progressive disenchantment regarding the possibility of a dialogue between economists and philosophers on equal footing. In this paper, a specific extension of this initial work is envisaged, with a focus on the interactions between Rawls and Samuelson, still understudied and not documented historically. Beyond Samuelson’s two published papers which pursued the strong attacks of some economists against the maximin (1976, 1987), the correspondence between both authors gives original insights on several aspects of Rawls’s own overall evolution regarding the maximin, as well as the way he considers the relationship between economics and philosophy. To address this topic, I will particularly use a 4-page unpublished letter from Rawls to Samuelson dated July 24, 1985 in which Rawls deals explicitly with the status of the maximin in his work and the difficult understanding of it by economists. This paper thus means to contribute to the literature on the incorporation of Rawlsian ideas into (normative) economics. References Igersheim H, 2021, Rawls and the economists: the (im)possible dialogue. Working Paper BETA n°47. Rawls J, 1971 [1999], A Theory of Justice, Revised Edition, Oxford University Press. Rawls J, 1974a, Reply to Alexander and Musgrave, The Quarterly Journal of Economics 88, 633-655. Rawls J, 1974b, Some Reasons for the Maximin Criterion, American Economie Review 64, 141-146. Rawls J 1993, Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press. Rawls J. 2001, Justice as Fairness, A Restatement, ed. E. Kelly. Harvard University Press. Samuelson PA, 1976, Optimal compacts for redistribution, in Ronald E. Grieson (ed), Public and Urban Economics, Essays in Honor of William S. Vickrey, Lexington Books


Keywords: Rawls, Samuelson, maximin