Falkenblog | Eric Falkenstein | Amartya Sen's JusticeTime dimension: that's clever. And important.
I was reading The Idea of Justice by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, now in paperback, and he starts out with the following example.
Take three kids and a flute. Anne says the flute should be given to her because she is the only one who knows how to play it. Bob says the flute should be handed to him as he is so poor he has no toys to play with. Carla says the flute is hers because she made it.
Sen argues that who gets the flute depends on your philosophy of justice. Bob, the poorest, will have the support of the economic egalitarian. The libertarian would opt for Carla. The utilitarian will argue for Anne because she will get the maximum pleasure, as she can actually play the instrument. Sen states there are no institutional arrangements that can help us resolve this dispute in a universally accepted just manner.
I thought his initial thought example rather curious. Instead of asking how to allocate the flute between the three children, why not ask first under which rules would the flute have come into existence? If Carla knew she would not get the flute, she would not have made it. Therefore, just add a time dimension to the puzzle, and there's no puzzle at all: only a libertarian form of justice is consistent with the flute existing.
These are the kinds of questions I want presidential candidates to be asked in debates. There's no room for the hand-waving of "Well, when I was in Canton I visited a piccolo factory and I met Derek, and Derek is a single father supporting a three kids and he's afraid the factory that he works in, and his father worked in, and his father worked in, is going to get shut down because of unfair competition from [blah blah blah] China! [blah blah] hard-working Americans [blah blah blah] middle class [blah blah] 21st century win the future jobs infrastructure hollowing out high tech green American dream feel your pain lockbox [blah blah blah blah blah] and that's why when I'm president everyone will get free music lessons in elementary school! And a pony!"
Okay. STFU. Who gets the flute, Anne, Bob or Carla? Show your work.