Hopefully it is clear now how Rawls’ view of justice as fairness would endorse taxing the well off in order to provide for things like education, health care and a social safety net. His is a more expansive view of the role of government than Locke or Nozick would support. But to what degree will taxing the rich be justified on Rawls’ view? Clearly taxing the successful members of society to the point where they are no better off than those who are largely unproductive will not meet the Rawlsian ideal under the difference principle. If people are not rewarded for hard work and innovation, then it’s liable not to happen and everyone suffers as a result. Too much taxation of the well off will be unjust on Rawl’s view precisely because it doesn’t work out to benefit of least well off (or anyone else). Rawls would deem communism and socialism as unjust under the difference principle for just this reason (not to mention the ways these systems undermine equal liberty) Rather, Rawls would aim for that sweet spot where the hard work and innovative are well rewarded, so everyone has a reason to do their best, and yet those who fail for whatever reason are not left by the wayside, but still have opportunity and enjoy some modest quality of life.
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