Why Not Socialism

Public Affairs Quarterly 33 (3):243-264 (2019)
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According to G.A. Cohen, the principles of justice are insensitive to facts about human moral limitations. This assumption allows him to mount a powerful defense of socialism. Here, I present a dilemma for Cohen. On the one hand, if such socialism is to be realized through collective property ownership, then the information problem renders the ideal incoherent, not merely infeasible. On the other hand, if socialism is to incorporate private ownership of productive assets, then Cohen loses the resources to distinguish his view from capitalism. For, if agents were ideally motivated, there would be no need for coercive taxation schemes and limitations on trade. Moreover, incorporating coercion drastically undermines Cohen’s original argument for socialism, which relies on an analogy to a camping trip among friends.

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Hrishikesh Joshi
University of Arizona


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