The Veil of Opulence

Nice analysis of an all-too common line of thought in public discourse.

…the veil of opulence operates only under the guise of fairness. It is rather a distortion of fairness, by virtue of the partiality that it smuggles in. It asks not whether a policy is fair given the huge range of advantages or hardships the universe might throw at a person but rather whether it is fair that a very fortunate person should shoulder the burdens of others. That is, the veil of opulence insists that people imagine that resources and opportunities and talents are freely available to all, that such goods are widely abundant, that there is no element of randomness or chance that may negatively impact those who struggle to succeed but sadly fail through no fault of their own. It blankets off the obstacles that impede the road to success. It turns a blind eye to the adversity that some people, let’s face it, are born into. By insisting that we consider public policy from the perspective of the most-advantaged, the veil of opulence obscures the vagaries of brute luck.

5 thoughts on “The Veil of Opulence

  1. An interesting article. I”m not sure I agree with his claims about why so many of the not so well off take the position they do. It’s not because they have some fantasy about everyone deserving their lot in life or of equal opportunities for all (they aren’t stupid).

    Rather, it’s an aversion to taking, especially forcible taking. Those who got the short end of the stick may well know that many of the fortunate did not earn their wealth. They also know that they themselves didn’t earn that person’s wealth either – nor did the wealthy steal it from them.

    If a wealthy person and poor person are walking together, and the rich guy happens on a $5 bill, the unlucky one may well be a bit jealous of the other. She may even want the other to share with her. But many, even most, will be reticent to forcibly take it, or to have others do it for her. Perhaps this attitude is rooted in Christian morality (or Nozick!).

    This doesn’t mean that there aren’t good reasons for forcible taking, of course.

  2. I was so impressed by this I wrote the author and congratulated him–and he wrote right back thanking me. Insightful AND gracious!

  3. Wonderful. I’m going to make it a reading to add on to ch. 1 of J. Saul’s textbook for my feminist philosophy class next year. It will help students see the value of the veil of ignorance.

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