Thursday, 12 November 2015

Interpreting and applying Dworkin’s hypothetical insurance

I have realised that I have not blogged about an article of mine published in the journal Moral Philosophy and Politics entitled The Holistic and Policy-Focused Interpretation of Hypothetical Insurance.

In the paper I consider the best way to understand and make use of Ronald Dworkin’s hypothetical insurance scheme. This is a procedure to determine fair policies to help the less well-off by asking people what they would agree to pay and receive if they did not know whether they were fortunate or not. So to work out how much people who suffer from an illness should get you ask what insurance people would buy themselves if they didn’t know whether they have it or not. If sufferers get less they are not being treated fairly. Conversely, if non-sufferers provide more to sufferers than they would have agreed to receive in the hypothetically equal position then they are not being fairly treated.

This lends itself to an interpretation of the approach that each of these decisions involves a separate decision about a transfer of resources from the fortunate in that regard to the less fortunate in that regard. Add up all of these transfers and you work out how each person should be paying or receiving all told.

The way Dworkin presented the approach lends itself to this interpretation, but he does make clear at times that he isn’t just talking about resource transfers—providing blind people with guide dogs and paraplegics with wheelchairs and carers might be a more sensible insurance choice than giving money.

I believe the best interpretation of Dworkin is a holistic one that allows the parties to hypothetical insurance not in terms of simple payments from fortunate to unfortunate but as a selection between the policies that are available to tax the fortunate and assist the less fortunate from a position of hypothetical equality.

This interpretation contrasts with the idea that each insurance choice is hypothecated from the others so money from inheritance taxation would have to spent to alleviate social inequality rather than go into a big pot to assist the less fortunate. It also contrasts with the insurance-focused understanding of Dworkin that implies that transfers are necessarily the main tool for sorting out inequalities (basically all sensible policy options are open to people to choose in their hypothetical insurance deliberations).

I believe my holistic interpretation better fits with the ideal of resource egalitarianism that people should have as much choice as possible from an equal starting point. It does so by allowing people a choice over the policies that will be used to achieve their insurance preferences.

My suggestion is that Dworkin’s insurance model can be readily applied to tax and benefit policies; though admittedly in some cases it will generate much more determinate and definitive answers than others. On some issues you might need to find out a lot about people’s attitude to risk, their values and the likely effects of various policies in order to work out the fair distribution. However, in my PhD thesis I argued that if you apply this reasoning to the taxation and benefit options then my CLIPH-rate tax proposal would be the popular choice for people choosing from an equal position.

No comments:

Post a Comment