Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Mark A. Lutz

Second Committee Member

Michael Howard

Third Committee Member

Melvin Burke


Mainstream economics has long avoided two issues pressing on the discipline and on society: Ownership of the means of production and ethics. While Adam Smith clearly presented his Wealth of Nations as a normative adjunct to his Theory of Moral Sentiments, he left alone the question of ownership. While Karl Marx presented a detailed critique of the theory and practice of capitalism, he failed to produce an explicit ethical theory to explain why capitalism is unacceptable. In 1971 there appeared a work that would have great impact on the academic world, John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. Here was a large contractarian treatise explaining what justice was. Operating as Kantian agents in an "original position," people could supposedly find room for both capitalism and worker ownership in a society defined as "just" by Rawls. David Ellerman, whose innovative Property & Contract in Economics appeared in 1992, makes the case for economic democracy on Kantian grounds as well but with no prevarication (unlike Rawls): Only worker ownership can be ethically justified. Meanwhile Marxists, harboring no affinity for capitalism, are out in the cold without an explicit ethical system to back their views. After the horrors of Stalinism and State Socialism under the former Soviet Union, the Marxists have an amoral theory that can offer guidance in the economic realm to no one in the old Soviet Union. Rawls' theory of justice is susceptible to Marxist criticism at one point in particular, though. Rawls claims that people in the original position would choose "primary goods" that "every rational man is presumed to want": rights and liberties, powers and opportunities, income and wealth, and self-respect. Marxists claim that Marx's historicist thesis can undermine the validity of choosing these goods; conceptions of rationality are determined by specific historical circumstances. Therefore, Rawls would have to show how his theory of (individualistic) rationality would not become obsolete as the old society with its idea of rationality metamorphoses into a new society with a new conception of rationality. Though Rawls cannot provide a conception of rationality that would transcend historical circumstance, Marxists are mired in the belief that they have no such conception in their heritage. But they have. If they will finally allow Karl Vorlaender the audience he deserves, they will see that Vorlaender has provided an ingenious Kantian/Marxian synthesis that explains why it is rational, on (neo)Kantian grounds, to select the communitarian values espoused by Marx. With this theory in their arsenal, Marxists can undermine Rawls' theory of justice, claim an ethical (Kantian) heritage, and unite with Ellerman in ending the debate over capitalism vs. economic democracy. Only worker-ownership (a.k.a. economic democracy) will be left ethically justifiable.

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Economics Commons