This paper foregrounds one argument in Rawls's work that is crucial to his case for one, determinate, form of political economy: a property-owning democracy.1 Section one traces the evolution of this idea from the seminal work of Cambridge economist James Meade; section two demonstrates how a commitment to a property-owning democracy flows from Rawls's own principles; section three focuses on Rawls's striking critique of orthodox welfare state capitalism. This all sets the stage for an argument, presented in section four, from the complexity of economic interactions to the strategy of making markets fair in the only feasible way that they can be made fair, namely, by “patterning” their effects. Section five concludes by asking whether any scheme of this general type is a realistic form of utopianism for a society such as ours.

Many early readers of A Theory of Justice took Rawls to be advocating a form of...

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