Rawls argues that people do not deserve to reap the rewards of [their] talents. Tiger Woods earns millions of dollars because he is superlatively good at golf. Yet his abilities do not stem from any special virtue on his part. He was just lucky that, by some combination of heredity and environment, he ended up with superior skills. He is lucky in another respect: market demand for golf enables his talent to achieve vast returns. Because market demand for checkers players is much less, the late Marion Tinsley, whose skill at checkers was comparable to that of Woods in golf, did not earn comparable returns on his talent.Gordon also explains the appropriation of Rawls' techniques and premises by libertarians he calls "Rawlsekians," fusing the work of Rawls and Hayek.
One might object that luck is not the full story. However talented he may be, Woods had to practice countless hours from his early youth to get where he is today. Does he not deserve to benefit from his hard work? Rawls has an answer that I suspect readers will find surprising. He thinks that if you have the personality trait of working hard, this too is a matter of luck. Even though Woods practiced strenuously, he does not deserve to benefit from this trait.
As Thomas Pogge has noted in his recent biography John Rawls: His Life and Theory of Justice, Rawls was especially sensitive to issues of luck because of a sad occurrence in his own life. Two of his brothers died in childhood because they had contracted fatal illnesses from him. Pogge calls the loss of the brothers the “most important events in Jack’s childhood.” In 1928, the 7-year-old Rawls contracted diphtheria. His brother Bobby, younger by 20 months, visited him in his room and was fatally infected. The next winter, Rawls contracted pneumonia. Another younger brother, Tommy, caught the illness from him and died.
An interesting critique of Rawls may come from moral psychology, which has found that people have strange and sometimes contrary intuitions about moral dilemmas, reaching answers that aren't always amenable to classical conceptions of reason. Rawls's scheme depends on a set of unbiased thinkers behind a veil of ignorance, but perhaps innate biases and irrational quirks rule out any truly ideal foundation for a social contract.