Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Social contract and Generations to Come

Hopefully by now, everyone has seen this clip of Elizabeth Warren. Phil, a longtime Playground friend, asked me about a claim she makes at the end. She says that "part of the underlying social contract is that you take a hunk of that [earnings] and pay forward for the next kid who comes along." Is the social contract really temporal?

The idea behind social contractarianism is that we need a social contract to keep us out of a state of nature, to create a clear sense of what rights we have and do not have, of contracts and how they are enforced. But this is a contemporary sense of the contract, it is designed to order society here and now, so that I don't kill or cheat you and you don't kill or cheat me. I certainly want to make sure that the contract is in place for the near future because the contracts I enter into will often involve delayed satisfaction. I'll give you the money now, and you give me the goods later.

But contracts with me cannot extend beyond my lifetime because then the person you contracted with no longer exists. Do I have an interest in the social contract considering future generations? If I have kids, sure, but what about in general? Is there a sense in the social contract that the society created is designed to be lasting beyond the implicit signatories of the contract as it is now? Does the social contract really include obligations for me to future generations or do we need something other than a social contract to make sense of such claims of obligation?