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Sunday, January 6th 2008

The Social Justice Debate Continued

Panda Bear and Graham have conflicting posts on the merits of ‘Social Justice’ and just what Social Justice entails.

Social Justice is certainly an amorphous term which in part makes the debate difficult to keep within a set of boundaries but essentially Social Justice is the idea that to each, as he deserves, goes the benefits of society. Those benefits paid for in the form of wealth redistribution.

The debate is a continuum from whether Social Justice should even be an ideal, all the way to exactly how one judges what individuals “deserve.” I think, despite some confusion, that Graham and Panda Bear are talking about the same thing.

Panda Bear worries about the free loader who exploits societal handouts by pretending to be a victim.

Graham levies this criticism,

Social justice, as I understand, it about equality. Distributing shared, scarce public resources as equitably as possible. Nothing in it speaks of victimhood.

But the two positions on how Social Justice is defined aren’t mutually exclusive. The reality is that, at least subconsciously, victimhood has become the standard by which we evaluate what an individual “deserves.” And determining what of societal benefits an individual deserves is the whole practice of Social Justice.

It is probably with no surprise that I fall on the side of Panda Bear in this debate.

[T]he mob, once it discovers it can vote itself access to other people’s wallets, is difficult to keep in check and the usual dependency triumvirate of ghetto, trailer park, and academia are perpetually braying for somebody else’s money. The extent to which this money can be secured depends on how many productive citizens can be lured onto the dependency plantation, usually by the proganda of fear and class envy. The problem with creating a welfare state is that it tends to fulfill the dire prophecies of its creators. The more productive citizens are taxed the more economic activity is stifled leading to stagnant economies where there are, in fact, no jobs for many people who would be employed if growth and economic opportunity were encouraged at the expense of stealing from one set of citizens to give to another.

I’ve often criticized the “right to health care” by asking who defines that right in a society with limited resources. ‘Oh you get this yearly mammogram but not that colonoscopy.’ Any line drawn is nearly entirely subjective and indefensible compared to an expanded or contracted definition. Such applies to all welfare, all wealth redistribution, all Social Justice.

Yeah, Society Took The Corn From The Indians And Gave It To The Pilgrims

Graham speaks of ‘equality,’ but it appears to me that if Social Justice is something real then it calls for an equality of position. Here’s what I mean:

First, equality can be defined as an equality of opportunity, in the sense of nothing but natural impediments (your ability, circumstance, etc) to your progress up the social and economic ladder. In such a case Social Justice either doesn’t exist or is satisfied by you merely being alive and not being interfered with by other members of society.

Second, we can talk about an equality of position such that everyone has the same. In such a case Social Justice is paramount, but such calls for the complete redistribution of wealth.

No society, no individual can philosophically defend the determination that “Well you’re entitled to this much in food stamps but no more!” or “$400 in a housing stipend but nothing else!”

You either satisfy ‘equality’ by redistributing all wealth equally or you don’t redistribute wealth at all.

The Noble laureate Friedrich Hayek came to slightly similiar conclusions, in the sense that the problems of trying to determine what individuals ‘deserve,’ in order to satisfy Social Justice destroy the principle itself.

Social justice requires not merely that individuals receive what is rightly theirs in general terms, but that individuals and groups also receive some stipulated distributional share of the society’s total output or wealth. However, Hayek showed that in the market economy, distributions of income are not based on some standard of “deservedness,” but rather on the degree to which the individual has directly or indirectly satisfied consumer demand within the general rules of individual rights and property.

To attempt to distribute income shares by “deservedness” would require the government to establish some overarching standard for disbursing “social justice,” and would necessitate an economic system in which that government had the authority and the power to investigate, measure, and judge each person’s “right” to a share of the society’s wealth. Hayek suggested that such a system would involve a return to the mentality and the rules of a tribal society: government would reimpose a single hierarchy of ends and would decide what each member should have and what should be expected from him in return. It would mean the end of the free and open society.

I’ll keep my arguments philosophical and stay away from the pragmatic consequences of trying to implement Social Justice. Needless to say I agree with much of what Panda Bear concludes.