On Justice

Sauvik has a great article, on “social justice,” in Mint today-

Michael Jackson was a very wealthy man. And there are millions without shelter, education and nutrition. Is this unjust? To answer this question we must ask ourselves another: Did Michael Jackson acquire his wealth unjustly? Of course, not. Michael Jackson thrilled billions with Thriller. They flocked to the stores to buy the album. This is how and why he got rich. There was no injustice at all.

Let us be very clear in our thinking: Justice is an attribute of individual conduct. Further, the free marketplace has nothing to do with either justice or injustice. As long as the rules of just conduct are being followed, the resultant “distribution of wealth” in a free society can only be called “natural”. This distribution can neither be called “just” nor “unjust” because individual shares are neither intended nor foreseen. There is no one “distributing” anything. And chance plays a big role.

A similar idea can be seen in this quotation at Cafe Hayek from a recent book-

Most wealth is created de novo in the process of applying ingenuity to comparatively worthless commodities, and the benefits flowing from consumers to providers in a free society bear no relation to any distributive or merit-based calculus. There can exist no principles of just conduct – which necessarily imply free choice – that would produce a pattern of wealth distribution which could also be called just. It is logically impossible to have a game in which both the actions of the players and the final score can be subject to rules of fairness. If it is unfair for one team to outscore another by more than a certain margin, the behavior of the players will have to be directed by the umpires. But if the players are to be free to act within rules of fair play, the outcome logically cannot be said to be unfair. Likewise, if citizens following all the rules of just conduct become wealthy, there is no basis on which to condemn the resulting distribution of wealth as “unjust.” If no one actually commits an injustice, then no moral principle can reconcile justice to individuals with social justice after the fact. Only in centrally directed social systems, such as the military, can social justice even make sense, as there are no rules of just conduct in settings where individuals are instructed what to do.

and Nozick’s “Wilt Chamberlain” argument against distributive “justice”-

Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain argument is an attempt to show that patterned principles of just distribution are incompatible with liberty. He asks us to assume that the original distribution in society, D1 is ordered by our choice of patterned principle, for instance Rawls’s Difference Principle. Wilt Chamberlain is an extremely popular basketball player in this society, and Nozick further assumes 1 million people are willing to freely give WC 25 cents each to watch him play basketball over the course of a season (we assume no other transactions occur). Wilt now has $250,000, a much larger sum than any of the other people in the society. The new distribution in society, call it D2, obviously is no longer ordered by our favored pattern that ordered D1. However Nozick argues that D2 is just. For if each agent freely exchanges some of his D1 share with WC and D1 was a just distribution (we know D1 was just, because it was ordered according to your favorite patterned principle of distribution), how can D2 fail to be a just distribution? Thus Nozick argues that what the Wilt Chamberlain example shows is that no patterned principle of just distribution will be compatible with liberty. In order to preserve the pattern, which arranged D1, the state will have to continually interfere with people’s ability to freely exchange their D1 shares. For any exchange of D1 shares explicitly involves violating the pattern that originally ordered it.

Meaning socialism is the very antithesis of liberty.

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  • dsylexic  On September 4, 2009 at 9:45 am

    love the nozick argument.the ‘argumentative’ socialists in my office are gonna get hit with it today :-)

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