Understanding Justice _ from The Free Market Project

The following article was originally published by Pat Slaterry of The Free Market Project on November 5, 2011.


Understanding  Justice

There’s an interesting word that is floating around: justice. As in “social justice.” What does justice mean? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says:

a : the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments b : judge c : the administration of law; especially : the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness c : the quality of conforming to law
: conformity to truth, fact, or reason :correctness
What does your average guy on the street think it means? I’m a pretty average guy and I would say “justice” is getting what you deserve. Justice is served when a criminal goes to jail. Justice is also served when someone who works hard gets paid for it. The end of the first of M-W’s definition sums it up for the average guy: “the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.”
So now we have two other words to deal with as far as I–the average guy–am concerned: “deserved” and “merited” (synonyms, by the way). Don’t both of those words imply having done something, or having earned something. They are different than “endowed”. We are “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights”. When you are endowed you don’t have to earn anything, it’s just given to you. You’re born with it. You don’t deserve it because you didn’t earn it. It was handed to you. The day your baby is born that child is endowed with your love for it (unless you’re a shithead).
Where the left goes wrong is that they think social justice means an economic endowment. They think economic prosperity is “deserved/merited” just for showing up, without earning anything. The government, as parent, should endow its children (citizens) with prosperity, or at least economic security. But the love of a parent, the love they endow their child, is free and freely given. It doesn’t cost anyone else anything. The government, on the other hand, has to take the economic endowment from someone else, someone who earned it. How, pray tell, is it “justice” to give someone something someone else has earned?
Perhaps this goes back to the basic misunderstanding leftists have about economics. They just don’t seem to understand that wealth has to be created by someone. A process takes place involving creativity, labor, capital, management, etc. that creates a product or service that other people choose to purchase for an agreed upon price. If that agreed upon price pays for all of the expense of making the product or delivering the service, and a little more for profit, wealth is created. It does not magically appear.
Social justice advocates have even been known to say that people have a right (because it’s “social justice”) to particular goods, like a cell phone because they’d be somehow disadvantaged if they don’t have a cell phone. This outlook says that everything done (from mining the materials, to designing the phone, to manufacturing the phone, etc., including building the network that allows the phone to actually connect with others) is nothing. The people who did all of that have earned nothing. Their labors merit nothing as a reward. However, the person who has done nothing merits a phone and the network that makes it useful. Seriously. This is the thinking. You have to believe that the phone and the network magically appear in order to believe that the person who has done nothing should be endowed with a cell phone.  It is the same argument for “free healthcare.” You have to believe that the doctors’ and nurses’ time and expertise has no value at all, and that the facility and equipment as well as the expertise to manage it all are worth nothing in order to say that people deserve free health care.
“Social Justice” it would seem to me is not Marx’s formulation of “to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability” but rather “to each according to their ability, from each according to their ability.” It is simply a perversion of the word justice to take the concept of deserving what you earn out of it. Ultimately, “equality” can only be applied to opportunity, and it can’t be applied to results. Justice comes into play only when people who had the same opportunity and achieved the same result are somehow rewarded differently. If they’d earned the same thing, they deserve the same reward. But if there is a tremendous disparity in what they’ve earned, in what they’ve achieved, what is deserved is a tremendous disparity in their respective rewards. That is justice.
So let’s look quickly at one place where the liberals look when scrambling to find reasons for putting their thumbs on the scale of justice and saying person X deserves what person Y has even if they haven’t earned it: education. They say that the opportunity is unequal, therefore we can’t possibly expect equal results, therefore we have to take from one and give to the other. However, at every turn they try to preserve this alleged inequality in educational opportunity. You mention merit pay for teachers, they shout you down. You suggest vouchers and competition from private or alternative schools and they go apoplectic. It’s a vicious cycle with them, where they benefit from being able to tell people that they are disadvantaged and therefore need to be endowed by their government with someone else’s earnings to level the playing field, and simultaneously they don’t dare solve the problem causing the difference in opportunity because then the formerly disadvantaged wouldn’t need them. It’s disgusting.
We need to ask liberals what they mean by social justice and challenge them on their answer, if they have one. Is it justice to take something from someone who’s earned it and give it to someone who hasn’t earned it? Do they understand the difference between being endowed with something, and deserving (or meriting) something? Do they understand even the simple concept that before something can be given to a person who hasn’t earned it, someone (or a group of people) who has done the work to create that something has be told that their labors are worth nothing and that they do not deserve what their labors have earned because someone who has done nothing is getting the reward?

10 thoughts on “Understanding Justice _ from The Free Market Project

  1. To answer your last question, no. Liberalism feels good, and it’s proper exercise allows “do-gooders” to shake down the greedy rich and experience the high of being a benefactor to the needy (on somebody elses dime).

    Great points on the difference between being endowed and deserving something.

  2. The term “social justice” is code for Marxism. It has been used to infiltrated the churches and has pretty much replaced the concept of charity. Whenever I see that term used I specifically ask the people using it exactly what they mean by social justice. Not one has been able to give me an answer that, through skillful questioning, can’t be shot down. Most can’t give a coherent answer at all.

  3. Right, Silverfiddle. No. Literally, they cannot grasp a meritocracy. Part of this is somehow tied to “collective guilt,” which they have swallowed hook, line, and sinker. Fixing their collective guilt is their goal, using someone else’s labor and earnings of course. Now we have also added to the mix, “economic justice” “and environmental justice.” The concept of “justice” itself has become perverted. But that is what they do; pervert meanings of words. As theft becomes “just,” so goes the moral compass out the window.

    I heard someone recently say that Daniel Webster created the dictionary specifically so that words could not be manipulated and abused by political manipulators. I’ll have to look that up.

    1. What’s interesting to me, Cheryl, is that the “collective guilt” (a bizarre concept anyway) is not assuaged by the left by blaming themselves. Instead they project it onto Republicans. It is astonishing, for example, that Dems see themselves as the heroes for people of African descent, yet it was THEY, not the Republicans, who tried to keep them down. Republicans are the party of Lincoln and emancipation. Democrats are the party of Jim Crow. Further, it is Dem policies NOW that keep minorities stuck in cultures of poverty… from welfare to my example in the post about education. Nothing logical or effective can be done about education to make it better for minorities, to get them out of failing schools (like voucher programs). It benefits the Dems in two ways to keep minorities in failing schools: they placate their teachers’ union donors, and they keep the minorities in need of government help. I was going to say that it “borders” on evil, but after a moment of thought, it doesn’t border on evil, it stands directly in the middle of evil.

  4. Nicely said, Jim.

    I would add that the philosophical weakness of the Left is they economically, politically, etc. live in the moment. They react to perceived or real problems without a moment’s thought, throwing caution to the wind without regards to consequences, intended or otherwise. Expounding on this, there is one thing I can never get my liberal friends to understand or accept and that is everything action you take now effects someone in the present. Furthermore, and more importantly, the problems they create now stretch across generations and saddle those who aren’t in power or here yet with the enormous cost of their actions.

    Also, thanks for the linkage in the blog roll we responded in kind.

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