The following article was originally published by Pat Slaterry of The Free Market Project on November 5, 2011.
There’s an interesting word that is floating around: justice. As in “social justice.” What does justice mean? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says:
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
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
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?