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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Social Justice quote for the day from Anthony De Jasay

The Hungarian economist Anthony De Jasay in his commentary posted in the Library of Economics and Liberty takes on the issue of social justice and wonders if the adjective really fits the noun and if what sense it is justice.See here for his entire comments.

"Justice is a property of acts. Just acts conform to certain rules, unjust ones violate them. A state of affairs is just if it is the outcome of just acts. If we want to claim that a state of affairs, say, a particular distribution of material advantages, is an injustice, it is incumbent upon us to show that it results from unjust acts. Otherwise, talk of injustice is just talk. This is where the problem of the identification of social justice as supposedly a branch of the general body of justice must be faced.
Stripped of rhetoric, an act of social justice (a) deliberately increases the relative share (though it may unwittingly decrease the absolute share) of the worse-off in total income, and (b) in achieving (a) it redresses part or all of an injustice. (Note that “income” is used in a broad sense to include stocks and flows of all material goods or claims on same that are transferable). This implies that some people being worse off than others is an injustice and that it must be redressed. However, redress can only be effected at the expense of the better- off; but it is not evident that they have committed the injustice in the first place. Consequently, nor is it clear why the better-off should be under an obligation to redress it, even though if they do not, no one else is left to do it."

So, if the better off did nothing wrong, where is the justice in forcing them to pay; would it not actually   be an injustice to force them to redress something for which they were not responsible? John Rawls's contractarian  theory seeks to support a negative answer to that question arguing that they, quoting Jasay," have agreed in a hypothetical but prima facie sane contract to bear the burden in their own interest". In this formulation redistribution would be the remedy for an unjust situation  and there need not have been any unjust acts committed. Comments regarding this hypothetical,fictitious social contract are deferred to a later posting.

Jasay's comments resonate with FA Hayek's characterization of the modifier "social" as a weasel word which like a weasel sucking a egg allegedly without collapsing it  can suck the meaning out of the word it modifies.   Question for the day: Has the Physician Charter (Medical Professionalism in the New Millenium) sold the medical profession a bill of goods for the next thousand years based on a weasel word?

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