A Just Society

The idea of justice should be predicated around what is done legitimately. Within a free market system the ideas of private property and free exchange are the backbone of its justification, as these are the examples of individuals exchanging goods and services within their own property. Within this framework the only forms of justified intrusion are those of the upholding of contracts and maintenance of private property as Nozick has proffered and the means by which this justice is upheld is via institutions such as the courts and government. It is when these institutions intrude upon other areas of society that the idea of the unjust begins. The idea of redistributive justice as posited by Rawls is an example of this unjustness as it uses these institutions to redistribute the goods of those of have them to those who don’t. This is defended in the name of equality, however it is in effect a form of state enforced theft as it is non-consensual. This form of justice then is flawed as certain individuals are forced to put elements of their private property into a structure they have option to opt in or out of. This then destroys the legitimacy of private property and free exchange and subsequently the free market. The Rawlsian theory of justice in my opinion is fundamentally flawed as it posits justice is based on fairness as it posited in Rawls’s essay Justice as Fairness. However this suggests that we should have more than a right, but an equal opportunity, which then must be enforced by some structure or institution, subsequently infringing on the rights of others as some win out because they are from a less-privileged background. The main institution that Nozick targets is the government, and many other thinkers have add to this oeuvre of thought. The main issue with government, particularly the big state, is that its intrusiveness is regularly what creates inequalities against other races or genders. Within a system of free exchange individuals choose who they interact with at the economic level and when a particular individual is racist or sexist, he will lose customers because of this stance thus his economic activity ends, while when a government enforces racist or sexist policies the citizenry has no choice but to go along with it as they forced to be part of this system as a result of taxation. Overall, a system based around free exchange and private property with a small, minimal state is the most just system as it means everyone has a choice in their exchanges with others and doesn’t infringe on the rights of individuals’ choices and the Rawlsian theory of justice based the principle of fairness is flawed as it infringes on individuals’ choices.

The ideas of free exchange and private property based in a truly free market are I believe the things that form a just society. Within such a system every individual is able to make decisions and choices based around their preferences and minimal interference from the state means that these choices cannot be infringed upon. The only just forms of interference would be to protect citizens from the violence of others and to enforce voluntary contracts that have been made between consenting individuals. As is said by Walter Block, “What is meant by aggression is not assertiveness, argumentativeness, competitiveness, adventurousness, quarrelsomeness, or antagonism. What is meant by aggression is the use of violence, such as that which takes place in murder, rape, robbery, or kidnapping.”[1] showing that what is unjust is the use of initiatory violence, thus an institution would be justified in protecting individuals from this violence. However when an institution, usually the state, goes outside of these boundaries that is when injustice occurs. Block also notes in the case of taxation, “What is important is that the so-called “trade” (tax money for government services) is coerced.”[2] thus showing that this initiatory violence is illegitimate, as taxation is coerced and there is no choice involved. This idea of justice based around the lack of initiatory violence and the allowance of free exchange is backed up by Nozick’s entitlement theory, where he provides the example of an individual acquiring a holding, whereby this acquiring is justified is it done on voluntary means, thus putting everyone involved on an equal footing if they are involved of the acquisition of the holding in a justified manner. DeLong in an article even states “The only acts that can be held as just are those that come about voluntarily by all parties involved and do not infringe upon the rights of others”[3] showing that justice is not based around fairness or even an arbitrary idea of equality of opportunity, but rather on a voluntary basis where all individuals involved have the equal right to gain something through transaction or exchange. Further support of a system of free exchange being just is found the way in which free markets have created innovation and economic historically. An extract of a speech by Greg Mankiw found in the Economist reads “throughout history, free-market capitalism has been a great driver of economic growth, and as my colleague Ben Friedman has written, economic growth has been a great driver of a more moral society”[4] supporting this idea that free markets, which are based around free exchange and private property, best function when they are free as they spur growth which in turn benefits society as a whole and lessens inequality. It is when the state interferes in these markets and exchanges via regulation or taxation that is initiated coercively and forces individuals to participate that injustice occurs, as voluntary transactions become much more difficult and in some cases are outlawed altogether. This injustice that occurs through the intervention of the state has occurred historically and refutes the theories of justice that argue for the state to create a more equal playing field for all individuals.

The state can be seen to be the cog of inequality, as under a big-state based system inequality in many forms is seen to occur. This can be seen in the cases of sexism that are seen. Within a free market, sexism is effectively bad for business as it will discourage clientele, in this case women, who will pay for the services of the business. Thus it is in an entrepreneurs interest to stop sexism occurring on his private property. Contrast this with a public place or building and, as noted by Block, “In the public domain there is almost no incentive to deal with the problem. There is no one who automatically loses anything when a woman is pinched or otherwise harassed”[5] which means the incentive to help is gone. Within the free market the profit-and-loss system means that these sexist activities are unwanted while in the public domain this system is non-existent. Law enforcement that is generally run by the government has no incentive to help the harassed woman as the profit and loss model doesn’t exist, with the police being paid through state taxation, itself a coercive act. This then is an injustice in itself as the state has no incentive to prevent coercive activities as it is itself performing coercive activities. The injustices can further be seen in the realm of unemployment. The general consensus has been that government regulations will help alleviate unemployment, such as through actions like the minimum wage or public works schemes. However, if we look at the minimum wage and its affects we can see its actually a driver of unemployment and thus unjust. Murray Rothbard’s statement on the minimum wage, “This means, plainly and simply, that a large number of free and voluntary wage contracts are now outlawed and hence that there will be a large amount of unemployment”[6] shows what minimum wage laws do, they eliminate legitimate contract between an employer and an employee, thus facilitating unemployment for the lowest-skilled. This also goes against the libertarian, Nozickian form of justice that bases government involvement around the enforcing of contracts, not the outlawing of them as minimum wage laws do. As is noted, ” Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia presented his by-now-famous view that “a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified”[7] which furthers the point that Nozickian justice is broken when the state intervenes in the activities of the free market. These examples then show that instead of facilitating equality, the state perpetuates inequality and allows for its occurrence. Since the public domain doesn’t operate on profit-based system, there is no incentive to stop the coercive action of sexists and as it also operates on its own system of coercion, it can hardly stop coercion in another sphere of life. Then with the case of the minimum wage the government moves outside its justified sphere of enforcing justice and outlaws what could be legal contracts. This then comes onto the ideas that see free exchange and free markets as facilitating inequality rather than actually helping end it. As is seen in theories of justice such as those proposed by Rawls humans are seen as irrational and not able to function independent of the state in a free market based around voluntary exchanges and the ability of individuals to enter into contracts.

The Rawlsian concept of justice bases itself around the idea of fairness being equal to actual equality. This opposes the libertarian mould of justice as it posits that humans, instead of being ends in themselves and having the concepts of self-ownership, are instead based around the societal position they are found in and are thus unequal. However he justifies inequality so long as it benefits the least well off, as Rawls states “things which a rational man wants whatever else he wants”[8] meaning that the goods that are wanted which cause inequality can be justified in the context previously mentioned. However he suggests it should help the worst off, but how would this be done but through the interference of an institution much like the state, which comes back to the problem of the state interfering in legitimate interactions and causing injustice through coercive activities such as redistribution of wealth via taxation. The idea of state interference in the area of equality, particularly equality of opportunity which Rawls posits in his Second Principle of Justice, can be seen as an area which the state shouldn’t interfere in as it causes an unnecessary interference in the free market. Block makes the point that the government enforcing equal pay for men and women ignore the elements of competition between men and women and make an employer want to hire more men as studies have shown that men are more productive than women in the marketplace. Block thus states that “It should be stressed that the tendency for women who are truly equal to men in productivity to receive equal wages exists only in the profit-and-loss free market. Only in free enterprise are there financial incentives to hire highly productive underpriced women, to “take advantage” of their plight, and thus to raise their wages.”[9] which suggests that only when taking into account the actual competitiveness of men versus women will there be an ability for women to earn equal pay. This interference for equality’s sake then is not only coercive but also counterproductive as only a system based on voluntary, free exchange (the free market) will create the environment for a just society. In the end this does come down how true justice is defined. I believe that the ability for individuals to create contracts with others and exchange goods and services without the interference of an outside actor, this generally being the state, is the most just as it allows for people to make their own decisions as rational actors in a free market. However it may be argued that this emphasis on the ability for actors to enter into contracts of their own free will could cause things such as voluntary slavery, but then why is that unjust. As noted by Block “Voluntary slave contracts have only to do with property rights over humans, not metaphysical issues”[10] thus they are not contradictory on the grounds of morality so long as the contract is voluntary. This then is surely just as it is the decision of one individual to give his freedom to another, and the only responsibility of a structure like the state is to make sure the contract is upheld and not broken. Overall, the Rawlsian definition of justice seems to confuse fairness with actual equality. In a truly just, equal system all individuals would have rights to achieve what they wanted so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. This goes against the Rawlsian theory that believes the worst off of society should gain some sort of advantage, however this would require an apparatus to achieve this goal which would then infringe on the rights of others as the state does, meaning that free exchange and private property, the basis of a just society, would be infringed upon.

The concept of justice should be based on the rights of individuals to decide for themselves what they want to do in a system where they can freely exchange goods and ideas and enter into voluntary contracts. The only form of interference that should be invoked by an institution like the state should be to insure the rights of one individual do not infringe on the rights of another and that all contracts are upheld by the actors involved. Outside of this if this institution interferes it would begin to infringe on the rights of certain individuals, as is seen with the idea of wealth distribution where one person has his money taken off him via coercion. If we take the idea that initiatory violence is unjust, as is posited by Block and Nozick, this is unjust as the state is initiating its will upon someone who has no say in the matter, thus there is no element of voluntary agreement but rather of coercion with the threat of repercussions. When other forms of justice are taken into account, such as the Rawlsian theory, we see that it is posited that the worst off of society need protecting and be given in effect extra rights and opportunities because they are given a deficit of such in society. However, to enforce this the state would increase their control and infringe on the rights of others by taxing wealthier people and giving their money to people who haven’t earned. This in my opinion is the height of injustice as the state dictates its will upon others.

[1] Block, W (2008). Defending the Undefendable. 3rd ed. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. xiii.

[2] Block, W (2008). Defending the Undefendable. 3rd ed. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. xiv.

[3] DeLong, K. (2011). A philosophical argument against forced redistribution of wealth. Available: http://beforeitsnews.com/politics/2011/10/a-philosophical-argument-against-forced-redistribution-of-wealth-1291910.html. Last accessed 14th Feb 2010

[4] R.A. (2013). On the inevitability of justice . Available: http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/12/economic-growth. Last accessed 16th Feb 2014.

[5] Block, W (2008). Defending the Undefendable. 3rd ed. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. p16.

[6] Rothbard, M (1995). Making Economic Sense. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. p36.

[7] Young, F. (1986). Nozick and the Individualist Anarchist . The Journal of Libertarian Studies. VIII (1), p43-49.

[8] Rawls, J (1999). A Theory of Justice. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p92.

[9] Block, W (2008). Defending the Undefendable. 3rd ed. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. p22.

[10] Block, W. (2003). Toward a Libertarian Theory of Inalienability. The Journal of Libertarian Studies. 17 (2), p39-85

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