“Social Justice” and “Income Distribution”

by Don Boudreaux on September 1, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence, Inequality

Benn Steil’s and Manuel Hinds’s Money, Markets & Sovereignty is among the most impressive books that I’ve read in a long time.  I quoted from it in an earlier post, and I’m sure that I’ll do so in several other posts — including this one:

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.

(From p. 53 of Steil and Hinds; original emphasis.)


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