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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 263 of Garrett Barden’s and Tim Murphy’s important 2010 book, Law and Justice in Community (original emphases):

What is true of driving is true of human living in general.  The basic traffic rule – ‘drive safely’ or ‘drive with due care’ – is a specification of a yet more basic rule or principle: ‘take account of others’ interests’.  That more basic rule is simply another formulation of the traditional rule of justice: ‘render to each what is due’. Different reasons incline one to be just, to render what is due.  One who does the just thing only because he fears the consequences of not doing so does not care for others’ interests, has no interest in bringing about the just for its own sake, and obeys the rule in a slavish manner.  The just person, whose habitual desire is to render to each what is due, does the just thing because he respects the interests of everyone involved, including himself.  He remains self-interested but chooses to act justly.  For him the law, supposing it to be just, is not so much a constraint as a clarification of what is due.

Two important – yet frequently overlooked – points stand out in this lovely quotation.

First, to be self-interested is not necessarily to be unjust (or, to act always toward others with justice is not to abandon one’s self-interest).  Self-interest and justice are compatible with each other in both the short-run and the long-run (and, indeed, are pretty much the same in the very long run).

Second, legislation and other government diktats that are not just are not properly regarded as law.  They are simply the orders and commands of the powerful enforced with credible threats of violence.  Obeying such orders and commands is justified (!) only to save one’s skin; one obeys self-interestedly.  Such obedience is not demanded by justice to others.  And because so many statutes and diktats today are nothing other than exercises of raw power – exercises such as, for example, tariffs, export subsidies, farm subsidies, occupational-licensing restrictions, and minimum wages – these are not true laws.  They are unjust extractions that we prudentially obey only in order to avoid being caged or killed by those who use their power to transfer resources unjustly.


The above quotation shares much with David Rose’s excellent 2011 book, The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior.