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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 120 of Vol. II (“The Mirage of Social Justice” [1976]) of F.A. Hayek’s great work, Law, Legislation, and Liberty:

And if [individuals] are to be allowed to be guided in their actions by their own moral beliefs, it cannot also be morally required that the aggregate effects of their respective actions on the different people should correspond to some ideal of distributive justice. In this sense freedom is inseparable from rewards which often have no connection with merit and are therefore felt to be unjust.

DBx: This insight is as profound as it is important.

Most modern people express heartfelt belief that individual adults be free to act according to the dictates of their own consciences, limited only by the requirement that this freedom be accorded to everyone equally – a limitation that rules out, for example, Jones coercing Smith on the grounds that Jones disapproves of Smith’s homosexuality, Smith’s religious commitments, or Smith’s current economic situation.

Yet as Hayek points out, such freedom of conscience, especially in a diverse society, cannot be expected to generate an overall distribution of income or wealth (or any other overall ‘social’ pattern) the details of which satisfy any one particular set of moral beliefs.

Suppose that Suzy Jackson feels called by her moral beliefs to be a stay-at-home mom, with her husband Steve Jackson being the sole income earner for the family. In contrast, Jane Williams feels permitted by her moral beliefs to work full-time as corporate lawyer, with her husband Joe Williams also working full-time. One result will be income inequality between the Jackson and the Williams households. But it would be inconsistent to agree that each woman should be free to choose according to her moral beliefs and then to condemn as immoral a consequence – in this case, income inequality – of those peaceful choices.