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Quotation of the Day…

is from page 220 of David Schmidtz’s excellent 2023 book, Living Together:

If I ask people to give me my due, I am after all asking for something. When I speak of justice, I speak of treating all cases alike, which is to ask the same of myself as of everyone else. That rudimentary egalitarian mutual respect is built into the basic concept of justice. Indeed, that rudimentary egalitarian respect is built into the concept of a mature adult.

DBx: Although very few people, upon reading what Schmidtz writes here, would disagree, very many people in practice act as though they disagree. Sometimes such hypocritical action is simply the product of greed: “I know it’s wrong for me to do X, but I value my gain from doing X more highly than I assess the cost to me of violating a moral principle that I know to be correct – a principle that I want to be widely respected in any society in which I live.”

Yet most of the time actions – and words – that run against the principle expressed here by Schmidtz come not from bad intentions but from bad analysis – especially, from bad economic analysis. When, for example, Jones calls for tariffs to protect domestic jobs, he simply doesn’t see that some individuals will reap benefits at the expense of others. This blindness is real even if we artificially confine the group of people for whom we are concerned to fellow citizens. The protectionist doesn’t see that if every worker were treated according to the protectionist’s ‘principles,’ all workers in the home country would be worse off than they would be under a policy of free trade.

Another example: The ‘social justice’ warrior who screams for government to ‘redistribute’ income sees only one inequality – namely, monetary incomes. This person sees neither the greater sacrifices and effort exerted by high-income earners nor the negative impacts that low-income earners would suffer over time as a result of government’s ‘redistribution’ of income.

As Dave Schmidtz suggests on the page previous to the above quotation, one of the chief results of economics done well – I would say the chief result – is to open people’s eyes to unseen positive consequences of free markets, as well as to unseen negative consequences of government interventions. When knowledge of these consequences is adequately grasped, actions and outcomes that once seemed to be unjust often are revealed to be just, while other actions and outcomes that once seemed to be just are revealed to be unjust.