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On almost any university campus one can take classes in social and economic justice. There are also nonprofits and law firms that specialize in advocating for social and economic justice. As a community organizer, President Obama was heavily involved in social and economic justice causes. The words justice, fairness, and equality are often at the center of conversations advocating for social and/or economic justice. Still many do not understand what the phrases social and economic justice really mean.

Economic justice is, as it implies, about money and economic position in society. Its advocates usually spend their time spinning out catch phrases like fairness and equal opportunity. These are nice sounding words, but, as President Clinton showed, it really depends on how you define them. Many words have different meanings depending on who is saying them. Ever since the French Revolution it has been fashionable by those on the left to hijack words, and redefine them to suit their purposes. In the case of economic justice, the object is not equality of opportunity to go after your dreams, but rather equal opportunity to access the world’s goods.

To be fair, most economic justice organizations would say they work as advocates for the poor and disadvantaged. From their perspective, they are just trying to help the poor and disadvantage get the means to reasonably survive. Of course, they have to get these “means” from somewhere. That somewhere is those that are financially better off. Whether it is by use of the courts, or the political system, their aim is to transfer as much wealth as possible from the higher classes to the lower ones. The wealth transfer might come as easier access to food stamps, subsidized housing, free or nearly free social services and other things. What economic justice organizations do not do is attack the root causes of poverty. The reason is simple, they do not have a clue on what poverty is. They understand its consequences well enough, but they tend to look at poverty as a disease or blame it on exploitation.

Poverty is at its root nothing more than a condition of low economic productivity.  Unless you ask why is this person (not this group, but this person) not being economically productive, there is no hope of helping them escape their condition. The truth is, most of the poor in the U.S. and much of Europe are not stuck in poverty. They are simply at a low spot. Divorce, loss of a job, or the fact they are just starting out may make their economic situation less than ideal, but the fact is the situation is temporary. Most work through the situation, and work their way up or back up the ladder.

There are those for whom poverty is a way of life. What is missed by economic advocacy groups is, those that are systemically poor, are that way for a reason. Whether it is government caused (Zimbabwe comes to mind) or self inflicted (dropped out of school, poor work ethic, drugs etc) there is a reason they cannot escape their poverty. Not honestly asking why people are poor is the fundamental flaw of all economic justice programs.

Giving money to a poor person does not change their level of productivity. In fact, many poor who fall into lots of money, like winning the lottery, often become poor again after they work their way through the money. The fact is, throwing money at poverty does not solve it. Additionally, stealing money from others that are productive to subsidize society’s least productive actually has a negative impact in two ways:

  • It removes much of the incentive away for the poor to become more productive
  • It removes capital and incentive from the most productive making all of society poorer

Economic justice is never based in economics, nor does it seek justice. It often just enables those in poverty to continue in poverty a little more comfortably, at the expense of others. By so doing such programs tend to expand poverty, not decrease it. As far as justice is concerned, justice infers getting what you deserve whether for ill or good. Since economic justice seeks goods and services from those that have earned them to give to those that have not, it is hard to see how the word justice fits.

Social Justice includes economic justice and is based in the idea that people who do not have something are victims of those that do, and as victims they deserve compensation. Now this may true if, for example, we are talking about a thief stealing a car. The victim of such a crime deserves not only their car back but should be compensated for damages, and the cost he or she incurred by not having the car too. These may or may not be awarded by a judge if the thief is caught, but few would argue this would not be just compensation. The problem is, this is not what social justice supporters are talking about.

Like economic justice, social justice usually means taking from those that have and giving to those that don’t. The reason given might be because the “victim” is the member of some group that has been historically disadvantaged by discrimination like blacks in parts of the United States. In other instances, social justice is cited just because some in one area do not have as much as those in another. When put into effect, social justice takes money (via taxes), opportunity (via jobs and higher education), and even justice (via sympathy based judicial decisions) and gives these to others based on their membership in a chosen disadvantaged group. In social justice there is no merit or earned positions. It judges people not on these, but only on the color of their skin, who their ancestors were or their economic position compared to others. Individuals are invisible. Under this mentality the son of a wealthy American black doctor, who just graduated with a MBA and average grades, is considered more worthy of being hired then the son of a poor American white farmer from Appalachia with a MBA who struggled working and going to school full time and graduating with excellent grades. The individual does not exist, only the group. One is judged as deserving favor over others just due to his or her membership in a chosen group. It judges all the members of a group to be either exploiters or victims.

When there are real wrongs, like those that suffered under the Jim Crow laws in the southern U.S., its aim seems not to be justice, but vengeance. Vengeance against the relatives, the posterity, or anyone associated with the wrong, even if it just being the same race, to pay for wrongs committed to the relatives or ancestors of chosen groups. This is formed out of a socialistic idea that sees people not as individuals, but mere cells in a societal body,. The individuals of either group are considered immaterial.

From a Rule of Law perspective, there are probably not two words in the English language that are more mutually exclusive then the words ‘social’ and ‘justice’.  Justice implies a person is getting what he deserves for acts committed by him as an individual. Social means resting in a group. Since no two people are usually equally guilty or equally victims let alone whole groups of individuals whose only commonality is the color of their skin, their ethnicity or their economic status, the very idea of group based justice is inherently evil. Evil because it punishes and rewards not on individual merit, but on membership in a chosen group.

Economically social and economic justice is filled with perverse incentives and moral hazards and leaves people poorer overall. Justice wise, they immorally attack guiltless individuals on one hand, while rewarding without merit on the other. The truth is, that both need to be thrown on the trash heap of history.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

Thomas Jefferson

The fallacy at the bottom of it (the welfare state) is that it is possible to do good with other people’s money.  …. if I want to do good with other people’s money I first have to take it away from them…the welfare state philosophy at its very bottom is a philosophy of violence and coercion. 

Milton Friedman

The Conservative Mind


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