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Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Liberty and Social Justice

Liberty and Social Justice

It's nearly impossible to watch or read the news without someone discussing, or indirectly referring to, social justice.  Because the phrase is difficult to define with much accuracy, people apply it to a variety problems that they think can be solved through a more socially just society (ie inequality, poverty, crime, etc.).  When discussing social justice, pundits usually do so in terms of equality.  It's not enough that the "rules of the game" are equal (or just) for all; promoters of social justice want equality in terms of material well-being.  To achieve their ends, promoters of social justice must use force.  This, inevitably, leads to the state enacting laws that allow it to forcibly seize and redistribute wealth.  This clearly goes against liberty in the most fundamental sense.  To demonstrate my point, I find it useful to look at taxes.  

Promoters of social justice generally support a progressive income tax.  Since the rich make more than enough, they should be forced to spare a little more for the needy.  Its almost as if they believe that the most well off members in a society have a moral responsibility to take care of the poor.  Whether one believes this is the case or not is irrelevant to my argument.  What is more important is how property rights are defined in this society.  If they are defined in terms of private ownership (in terms of liberty), then each person is entitled to do what they want with themselves and their property as long as it doesn't harm the person or property of another.  In this light, a tax on income (especially a progressive tax) can be viewed as going against liberty in three particular ways.  

First and foremost, it can be viewed as outright theft.  The state is stealing money from the rich to give to the poor.  Whats more, they are stealing more money from the rich than from every one else in society.  This type of banditry is akin to Robin Hood.  Clearly taking what is not yours (or theft) goes against liberty; I don't think any further explanation is required.  If one doesn't like viewing taxes as theft, then they must accept that maybe they didn't own that portion of their income to begin with.  Since we are still discussing property rights in terms of liberty, the portion of their income that the government takes as taxes clearly must not have been owned by the worker to begin with.  If it was, the government would have no right to take it, or it would have to be considered theft.  Again, this notion goes against liberty.  Finally, when looking at taxation and the redistribution of wealth from a non-aggression axiom, it is very easy to see how it violates liberty.  The non-aggression axiom simply means that it is always wrong to aggress (or harm) the person or property of another.  This brings us back to theft.  If the government is coercively taking what is not theirs, even if it is in the name of social justice, they are aggressing against the property of another.  The non-aggression axiom makes it clear that this type of action is always wrong.   

It should be clear from the examples given above that attempts to make society more just through taxation clearly goes against liberty.  In fact, it may now seem that social justice is damn near the opposite of liberty.  It is important to keep in mind, however, that tax policy is just one of many failed government actions aimed at social justice (in particular equality).  Instead of trying to "fix" the "game" (or system), its time people acknowledge the fact that if the rules to the game are just, then the outcomes that they create must also be just.  If poverty and inequality are outcomes under a "justly" structured system, then we can't say that this outcome is unfair.  In conclusion, a more effective way to structure the welfare system would be to set it up similarly to insurance.  Because the future is unknown, paying into insurance for future security (especially in the case of decreased welfare) certainly seems more reasonable and just than the current system.  

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