Is ‘Social Justice‘ just a Misunderstanding?

Yes – if we continue to hold onto what we have been considering the definition so far! /1/

According to this definition, everybody, strangely, thinks him- or herself socially just yet at the same time laments about the growing injustice in this world.

It seems that this discrepancy is insurmountable.

ApfelpflückerWe are simply too much in love with our unclear terminologies. In fact, we actually wallow in the concept that ‘social justice‘ has to be some kind of ‘moral, egg-laying wool-milk-sow‘, rather than just a minimum standard for human behaviour consisting just a few rules even evil persons have to stick by!

If, however, we accept this definition, we soon find out that ‘social justice‘ tends to have little in common with ‘romantic equality‘. Instead, it has a lot to do with not-so romantic ‘voluntariness‘. And that this is why politics in general have an inherent structural problem when it comes to generating ‘social justice‘, even if it very industriously tries to find and remove ‘legal loopholes‘. It is easy to show this in three steps. All you have to point out is:

   A)  the common principle of ‘exchange justice‘,

   B)  the principle of ‘equal treatment and equality of results‘ and

   C)  the particularly apparent ‘distribution justice‘.

Let us take a closer look at all three of them:

   A)  After all, we basically have a very special form of ‘exchange justice’ when, in the name of ‘social justice‘, people demand fair prices and fair incomes!

For instance when it comes to: here the aromatic Alp Butter, there the ridiculous one-euro-eighty; or here the super manuscript and there the low fee. If we were to demand ‘equality of values‘, then we would need the general ‘principle of exchange justice‘! But how to objectively determine this ‘equality of values‘ for every individual exchange process?

For instance: would one ounce of gold be too much for a bucket of water in the Sahara if it means the difference between life and death? And are 50 cents too much for two litres of milk if someone has a lactose incompatibility? Or what is the adequate fee for a manuscript which, later, will only be pushed underneath the one too short table leg?

Doesn’t this mean that the ‘evaluation‘ of an exchange object is by nature a very subjective thing and that this value has nothing to do with equality? Especially since said exchange only takes place because all the parties concerned see the object of exchange differently, which is why each considers his own deal profitable.

Naturally, this ‘exchange profit‘ is just as unprovable as the ‘exchange value‘; but it is also clear that any profit can only exist and be proved if the exchange has been voluntary! Which means that an exchange is always ‘socially just‘ if none of the parties concerned has been forced to accept it!

Of course, this voluntariness in an ‘exchange‘ does not guarantee that both parties can get what they hoped to achieve. Neither is it a protection against erroneous decisions, such as for instance the imprudent purchase of low-price milk regardless of lactose incompatibility. But this is not necessary, either. Because the evaluation of the ‘exchange profit‘ is subjective, which means that it cannot later be forced into a wrong equality measurement just because someone had erroneously and intuitively assumed that this ‘equality‘ in an ‘exchange profit‘ is closely related to ‘social justice‘!

Consequently, we can conclude that prices and incomes are always socially just when they can be accepted without one of the parties having been forced to accept!

    B)  Now let us discuss the allegedly socially just ‘equal treatment and equality of results‘!

Again, our equality mania brings us into a similar logical one-way road, as can be easily shown with a simple example: If, under the aspect of equality, you ask a retired lady, a sportsman and a six-year old boy to pluck apples from a four metre high apple tree with a ladder standing at its trunk, you will get considerably different results; the help you will have to give will, indeed, be rather diverse, before all three candidates will have plucked the same amount of apples – which means they have equal results.

Since, however, there are no two identical individuals on this earth, you will never get equal results if you treat them equally, and vice versa!

And regardless of this fact being absolutely obvious, we keep demanding equality along with social justice. But if equality were really socially just, then the state of affairs where all persons are poorly off would, according to justice theory, be the best that could happen, wouldn’t it?

Luckily, nobody believes this! But still we insist that the logical consequence cannot be to stop seeing equality as a manifestation of social justice.

    C)  The tendency towards equalization is particularly apparent when it comes to discussions about ‘fair distribution’!

To distribute something means to hand out from a supply. Fair distribution demands that this has to done following certain rules. However, the fairness is most obvious when the owner does the distributing him- or herself, because then it is his or her will alone that counts. To be sure, it might be reasonable to consider the expectations of third parties, but that is not demanded by social justice! Social justice is served by the protection of ownership rights.

But it gets truly difficult when you cannot clearly define ownership, as it is the case with all political systems because the spheres of interests of the distributors and the recipients will often be identical. Conflicts are unavoidable and the ‘just solution‘ of said conflicts are not just a theoretical challenge, but mostly no more than a noble goal!

Compared to this, private persons and enterprises have a rather easy life, don’t’ they? All they have to do is not cheat, not steal, not use violence and not break contracts – and already they are just. They need not abide by more rules than that!

When all is said and done, this consideration not only generates a theory of justice, but also a surprising solution for economic and social politics: why not move as many decisions as possible to the private sector – since this is where you have clear and, according to what has been stated above, ‘socially just‘ circumstances?

Well, I assume this will remain wishful thinking, because many will still refuse to abandon the inacceptable ‘equality saturated‘ definition of justice! And they will be even less willing to forego the potential increase in power derived from this ‘usurpatory definition of equality‘!


/1/ Dagmar Schulze Heuling; „Was Gerechtigkeit nicht ist“; Nomos – Verlag Baden – Baden

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