Redistribution of Wealth

Everyone has been told that life isn’t fair and generally it is deemed unwise to insist that we all get the same breaks — good health, good looks, a pleasant region in which to live, parents who are responsible and loving, as well as well off, and the rest of what is generally hoped for by most. It is, however, also argued by some that what most of us really want isn’t happiness at all but comparable advantage, the condition to be as well off as the next person, at least. (1)


Family CookoutHappy family life, 1950s version

Image credit: Jordan Steer


Some prominent political thinkers—for example, Rousseau—have made the more serious argument in support of a very strong moral, even political, imperative that people—in a society or throughout the world—must be treated fairly, as basically equal and with equal benefits and burdens for them all. Among those today who promote this idea explicitly is Kai Nielsen (2), Ronald Dworkin (3), and Peter Unger (4). The policy implication of this view is extensive and continuous wealth redistribution. No one has the right to keep extensive assets, for example, that he or she came by either via hard work, good luck, or the contributions of others.


323196468559923552Etatiste philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau: His works Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are (unfortunately) held to be cornerstones of modern political and social thought.

Image credit: Maurice Quentin de La Tour


A beautiful model, especially, who gains considerable wealth because millions of others wish to pay to see her, for example, is to be taxed extensively and the funds taken from her are to be spread out to others who do not enjoy this advantage, who are thus taken to be disadvantaged even though no one engineered this result and thus cannot be blamed for it. Even a very hard-working executive, paid a large salary with bonuses because he or she has (or is expected to) successfully put a corporation on a firm economic footing, may not keep these earnings but is taxed progressively — not proportionately — and the funds are to be redistributed by politically appointed bureaucrats (though not before they are paid for this work quite handsomely). The same holds for movie stars or well paid athletes.

Also, someone who is lucky and wins a huge amount of money in a lottery must part with a substantial portion of his or her winnings and that, too, will be redistributed. As Unger puts the point, ‘On pain of living a life that’s seriously immoral, a typical well-off person, like you and me, must give away most of her financially valuable assets, and much of her income, directing the funds to lessen efficiently the serious suffering of others.’ (5) R. H. Tawney and Isaiah Berlin have both treated equality as a kind of political default position, not in need of argument or defense. Tawney quotes J. S. Mill approvingly, saying that “the best state for human nature is that in which, while no one is poor, no one desires to be richer.”


UngerPhilosopher Peter Unger: his wealth redistribution ideas – even of one were to accept their morality – would instantly lead to a collapse of the economy if put into practice. The whole world would become a poorhouse of starving people (in short, he hasn’t really thought this through).

Photo credit: New York University


Yet, of course, this is at best a sociological observation about what a good many who speak out on political morality believe, not some fact of morality itself.  Accordingly, Tawney ascribes to Mill the notion that “social policy should be directed to increasing equality….” (6) But this doesn’t follow, again, from the putative facts adduced to support it.  It is a non-sequitur.

All in all, the ideal of fairness or equality is widespread among political theorists even though it doesn’t even allow the sort of difference in wealth and poverty that would remain after the familiar taxation policies of most welfare states — they do not go far enough, the champions of these ideals, such as Unger, argue.

There are various philosophically interesting reasons offered why this ideal really is a political imperative and why the law ought to be guided by it. One reason is hinted at in John Rawls’ discussion of whether people deserve the wealth they obtain in market transactions. (7)


John_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870John Stuart Mill: he started out as a supporter of the free market, but later in life increasingly adopted socialist ideas.

Photo credit: London Stereoscopic Company


Is Aesthetic Preference Unfair Discrimination—Is one Unjust to Weeds when one Brings Home Pretty Flowers?

In this brief chapter I wish to counter a theme advanced originally by Naomi Wolf in her book The Beauty Myth and more recently by Deborah L. Rhode in hers, The Beauty Bias.

In a Slate online discussion of the issue of bias in favor of people who are deemed attractive, both men and women, Stephen Landsberg seemed to regard being ugly or unappealing and beautiful or appealing as entirely accidental, purely a matter of luck. But this is often wrong. And the resulting analysis as to whether giving better deals to those who have versus those who lack good looks also fails at least for lack of subtlety.


IgorNot suffering from beautiful people problems: Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant Igor

Photo credit: Gruskoff/Venture Films


Some people get to be beautiful through hard work, some are ugly through serious neglect (though not all). No one can dispute the fact that many men and women spend extensive time and many resources in order to make themselves look good, at least as they understand this. I have two daughters and they have huge arsenals of beauty aids and, frankly, I am not without some assistance in my vain efforts to be more rather than less presentable.

Yet, something else is even more germane here.  Even if the above weren’t so, even if it were entirely an accident that some are more, some less appealing, those who interact with people have the right to prefer the appealing over the unappealing, even if this is unfair of them — fairness isn’t the highest value, most of the time, to be sought from associating with others. That is to say, no one has the moral or should have the legal authority to order anyone what criteria to choose for association. (Yes, this goes for even the silliest or detestable criteria.) Certainly, choosing associates who are appealing is something one should be free to do and it is also arguable that one should take good looks or appeal into consideration in selecting people for various occupations (although at times it is irrelevant and their doing it is then arguably though perhaps excusably unfair).

Landsberg’s discussion omits these and other related points and makes it all a matter of cruel injustice or unfairness that those with more appeal gain advantages. And he is by no means alone—a number of writers on the topic, e.g., Naomi Wolf in her The Beauty Myth and Deborah L. Rhode in her book, The Beauty Bias are in his camp on the issue — in failing to consider some of the nuances of how our judgments concerning appeal figure into our decision making in or out of the market place. Sometimes the discussion of this topic seems as if the authors were jesting. There are many other reasons besides beauty alone, ones that people can control to a lesser or greater degree, that they are not as eagerly accepted—some have weird voices, some a strange odor, some a difficult to understand accent, some various other traits and habits, over which they have little control.


1280px-NLN_Naomi_WolfNaomi Wolf, a former political advisor to Bill Clinton and Al Gore, whose book the “Beauty Myth” is described as follows at Wikipedia: In the book, she argues that “beauty” as a normative value is entirely socially constructed, and that the patriarchy determines the content of that construction with the goal of reproducing its own hegemony. This sounds almost like something produced by the postmodernist gibberish generator.

Photo credit: Thomas Good


One way to make sure these do not seriously interfere with their chances in the job market is to compose detailed employment agreements and job descriptions to spell out more explicitly what the work to be performed requires of successful applicants! Yet even here not everything can be spelled out that may be of some relevance and the factor of appeal will have a role in the decision.

But why is that wrong? Don’t we pick pretty flowers rather than weeds for our dinner table? Or cute pets rather than ugly ones? Don’t we reject unappealing works of art and put on the wall pictures that appeal to us? Is it unfair to those who cannot help but paint ugly works that their creations don’t sell? What about those who write bad novels or poetry—is it unfair to reject them? But if not, why is injecting some role for appeal in the hiring process something so unfair, unjust?

Well, it isn’t. Certainly, if one wishes to argue, as many do, that the market place must be a forum of human association, such perfectly normal human elements as expressing one’s aesthetic preferences cannot be excluded from it. And that aesthetic preferences make a difference in one’s human associations cannot be disputed. Are they something unfair, wrong? Selecting our dates and mates in part because they are attractive to us surely isn’t wrong — unless pleasing ourselves in these ways is to be considered wrong, which is ridiculous.

There is only one valid point to be made about invoking aesthetic criteria in selecting trading partners, including business associates, employees, and so forth: if the job description is fully met by both the ugly and the pretty, then choosing the pretty is something but not much of a bias, an unfairness, since it isn’t a reasonable objection against anyone that he or she — or everyone around the shop — wants to be near an appealing rather than unappealing person.
 In short, it is more complicated than those make out who champion some kind of simple policy of what we might dub as association-egalitarianism, the policy that we ought never to take into consideration matters — such as aesthetics — not directly relevant to what a deal is about. To try to eradicate our aesthetic concerns from all our human relations is simply obtuse — neither can it be done, nor would it be a good thing.

This is one reason that trying to legislate all this universally results in a morass and remedies little.


Rawls’ Contradiction

Rawls claims they do not deserve it because none of us really earns anything since we are basically socially conditioned to be hard working, entrepreneurial individuals. Our ambition or effort really isn’t something we cultivate in ourselves so that we should be the ones who enjoy its fruits.(8) It is entirely accidental who will be ambitious and who will not, so leaving it at the original distribution that comes from voluntary exchanges must be unfair. Nagel, explaining a possible global implication of Rawls’s position, tells us that “The accident of being born in a poor rather than in a rich country is as arbitrary a determinant of one’s fate as the accident of being born in a poor rather than a rich family in the same country.” (9)


LIVE.25-RawlsMoral philosopher John Rawls – his best known work is “A Theory of Justice” (1971)

Photo credit: Harvard Gazette


But Rawls himself rejects this implication because, as Nagel explains, “The important point for our purposes is that Rawls believes that this moral principle [of fairness] against arbitrary inequalities is not a principle of universal application…. Rather, in his theory the objection to arbitrary inequalities gets a foothold only because of the societal context. What is objectionable is that we should be fellow participants in a collective enterprise of coercively imposed legal and political institutions that generate such arbitrary inequalities…. One might even say that we are all participants in the general will. A sovereign enterprise for mutual advantage.” (10)

So, some kind of collective or state decision, in which of course not all take part — as in, say, the decisions of the Rotary or Elks Club, where a good deal of wealth redistribution goes on with full consent of all members — authorizes this equalization process within a given society.

Why is this a sound idea? No clue other than the assumption, entirely unproven, that such collective decisions (via Rousseau’s general will) are just. Yet this is hardly a proof of the Rawlsian justice-as-fairness stance. As David Gordon points out, “Nagel fails to see this obvious point because he regards the sovereign state as the only way, under modern conditions, for people to escape from a Hobbesian condition of anarchic violence.” (11)

As with other egalitarians, such as Dworkin, the state is a given and requires no justification, an idea that is morally preposterous and has been resisted mostly by anarchists and libertarians. In consequence, the scope of government, too, remains unlimited other than by the collective or administrative decision process.

The second argument in support of fairness rests on intuition: many feel deeply that it is simply natural for us all to share in the common wealth of society — we know this to be so intuitively. But this argument is a really bad one and I will not spend much time on it other than to note that intuitions are notoriously unreliable guides to what we ought to be doing. As the writer W. Somerset Maugham pointed out, ‘intuition, [is] a subject upon which certain philosophers have reared an imposing edifice of surmise, but which seems to me to offer as insecure a foundation for any structure more substantial than a Castle in Spain as a ping-pong ball wavering on a jet of water in a shooting gallery.’ (12)


Maugham_retouchedSomerset Maugham – not a big fan of using intuition as the foundation of imposing edifices of surmise

Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten


Ernest W. Pettifer makes clear, in the following passages, why Maugham is right:


To us today the revelations of the legal murders and cruelties connected with the trial of children are revolting. We have become so habituated to the kindly and even anxious atmosphere of the Children’s Courts, that it is hard to believe that the full ceremonial, the dread ordeal, of the Assize Courts could have been brought into use against little children of seven years and upwards—judges uttering their cruel legal platitudes; the chaplain sitting by assenting; the Sheriff in his impressive uniform; ladies coming to the Court to be entertained by such a sight — the spectacle of a terrified little child about to receive the death sentence which the verdict of 12 men, probably fathers of families themselves, had given the judge power to pass. (13)


In short, intuitions are in constant flux and, based on them, slavery had to have been fine in one age, not in another, as with the abuse of women and children and prisoners of war, to name just a few areas wherein we clearly seek for moral stability but aren’t provided with it by intuitions. Intuitions — or as they are better known, common sense — can be an initial clue to where the truth lies but it cannot be decisive.


A Challenge to Individualism

Yet another argument is a serious challenge to individualism and individual rights. It maintains, along the lines we already saw in Nagel, that people are by their very nature parts of a larger whole — society, tribe, humanity, the ethnic group or the community — and so belong to a group the members of which are owed loyalty and solidarity from them. Socialists like August Comte and Karl Marx held this view, as do some contemporary communitarians like Charles Taylor.


800px-Charles_TaylorCharles Taylor: contemporary communitarian critic of classical liberalism

Photo credit: Makhanets


These thinkers insist that the classical liberal polity rests on the false belief in atomistic individualism. This holds that we are independent, self-sufficient beings who can do without society altogether and for whom social relations are entirely optional. Such a view is similar to what some economists work with, as they analyze market relations, but critics claim classical liberals rest all their ideas on it.

This ant-colony/beehive notion of human social life — so well depicted in that famous Hollywood blockbuster, Avatar — gains some support from the Aristotelian idea that we are all essentially social. But to take it to where socialists and communitarians do is an extreme leap. It denies that individuals can form ideas of their own, govern their own lives in the light of these ideas and be responsible for the result. Others should not be burdened if they live in misguided ways. And it is wrong to believe that we are obligated to shoulder mutual burdens and share rewards, as if we did belong to some natural club or tribe. But fairness or equal treatment does follow if we do, so this idea is often invoked to support the redistributionist state. In fact, though we are social beings, there is an essential individuality to our lives as well, and this demands that we enjoy sovereignty in how we live, rather than involuntary servitude to people with whom we did not chose to associate.


avatar.socialThe Avatar beehive

Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation


As such, it is not unfair at all to be better off than others — they aren’t owed our lives and labors, contrary to how egalitarians think. Concerning fairness or equality, one reason in our time these seem such ubiquitous imperatives is that in a reasonably abundant society children grow up being treated rather fairly by parents who owe all of them (in the family) decent treatment and such treatment involves to a considerable extent having them share in the family’s resources. Just as a teacher is supposed to attend to all of his or her students — having in effect made a promise to all of them to serve them with his or her skills — so parents have basically promised their kids to treat them equally well, provided they have the wealth to do so.

But all of this is highly conditional and by no means basic — it is the responsibility to keep the promise to provide service or good rearing that is. Yet having grown up with the justified expectation, based on the promise, of equally good treatment or fairness from parents and teachers, it makes some psychological sense that this expectation would be extended to governments that claim to be providers for their citizens — not just providers of equal protection of their basic rights to be free but of whatever governments (politicians) promise (in a welfare state, for instance). Yet this expectation is misguided for two reasons: the government is not a parent, and governments should not attempt to provide citizens with everything they would like. Furthermore, governments are composed of individuals with special powers to wield power over others, even if only for purposes of securing everyone’s rights; this power tends to tempt such persons to use it to promote any worthy agenda they have, including for other people who, however, have the sovereign authority to pursue their own.

TR-as-percent-of-PIThe government as a parent: transfer receipts as a share of personal income – via AdvisorPerspectives / Doug Short


The Rawlsian case is a bit more complicated because it rests on a very controversial yet widely championed idea in our time, namely, determinism. This is the idea that all people behave as they must, based on the factors that impel them to do so. Whether because of genes, evolutionary forces, peer pressure or whatever, there is a widespread idea, drawn from extrapolation from classical physics, that none of us is free and responsible and thus deserving of either gains or losses. It’s all a matter of accident.

Paradoxically, however, from this picture, based on a deterministic view of human life, a moral conclusion is drawn that is incompatible with determinism: namely, that we all ought to work to fix the accidental distribution of benefits and harms, gains and losses, by means of a political order that is guided by fairness. Since ‘ought’ implies ‘can,’ this imperative cannot be reconciled with determinism.

But, just as Kant believed that a deterministic (phenomenal) world coexists with a (noumenal) realm where free choice is possible, so Rawls and his followers embrace this two-world picture, one in which determinism rules, and another in which freely chosen moral and political conduct would remedy matters and where those opposing such remedies are to be morally faulted for their stance.


Property Rights and Fairness

In his very rich work, The Idea of Justice (14), Amartya Sen presents a scenario that he hopes will suggest some of the challenges of wealth redistribution once several perspectives on the issue are given full consideration. There are three children who want to obtain a single flute that cannot be shared among them. Sen contends that the way the flute should be distributed among them will differ based on whether one takes one of three different normative approaches to the problem.  As a no-nonsense libertarian, to use Sen’s word for principled libertarians, Carla claims she has the right to the flute since she made it. (15) Anne claims she should, because she is the only one who can play it. And Bob claims he is very poor and should have the instrument in light of his extreme poverty. By Sen’s apparent intuition there is no decisive solution based on comparing these different arguments.


TH08_AMARTYA_SEN_ON_802102fIndian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen

Photo credit: S. Subramanium


Arguably, however, Carla ought to have the full legal authority to be in charge of the flute’s disposition — though she may also have the ethical responsibility to share or to give it away (16) — in view of her having a property right to it which is itself based on the idea that a community governed by private property rights is more just than others that are without it.  Ones that lack or abandon that principle—in favor of either the utilitarian one (whereby Anne who can make the best use of the flute should have it) or in favor of the welfare statist/socialist one (whereby Bob who needs resources most should have it) — would be unjust.

For one, Sen seems to me to overlook a vital aspect of human community life that must be considered to supplement any system of basic rights that govern it.  This is that although Anne has the right to the flute, is its proper owner, it could be true that Anne ought to share it — or the proceeds of her earnings when she makes a bit of money from playing it — with Bob.  In other words, the case isn’t just about justice but also about decency and good sense. And once this is added to the scenario, the picture changes significantly.  One might say, we do not live by justice alone within our human communities. Putting it another way, there is a lot more to social life, even for libertarians, than mere politics (justice). Omitting such considerations does overload justice with too much to take care of in human affairs.

As an alternative, even competing illustration, let me recall that many years ago I bought my youngest daughter a guitar but she never finished her lessons and the instrument lay about unused. So in time we decided we should give it to the handyman who often worked on our house since he did play and his guitar was falling apart and, moreover, he was quite poor as well.  Now this was probably generous of us but it also made good sense — why hang on to the instrument if we had no use for it?  Sure, we had a right to hang on to it but that’s not the end of the story about what should happen to the instrument nor to what should happen to resources held privately in a human community.

None of this denies that there is a role for fairness inhuman relations, for example, when someone commits to serve a group and needs to attend to each of its members conscientiously; or if several people freely commit to a task and need to pitch in with more or less equal effort so as to bring it to fruition.  But in such cases fairness or equality is a subsidiary imperative, not a central one. So, a professor needs to attend to all students in a class; and each parent of a child whom they choose to have needs to contribute to the child’s proper rearing and care.



(1)     This, roughly, is the theme of Richard Laynard, Happiness, Lessons from a New Science (New York: The Penguin Press, 2005). But see also Helmut Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior (New York: Ardent Media, Inc., 1966; Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1987).

(2)    Kai Nielsen, Equality and Liberty: a Defense of Radical Egalitarianism (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985).

(3)     Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).

(4 )   Peter Unger, Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence (NY: Oxford University Press, 1996).

(5)    Ibid., p. 134.

(6)    R. H. Tawney, Equality (London, UK: Unwin books, 1964, 1938), p. 48.

(7)     John Rawls,  A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971).

(8)     Ibid., 104. Rawls tells us that one’s “character depends in large part upon fortunate family and social circumstances for which he can claim no credit.” Even if true, nothing about this implies others’ authority to take from someone the fruits of his or her good character.  Thinking this is a blatant non sequitur.

(9)   Thomas Nagel, “The Problem of Global Justice,”  Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 33 (April 2005), p. 119. Nagel and Rawls’s view here echoes what Tawney favorably quotes Jeremy Taylor saying namely, “if a man be exalted by reason of any excellence in his soul, he may please to remember that all souls are equal, and their differing operations are because their instrument is in better tune, their body is more healthful or better tempered; which is no more praise to him than it is that he was born in Italy.” Op. cit., Tawney, 48. Rawls’s and Tawney’s dismissal of personal achievement for which one may take credit is both irrelevant to whether the fruits of these may be taken from a person and rather difficult to stomach in light of how readily such thinkers are willing to accept the fruits of their own (academic, scholarly) achievements.  (Once I asked John Kenneth Galbraith why as an egalitarian he will not give up his post at Harvard and exchange it with, say, someone at a junior college but instead of an answer, Galbraith just walked away.)

(10)    Ibid., 127–128.

(11)    David Gordon, “Indifference to the World,” The Mises Review, Vol. 11 (Spring 2005), 9.

(12)    W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook  (Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1967),  325.

(13)     Ernest W. Pettifer, Punishments of Former Days (East Ardsley, England: EP Publishing, Ltd., 1974), 35–6.  A powerful but sadly neglected critique of egalitarianism is Murray N. Rothbard,  Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Washington, D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974)..

(14)    Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 12ff.

(15). Ibid.

(16). Ibid.


Image captions by PT




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7 Responses to “Against Fairness”

  • Crysangle:

    I should thank you first Tibor for the very well laid out and argued article , it might soften the flames a little . Oh Oh.

    When you suggest that adherence solely to property rights as a system of justice may lead to an overloading of that system given the wider realities of social interaction , I find the exact opposite .

    A simple law that the maker has the right to decide on the fate of the flute is minimalist . It in no way impedes acts of generosity by the owner , retaliatory acts of exclusion by those wanting , acts of kindness in trade for the use of the object , persuasive argument by the parent , and so on , from taking place . The latter are real social interactions that take place according to the nature of the company , the tribe , the family , and are all pertinent learning activities .

    Now, if you set those actions/re-actions into law or justice , if you pre-format them , you will be writing volumes , you will remove the natural flow of interaction to consult a text , if you can find it .

    It is not that I argue your reasoning in how a true resolution is often more complex and may be more beneficially resolved by incorporating other factors , my point is that those are complementary factors that do not belong in a simple decisive arbitrage , they are factors which are to be lived , discussed , not ruled over.

    My advice is that you must be very careful in the distinction of obligation from persuasion , as a right , if we are to believe in one , must stand above all else as decisive . The choice , the free choice, is of the owner .

    Though you are using the context of a relatively light theme as an example , the method of thought extends , in the real world , to extremely severe consequence .

    May the choice of a person over his own actions , being and possessions , when they harm no one , be overridden by law in the name of societal cohesion and hierarchy ?

    You understand that in the real world there is only one way to truly enforce that , by threats and coercion , then deprivation of liberty , then open destruction .

    I hope we do not misinterpret the definition of justice in all of this – to me it means something like the overtly imposed resolution of argument by an outside party .

    What is just is that the maker of the flute is respected in her decision , that she does not have to use justice to maintain that right .

    Better is said to be the enemy of good .

    “Though it is better to be handsome than to be good , it is better to be good than to be bad .”

    So better be good .

    • Mark Humphrey:

      Crysangle, Tibor Machan is not talking about law and the force of government actions when he makes reference to broader moral and ethical concerns than those served by justice. For while people are morally autonomous, and their rights as autonomous individuals ought to be respected by everyone and defended by government, individuals still must concern themselves with moral choice. Morality is the code of values that guide one’s choices in life. Is is morally proper to volunteer to help someone who has no right to demand it? Is it important to work productively? Is productivity of higher moral standing than charity? What moral values should one act to gain in one’s life? What is the purpose of one’s life? And so forth.

      These concerns lie outside the province of justice and politics, which focus on issues of who owes what to whom. There are large areas of life that don’t bear on the issue of justice, but that are important to human flourishing.

      • Crysangle:

        Maybe I am being pedantic Mark, however, in real world experience, I and my family have found ourselves inexcusibly and heavily punished by ‘suplementary considerations’ that are used unrealistically, purposefully, to manipulate the most basic and straightforward of rulings, thereby denying us normal choice and passage.
        It will depend on country, but few realize what really happens when your future becomes absorbed by justice, the ability state services have in empowering themselves with detail while placing your life on hold. When you are forced to live in the imagination of others ( and I say forced in its most obvious sense), in order to defend yourself from false accusation, and you find those that have taken charge not only are clueless but are set on empowering themselves with complete disregard, you do not welcome the inclusion of ‘ considerations’ , in matters of justice. These ‘ considerations’, by perversion, then take over justice, they allow catches and never ending involvements. The person, the subject, is held captive, is debilitated, during the whole process.
        Do you know what Mark, few, if any, in authority care, even for the most blatantly obvious tresspasses that occur under their guard.
        The reason is simple for that, they live in fear of having the illusionary edifice that supports them pulled away.
        Justice is nine tenths possession, they say. It is also nine tenths threat, one tenth actual resolution.
        Themis did not actually carry a sword originally, nor was she blindfolded. She was oracular in nature, a prophetess. The sword was placed in her hand so that she could desriminate and apply decision, she was blindfolded to remind that her advice was occult.
        Do you not think it is perverse to place a sword in someones hand, blindfold them, and ask them to apply justice?

        • Mark Humphrey:

          Crysangle, I agree with virtually every word you wrote above. What you’ve experienced is a grotesque perversion of justice that is devastating. You have my sympathy.

          My point is a narrow one: Justice concerns the defense or violation of individual rights. As such, justice is a subset of ethics and politics. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that defines how people ought to treat each other, while politics deals with ethics in government actions.

          Morality is much broader than ethics and politics. It deals with the issue of how to make proper choices in all areas of one’s life. These areas include choices that bear on identifying and respecting the rights of others, which is justice. These areas also include ethical choices in situations where no one has contemplated violating the rights of another person, but in which a decision must be made as to proper conduct with respect to some other person. Finally, moral choices include personal decisions: is it morally proper to sleep in when work needs to be completed? Is it better to select friends on the basis of pleasing oneself or important others? And so forth.

          Recognizing that morality encompasses many issues unrelated to individual rights is important, because that recognition underscores the purpose of morality: to empower one with true principles by which to live well.

          • Crysangle:

            Well they say a person can adapt to just about anything except a small boat in a rough sea. Having witnessed war and so on , knowing the plight of many other fellows , I really do not feel self pity , just an outrage which I try to channel into a constructive protest . The figures are there , many kill themselves when cornered or persecuted in the way we have been , fact of life . The positive is submitting myself to a very steep learning curve.

            Law is regarded as that which is fixed or laid down , (human) justice is the application or enforcement of law . Those may be applied at any level , a father may apply a justice for transgression of unwritten social law , a judge may punish a subject according to written law .

            “from Old Latin ious, perhaps literally “sacred formula,” a word peculiar to Latin (not general Italic) that originated in the religious cults, from PIE root *yewes- “law” ” Et.Online.

            To my view law, and therefore justice, allows politics (in a state oriented sense) . The formation of political ability is governed by law . In extremis a dictator will create the laws that justify his position . Kings are sworn in .

            Ethics and morality are closely related , and as you say , they transcend . Even the application of law should be guided by good ethic or morality , else it is open to miscarriage .

            Where does that leave rights though ? I think we have become used to a right being assigned as counterparty to an obligation , often a social or political one .

            For example , do I need a right to freedom of speech ? No , clearly not , I will say what I please , within a moral context that I deem acceptable , I will learn and apologize if I unwittingly offend , but I will not apologize if what I say is true and necessary .

            So in fact the right to freedom of speech is actually a law against interrupting or interfering with a person’s speech .

            The right of the owner of the flute to decide on its use is actually a law against theft as it (should) go without saying that what she fairly procures is hers to dispense .

            What Tibor is suggesting , it seems to me , is that that law should be adapted to moral circumstance . What a tricky path to walk , trying to fairly justify empowering yourself of another’s property for the good of others still .

            In my book he would have to apologize for borrowing it without permission , and serve penance for forcefully taking it . Naughty Tibor .

            So I think that though we might fairly conclude that law and hence justice is a fixed adaptation of morality and ethic , to use it to then further shape a moral resolution is to move beyond its intended purpose , it is in fact to turn the law back onto itself , to reinterpret or dismiss its original morality . There is simply no further morality to be applied , and if there is , the original law must be superseded by one that is able to justify its priority .

            If you take your neighbours food because you are starving , is it justifiable ? Not if he will now starve also . Hence you may beg , but not steal , and that is the simple law .

            As an alternative consider the adaptations possible , in this case with the flute :

            ‘Resolution of needs subsequent to unused capital held within reach ‘

            The possession of a flute while it is not being played is deserving of appraisal of ownership so as to benefit its owner with the moral rectitude of serving a fellow , the measure of true ownership being the demonstration that one possesses the decision making capability to give it to someone else , otherwise the maker of the flute is to be considered to be the owner only by outward appearance , which has just proved to be a deception .

            Even if the maker is still considered the rightful owner it may be proven that a poor flute may need to be disabused of its neglected existence and so be put to proper use . Where is it stored , how many hours is it played , what is the planned future use of said flute ?

            Those wanting are welcome to reward for their recognition of the plight of the flute.


  • Mark Humphrey:

    Thank you for this good article. I like this statement, “Putting it another way, there is a lot more to social life, even for libertarians, than mere politics (justice). Omitting such considerations does overload justice with too much to take care of in human affairs.”

    There is a logical problem with Rawls and Kant proclaiming the existence of a duality, featuring choice in one realm, and determinism in the other. But I’m not sure what it is right now.

    I think the problem has to do with the identity of consciousness. If mental categories were the determinant of our thinking, then thinking is still determined as to the broadest, most abstract ideas. But those abstract ideas set the stage for one’s more mundane choices, which are therefore also “determined”.

    Reading Tibor Machan always gives me a lift. Thanks again.

  • therooster:

    How can you have any sense of equitable fairness or opportunity when over 99% of your liquidity is derived from debt ??? You can’t ! Start there.

    We have a decent chance to create some balance in the type of liquidity that we use on the basis that gold can be properly monetized now that its weight value fluctuates in real-time. The new condition is that weight must be used as the unit of account.

    Increase debt-free liquidity toward the development of a symbiotic yin-yang of assets and debts that circulate and you have a totally different economic environment as debt can become responsibly purged and destroyed.

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