Liberty, Libertarianism

The New Theory of Justice

Modern political philosophers (such as Rawls, Dworkin, and others) have tried to reconcile the traditional liberal concern for liberty with the demands of distributive justice, the latter understood as a concern with the claims that the disadvantaged members of society may have on the rest. These writers realize that the coercion needed to realize distributive justice may impinge on personal liberty, and have therefore suggested principles of justice and/or concrete institutional arrangements that reflect a compromise between freedom and material equality or welfare. This compromise will hopefully make state coercion acceptable.
However, I have noticed recently a new approach to justice. This new view revives the ancient definition of justice as simply giving to everyone what they deserve. The word “giving” here is important. It refers, in this new conception, to material resources. Justice requires that each person receive a portion of society’s material wealth; everyone is entitled to a level of resources. The implication (sometimes stated, sometimes unstated) is that the state may use coercion to achieve this just distribution. This view owes much to G.A. Cohen, in particular his insistence that justice is a pure concept uncontaminated by facts or by the need to tolerate second-best solutions. The purity of justice means that, just as concessions to efficiency may lead to injustice, so concessions to liberty may lead to injustice. Liberty is outside justice, as it were, so an unjust outcome (one that fails to give each what each deserves) is still unjust when the failure to achieve it is due to our reluctance to allow too much intrusion into personal liberty. This new approach is exemplified in a recent article by Lucas Stancyk in a leading specialized journal. It argues that justice authorizes states to constrain occupations or to force people into jobs if doing so is necessary to achieve the human welfare that justice requires. The argument is disarmingly simple: if in deference to liberty we fail to prevent the emigration of doctors that are needed to provide the health care that justice requires, then we (society) commit or tolerate an injustice.
I don’t want to rehearse the obvious arguments that any liberal (let alone libertarian) worth his salt can give against such a view. I simply observe that this new approach to justice has drifted fatally from any conception that can be called liberal. For how could a liberal possibly justify such views? Perhaps he could say that prohibiting the emigration of doctors will increase total liberty in society, for example, by restoring the (positive) liberty of the doctor’s patients. This move ignores the obvious reply: that on any but the most crude utilitarian view the intrusion in the doctor’s freedom cannot be justified by an increase in total freedom. A government may not imprison a few political dissidents just to increase the total amount of free speech in society (say). But I don’t think this would be the argument. The argument, I suspect, is Cohen’s: justice is an independent value, it concerns only distributive shares in society, and is unaffected by considerations of liberty. If one’s goal is to realize just social outcomes, liberty will have to yield. In the end, for this view, personal projects don’t matter: individuals are resources that the state may use to achieve distributive goals. All I can say is that I hope persons with such views never reach positions of power.

  • Fallon

    Rawls, Dworkin, and other appeasers to liberalism share the genus social engineer with Cohen and Stancyk. These soft egalitarians candy coat what is essentially a shared Leninist methodology, in spite of compromises. They speak of great outcomes, sometimes like Gandhi, knowing damn well that the very first end to achieve is Power. The more absolute, the better. After all, it is what justice requires.
    Condemn these secular clergy.

  • Doc

    Too late.

  • Sean II

    Wait, I thought Wesley Mouch was the author of Directive 10-289. Who’s Lucas Stanczyk? It’s just impossible to keep track of all those absurdly overdrawn Rand villains that could never exist in real life.

  • adrianratnapala

    1) The argument does not have to be described as “Liberty vs. Justice”. “Justice vs. Social Justice” will do. For example: “””It argues that justice authorizes states to constrain occupations or to
    force people into jobs if doing so is necessary to achieve the human
    welfare that justice requires.

    But such restraint is unjust in itself.

    2) “””All I can say is that I hope persons with such views never reach positions of power.”””
    I don’t think the danger is that politicians will have specific philosophies. The danger is that philosophical habits of mind become the background to political decision making.

  • good_in_theory

    How is the liberal conception of justice at all divorced from the concept of desert? A labor theory of property + a liberal theory of voluntary exchange -> an economy of just desserts, founded on the assumption that people are entitled to what they possess.

    In order to enable this “justice requires” the coercive enforcement of property rights and contractual relationships, in order to ensure everyone gets what they “deserve”. Or maybe, more aptly, in order to ensure that no one gets what someone else deserves. (If you “stole” it, you don’t “deserve” it).
    Justice already “authorizes” constraining people’s occupations in order to secure welfare in a rather trivial way (what do you think a prison does?). The coercion needed to realize personal liberty impinges on personal liberty.
    The tension between strictly contractual deserts and more “moral” deserts is a starting problem of the Republic, with Cephalus’s initial definition of justice as telling the truth and honoring one’s contracts. Cephalus here represents a typical Greek view of justice (and also, it seems, a prototypical contractarian/liberal/libertarian view of justice), which Socrates then works over, moving through other typical views by which moral desert is moved from what one owns and acquires in fair dealing to, well, Plato’s whole “the good” thing. There is no unique “return to the ancients” here. We simply have Plato v. Cephalus (as a proxy for Simonides, Homer, & other markers of common Greek thought).
    Plato moves through various other standard elements of what I would assume is contained in most liberal conceptions of justice, including, for example, retributive justice (giving enemies/wrongdoers what they deserve) and rationality requirements (not giving your crazy drunk friend his sword).
    If a libertarian theory of justice “requires” contract and title enforcement, policing fraud, punishment beyond compensatory damages, and paternalism re: “the irrational” then it is already committed to considerations unaffected by liberty. (unless, of course, you simply beg the question by building a tortured definition of liberty which includes all the restrictions you want to have).
    Whether or not contract enforcement, punishment, and justified paternalistic inferference constitutively “requires” a coercive regime is contingent upon the incentives individuals face in providing for a coercive regime funded only voluntarily (which is to set aside the fact that the job of this regime will, essentially, be to coerce others engaging in their “personal projects”.)

    How is it not a state of injustice if histrionic complaints about “the government taking my money” lead to a failure to fund, for example, police, courts, and prisons – that is to say the effective enforcement of the law and equal access to due process?

    Whether “doctors” should be like “policemen”, “public defenders and public attorneys” and “judges” is the question.

    For some reason I can’t pull up Lucas’s article right now to see if he actually argues for forced conscription of some sort, but subsidy seems like a much better response to the problem, as it is the response to the need for cops and courts. But subsidization requires some sort of taxation, which is a horribly coercive infringement on personal liberty which destroys people’s personal projects, I’m sure.

    • Sean II

      From what I can gather, he’s not actually suggesting flat-out coercion, but rather a system of piecemeal incentives, etc. He doesn’t want to throw you into a labor camp to do c-sections on Malawian moms-to-be. He wants to make things out so the best option available to you as an ambitious young doctor is to throw yourself into a labor camp to do c-sections on Malawian moms-to-be.

      Gotta love that soft paternalism racket. What it lacks in brutality, it makes up for in repulsively manipulative creepiness and dishonesty.

      Most of all, though, I absolutely LOVE the fact that this paper blazing a trail to worldwide material equality is hidden behind a wall of transaction costs, elite memberships, etc, such that the only people who will ever read it are : a) people who have their subscriptions paid for by institutions, and b) students who are required to buy a-la-carte on the order of professors from the first category. (Of course it’s the student’s money, either way.)

      This, in an age where the blogosphere makes more text available to more people than at any time in history…

      • good_in_theory

        Got access to the article, something was wonky with my laptop.

        This seems to outline the problem:

        “Suppose teachers flatly refused to teach girls, as in many places they once did, and in some they still do. Then, on the pared-back version of the third proposition, justice would suddenly cease to require anyone to ensure any education whatsoever for girls, since no one could ensure this without forcing people to teach girls, and justice cannot require anyone to do what it forbids. And since justice would then cease to require anyone to ensure any education for girls, there could be no injustice in anyone’s failure to ensure it. Neither society nor anyone in it could then be failing to respect a requirement of justice in failing to put an end to gendered educational apartheid, not even ifeveryone flatly refused to teach girls.”

        It seems obvious to grant the point that if, for example, no one is willing to educate girls, then there’s an injustice going on. The conclusion seems especially unavoidable from the sort of objective morality view point Teson espoused a few posts back. If slavery is wrong, slavery exists, and no one is willing to do anything to end slavery, well, you’ve got a problem. Justice would seem to require compelling someone to beat up some slavers, as impossible and contradictory as that might be (someone must be enslaved to end slavery).

        Hell, liberty would seem to require that. It’s just unfortunate that Lady Liberty herself doesn’t descend from the heavens with Dike and Themis by her side to fix things up.

        I was suspicious that the claim that incentives are inadequate to solve the problem would be sustainable, but he seemed to make a decent case for it.

        I buy it. Medical credentialing conditional upon some limited compulsory service, alongside subsidy of the industry and decreases in other barriers to entry (though not elimination, credentialing seems necessary, and of course compulsory service is a barrier). Just allow people to buy off compulsory service so that things can sort themselves out that way.

        • Sean II

          G.I.T., my friend, this is a fine time to live up to your name.

          The defining feature of healthcare in the word today in an artificial scarcity derived thus: we start with A (people who are willing and able to be healers) then subtract B (people who for whatever reason can’t or won’t go through the medical license raj) to get C (the current supply of doctors).

          Stanczyk proposes to take C and further subtract D (people who don’t want to go through a mandatory service period or who can’t buy their way out) to get what will inevitably X (a supply of doctors that is less than the current supply of doctors). This he does in the name of making more health care available to more people.

          So it’s not that his idea is “good in theory”. If he cannot solve that riddle, then HE SIMPLY HAS NO THEORY.

          The same goes for all the usual problems attendant to any such scheme: like who would calculate which needs come first, what would prevent yet another round of self-serving capture by the highly organized medical lobby, etc.

          At this point in economic and political history, a theorist who can’t address those questions is no better than a teenage poet pleading for peace, love, and understanding.

          • good_in_theory

            Yes, constraints on the supply of doctors are an issue. I don’t see much reason to believe that they are the only issue in the way of equitable provision of care.

            “Health care” is not a uniform good. If you decrease the supply of doctors but increase the amount of care being extended for basic and vital services, then you may very well be better off on the whole. Losing plastic surgeons and gaining doctor-years serving the poor is a pretty good trade.

            A theorist who thinks “rent-seeking” and “the calculation problem” defeat every argument that has to do with anything even vaguely economic doesn’t even reach the threshold of adolescence. They’re about comparable to a toddler who has learned to say “no.”

          • Sean II

            That toddler quip was well below your usual standard of ultra dry snark, which I have otherwise come to admire.

            The provision of health care is not “vaguely economic”, it is just plain “economic”.

            If you can name a government bureau that has solved the calculation problem or a mixed economy that isn’t utterly infested with rent-seeking, go and do it. Either discovery would easily be worth a Noble Prize. (That’s why us toddlers keep mentioning those things. When a devastating objection goes unanswered for decades, it tends to come up in conversation now n’ again.)

            In the meantime, please consider: your proposed trade-off between plastic surgeons and basic care certainly does exist now, but only as a result of some previous rent-seeking foolery that turned non-specialized medicine into a second class racket.

            You could argue for correcting those mistakes, stripping away those barriers, in order to increase the supply of doctors very dramatically indeed. That of course is what I prefer.

            Instead you argue for adding yet another layer of barriers, and further extending the training period in what is already one of the longest apprenticeships in the entire job market. I’m curious why the second approach is such a strong default for you.

          • good_in_theory

            Medical schools across countries seem to take about 6 years, and then require at least a year of some form of residency This suggests to me that the length of study required to be a doctor is not uniquely a product of US licensing requirements. It seems like, at best, you might be able to find an international arrangement which would allow for one to go through the whole shebang in 6 or 7 years from high school, while the US, on the longish side, could be done in 7 years if you finished undergrad in 2 years, med in 4, and then pursued an option for a short residency. Taking the normal amount of time would put you at around 11 years. Most medical programs the world over seem to come out to about 9 years including residency requirements.

            The reason medical apprenticeships are so long appears to be chiefly a result of medicine being a very difficult profession, with some friction due to “unnecessary” regulations. I don’t think removing regulations is going to lead to a “dramatic increase” in the world supply of doctors.

            In fact, the country with the highest doctor/patient ratio is Cuba. I don’t think that is due to a freed market. In Sweden and Finland doctors make a third as much and yet the countries have double the doctors/patient ratio of the US.

            It seems to me constraints on supply have less of a role to play in increasing utility than redistribution of access rights or duties to provide care. (In which one can then, easily, create a market)

            No plausible increase in supply is going to do much to increase doctor/patient ratios in countries that stand at less than 1 doctor per 10k patients. Wages for medical care in the first world are going to have to fall impossibly low to make going to any of those countries an attractive option in a market free of subsidies and service requirements.

          • Sean II

            How could the increase be anything other than dramatic? Take just the U.S. for a moment. Here we’ve got 300 million people and about a million doctors.

            For the other 299 million people it is ILLEGAL to practice medicine. But among them are 3 million nurses, and I can assure you from lengthy personal experience that the top 10% of those nurses have knowledge and skill easily equal to that of the median doctor.

            Even if you only relaxed the licensing regime just enough to let them test and start practicing tomorrow, that would be 300,000 more doctors, for an immediate increase of 30% in the total supply. Is that not considered dramatic where you come from?

            And that’s just what you’d get from the most obvious and modest version of licensing reform. Abolition would bring forth a swarm.

            But we’re way off topic now, so let me say this: If, in the name of justice (which has surely killed more people than typhus) you try to send my newly promoted imaginary nurse-doctors to a shithole like Chad or Mali, where health care is the very least of their problems, then you and what’s-his-name from Stanford are no better than a pair of common kidnappers.

            The only thing we should be sending to those places is the only moral thing anyone can ever send into a concentration camp: arms for rebels.

          • good_in_theory

            A 30% increase in the supply of doctors… and a 10% drop in the supply of nurses, and no increase in the number of healthcare professionals. I’m sure empowering sufficiently skilled nurses will allow for some gains. But nowhere near a 30% increase in the supply of healthcare.

            Given that tons of people want to become doctors and nurses, the obvious bottleneck is training and licensure. But why believe that removing licensure is a sufficient condition for solving the bottleneck problem? Seems rather likely that becoming a doctor or nurse is simply difficult. Where’s the demonstration that the supply of medical practitioners is constrained artificially and not naturally? The mere existence of licensing requirements demonstrates nothing. Indeed, licensing requirements may roughly equilibrate to what a market in licensing would sustain. The relative uniformity of licensing requirements the world over, despite the relative lack of transportability of licenses across borders, suggests that licensing regimes roughly track the difficulty of providing quality health care. There simply aren’t enough resources to train doctors.

            As to the bald assertion that Chad and Mali don’t need medical practitioners, well, others can evaluate that themselves.

            Finally, if you think that being required to practice medicine in a rural or poor area for a year or two as a condition for receiving training is equivalent to kidnapping you are being hysterical. It’s a voluntary agreement on the part of the person accepting training.

          • Sean II

            It’s always sad when a smart person deliberately stops using his imagination simply in order to hold down some hedgehog position in an argument. Even sadder when he stows his sense of humor for the same reason (see: the kidnapping comment :-).

            Obviously (big eyeroll here) you’re talking to someone who’s opposed to all occupational licenses and cartels. In order to meet you halfway and keep these posts within a reasonable character limit, I chose not to give a full description about how one might similarly increase the supply of nurses, nurses assistants, PRNS, LPNS, sonographers, whatever. Obviously, I’m not proposing to limit the total number of healthcare workers. That’s your schtick, remember?

            Now, as to the rest of it, these unfortunately are messy matters of fact and experience, which would take a long time to discuss. So even though I hate it when people do this, I’ll just drop a bunch of assertions so you’ll know that a different set of opinions exists. It won’t be possible to properly defend any of them.

            1) Clinical medicine is not what you think it is. Whatever their training, whether Harvard or Guadalajara, most doctors end up playing the percentages with diagnosis, then plugging away with trial and error. A fifty-four year old black male who presents in the E.R. with chest pains is simply presumed to be having a heart attack, and treated accordingly. Once they find out it isn’t that, they check for aortic dissection, etc. If the guy turns out simply to have costochondritis, well…bummer for him, they won’t reach that conclusion until many hours have been taken from him and many expensive tests have been inflicted on him.

            2) Come to think of it, clinical medicine is about as complex and mentally demanding as information technology, but somehow we don’t say “it takes 11 years to build a code-writer”. In fact, IT does pretty damn well being one of the last great career paths open to smart people who didn’t go to college.

            3) It might take eleven years to train Dr. House, but there is no such person.

            4) The fact that a similar licensing scheme prevails in most countries proves nothing…except that a similar licensing scheme prevails in most countries. That doesn’t magically put this cartel on an equal footing with the laws of nature. That just means it’s a really big cartel with plenty of global influence. Well, shaaa…we already knew that.

            5) If you could spend some time in a hospital, and see just how much of the crucial work is done by nurses, who then have to wait around for some licensed Knight of the MD to come and sign his name without looking at the page, I feel sure you’d change your mind.

            And from a strictly BHL perspective, you should be aware that those nurses are less white, more female, with poorer parents, and lesser luck, than the guys who are making five times their salary and taking much of the credit for their work.

            When you defend the AMA – whatever else the merits of your case – that’s part of what you’re defending.

          • good_in_theory

            I’m not defending the AMA, or licensing requirements.

            I’m arguing that it’s unlikely increasing the supply of medical professionals alone will solve the distributional problem at issue, so if that problem is actually a problem then solutions other than liberating supply are called for.

            The stuff about licensing requirements, salaries, and practitioner/patient across countries is just to get at the point that the situation of healthcare in the US and the global healthcare situation aren’t the same thing.

          • I am going to jump in here and ask Why do you think that increasing the supply of practitioners would not alleviate some of the problems of not having a lot of practitioners? It does not seem logical.

          • good_in_theory

            Well, I’m thinking specifically of the problem of provision in countries or areas where there’s like 1 doctor per 10k people.

            As a simple example, suppose you lift supply restrictions and shift the supply curve outward. Qd moves out and price falls. At the lower price, more people have access to health services. This helps those whose reservation price was relatively close to the former price. Those whose reservation price is significantly lower, don’t see any change in their situation. Concretely, you can halve the price of a lamborghini, and this is not going to do much of anything to change the ratio of lamborghinis per capita in rural Tanzania.

            The demand of the well off may just swallow up new supply.The basic underlying intuition is that, based on the way wealth is distributed, market incentives may see any increase in supply chiefly going to the already reasonably well provided for. The preferences of workers are going to concentrate any increase in competition in cities and the first world for a long time until compensation is driven low enough to make the areas of concern a viable place of work. In fact, the point where the cost of training exceeds the returns to investment could very well be above that where it becomes, in a general sense, rational for medical professionals to go work in places with shitty pay, shitty working conditions, shitty living conditions, &etc. (Obviously you will always have specific individuals who go above and beyond).

            A parallel case is the issue of teacher retention at bad public schools in high poverty areas. Teaching has licensure issues as well, but they’re relatively minor. Private schools aren’t a great comparison because of selection bias.

          • Ok, I understand your reasoning, but there is a flaw. Even among the very poor there can be some provision for medical care, maybe the government helps, maybe charitable organizations help, maybe a wealthy patron helps and he can help more people if his costs are diminished. At all instances more doctors still means more and better access to healthcare.

          • good_in_theory

            Right, but I never argued for the current licensing regime. I simply said I don’t think it’s the only bottleneck and questioned whether the length of time it takes to become a medical practitioner is solely a function of regulation.

            From my earlier post: “alongside subsidy of the industry and decreases in other barriers to entry”

          • Sean II

            I see now that I clumsily walked right past the most interesting part of your last comment.

            You said “being required to practice medicine in a rural or poor area” would be “a voluntary agreement on the person accepting training.”

            Is that how you define “voluntary”? I mean…if the state sets up a licensing system, and threatens force against anyone who tries to practice a given profession without submitting to that system, you still think of the remaining activity as “voluntary”?

            In the absence of the state an individual’s choices would be these: a) not be a doctor, b) be a doctor who accepts indentured service as part of his training, or c) be a doctor who does not accept indentured service as part of his training.

            The state comes along and removes option c), promising to bring harm on anyone who attempts it. In what sense can we look at the people who choose option a) or option b) and be sure that they’ve done so voluntarily?

            Indeed, following the same logic, you would have to say that the hundreds of thousand people in prison for marijuana are there “voluntarily”. They started out with three choices: a) don’t smoke weed, b) smoke weed and then expose themselves to some risk of imprisonment, and c) smoke weed without going to prison.

            The state removed option c)…but it still left more than one option, so in one very narrow sense, people still have a choice. Yet I’m sure you would never call that “voluntarily”.

            At least…awaiting your answer…I’m pretty sure, and I hope you wouldn’t use the word “voluntary” to describe what happens to such people.

          • good_in_theory

            Volition exists within the confines of coercion.

            Think of another parallel case. You are released from prison on probation. Probation requires you to do (and not do) certain things. You’re consenting to be on probation. Even though probation exists only under the shadow of imprisonment and fines, e.g., coercion.

            Your decision to go, or not go, on probation is voluntary regardless of whether or not the state of imprisonment you suffer from is just or unjust. Licensing regimes are coercive (but so are property regimes). The decision to operate with a license is voluntary.

            In general, one is born into a prior system of coercion/force, both natural and artificial, and under those prior conditions, one acts voluntarily.

            There are constraints and there are choices made under constraint (there are no choices not made under constraint). Better to call all constraints, “constraints”, than to say that some constraints aren’t “constraints” because they are natural or just or right or whatever. But I’m pretty Hobbesian when it comes to the will.

            Drug users and potential doctors have their choices constrained. They still choose. Sometimes you choose to be subject to the constraint in question, sometimes you don’t. So the question, then, is whether a practicing doctor or pot head has chosen to bring about the constraint he now faces. No one made you practice medicine or smoke pot, so the constraints consequent upon your actions are chosen. That doesn’t mean the constraint is justified and that you can’t complain about it; but it does mean you chose it. On the other hand, constraints which exist regardless of your actions are not chosen.

            So, apart from some sort of hypothetical consent story, you don’t choose to exist under the licensing regime, but given the licensing regime, you choose to take on the consequences of acquiring a license.

            You don’t choose to exist in a world where pot is illegal, but given its illegality, you choose to take on the consequences of toking up.

            Actually, the licensing case is distinct from the drug case insofar as it is not possible to acquire a license under ignorance of the requirements of the license (well, it is, but you know what I mean). On the other hand, ignorance of general criminal/civil law is quite possible.

            That’s why the probation analogy is more to the point. You don’t accidentally agree to probation.

            TLDR version:

            One needs to distinguish between constraints which exist regardless of your actions and constraints which exist conditional upon one’s actions. Constraints which exist as a (foreseen/foreseeable, at the least) condition of your actions are voluntarily assumed, regardless of whether the system which produces those constraints contingent upon your action is voluntarily assumed. Volition exists within coercion.

          • Sean II

            So as you have it even Sophie’s choice was “voluntary”. And you don’t think it’s important to distinguish between that and say, the kind of voluntary choice a mother makes when she decides not to take her kids to the zoo because its raining, or only to take one child because the other staged a tantrum and is being punished.

            After all, a constraint is a constraint. Rainstorm, discretionary act of maternal discipline, SS doctor demanding that one of your kids must die in Auschwitz…six of one, half a dozen of the other. Are you sure you’re not failing to understand that volition is both a metaphysical and a moral concept?

            Sorry to Godwin things up there, but in way, you left me no, um, alternative.

            (And by the way: if any kid ever managed to convince you he didn’t know pot was illegal, then I’m afraid you got played. 🙂

          • good_in_theory

            It seems to me simpler to distinguish between the quality and origin of constraints (and the quality of choices made under constraint), rather than to call a willful choice between multiple options something other than a choice. I don’t like making metaphysical categories moral. Choice is when you will something. Will is the last passion in a chain of deliberation.

            So it’s not a failure of understanding, it’s a rejection of a muddled conflation.

            One can say one choice is constrained by the actions of others while the other choice is constrained by the way the world works. And one can say that we should only restrict the choices of others in certain ways. And one can say that forcing people to choose between which of their children will die is not a choice one should force upon others. And one can then interrogate the conditions that lead someone to force those constraints upon another, and either add constraints on their actions or change the conditions which precipitate their action.

            Particular constraints and abilities are moral, or immoral. Choices are just whatever happens when you use your will, and are themselves often either moral or immoral.

          • Sean II

            Okay, but just so you know, folks around here – and in this I definitely speak for more than just myself – will find that to be an eccentric use of common terms.

            To people who follow a non-aggression principle (and even just to those who follow the diet version of a non-aggression preference), “voluntary” is almost always used to mean “not constrained by other humans using force or the threat of force”.

          • good_in_theory

            I don’t see that as a very clear way to use the term. My choice to walk down the street is constrained by the actual and potential force of the bodies of all the other people on the street. And yet my walking down the street is entirely voluntary, even though aspects of the path I walk are involuntarily constrained by the force of others. It is so constrained, and so voluntary, regardless of whether or not the people on the street have a right to be in my way (maybe it’s a street on my private compound, populated by intruders).

            The principle of non-aggression is muddled and confused, relying upon all sorts of implicit, contentious assumptions about what does or does not count as aggressive or forceful. I object to the whole project of moralizing notions like “force” and “choice” and then trying to deduce morality from one’s definitions as if they were somehow naturally obvious. Force is when something exerts causal influence over something else. Choice is when something is an action which resulted from a chain of reasoning between possibilities. Let’s leave moralized inconstancy to moralized terms. Good forces, bad forces, neutral forces. Man made forces and natural forces. Justified and unjustified man made force. Wrongfully or rightfully constrained choices. None of this “only bad forces are forces and only choices constrained by strictly the authorized variety of forces are choices”.

      • Hume22

        “I absolutely LOVE the fact that this paper blazing a trail to worldwide material equality is hidden behind a wall of transaction costs, elite memberships, etc, such that the only people who will ever read it are : a) people who have their subscriptions paid for by institutions, and b) students who are required to buy a-la-carte on the order of professors from the first category. (Of course it’s the student’s money, either way.)”
        Even though I am currently a philosophy PhD student with access (and as a PhD, I dont pay tuition, thank god(s)), I absolutely LOVE this comment (in my former life, I was an attorney and consistently blocked from access by insane costs).

  • Joseph R. Stromberg

    “Justice requires that each person receive a portion of society’s material wealth; everyone is entitled to a level of resources.”

    On its face this isn’t such a drastic claim. Maybe an empirical study is in order. Yes, “society” can be ambiguous and whether or not “it” can be an owner, etc., etc., might be controversial. But whether or not there is/isn’t enough *land* around to allow everyone to have some space without paying rent to some bloody capitalist would seem to be an open question. We might start with a homesteading plan involving all those properties on which many municipalities sit, having confiscated them from landlords allegedly discouraged by rent control.

    That, or we can follow the Reagan-Thatcher model of grinding everyone into the dirt who can’t quite afford to pay some capitalist for the offense of merely being alive. This will tend to require a very strong and activist state: the sort of thing that libertarians claim to oppose.

    Just sayin’.

    If libertarians can’t manage to see the very simple point at the heart of Distributism, the game is probably up. They will appear to be (and indeed will be) shills for the existing array of corporate owners. So it would seem.

    • TracyW

      I don’t know much about Reagan’s policies, but one of Thatcher’s key policies was letting state tenants buy their homes from the state. Not exactly the same as what you propose, but a policy very popular with the tenants in question.

  • vivek iyer

    ‘ I simply observe that this new approach to justice has drifted fatally from any conception that can be called liberal.’
    It seems to me there is a way to appropriate an approach to justice that restricts liberty in the name of equity iff it can be shown to be necessary for the survival of that Liberal regime- i.e. a pot hole in the road that we have to mend before the caravan can move on in the direction we recognize as Liberal.
    Surely, a Liberal Regime is just as entitled to appeal to a doctrine of necessity or exigent circumstances to deal with a temporary crisis or to affect a once and for all ‘system re-set’ simply because human Society only exists because the fitness landscape on which we’ve evolved is subject to random shocks?
    The trouble is, of course, that a policy objective or instrument that violates liberalism under a doctrine of exigent circumstances might become a permanent feature rather than being subject to a twilight clause even where such is specified at the time of introduction. But this dovetails with another feature of human societies- viz. plasticity with respect to incentives and thresholds of coercion- such that departures from Liberalism cease to be recognized as such as time goes by.
    Yet, such considerations don’t utterly vitiate Liberalism as a project precisely because we can always ramp up attention to the mechanism design side of things such that we go at least part of the way to keeping on course long term while not denying ourselves recourse to a doctrine of necessity or exigent circumstances..

  • The beginning of this post is confused. One view (the Rawlsian one) is that justice takes account of liberty internally and that “justice” is the name of the all-thing-considered best normative conception of social arrangements; the other (Cohen, Ross) is that justice is one value in a plurality of values and that the best normative conception of social arrangements will need to account for this value alongside others (welfare, liberty, etc.). This metaethical disagreement doesn’t entail any substantive conclusion about the security of liberty in an all-things-considered scheme. It would do so only if proponents of the pluralist position (such as Cohen) were also committed to a view about the *primacy* of justice over other values such that to say of a set of social arrangements is unjust is, ipso facto, to say that it must be rejected. But that wasn’t Cohen’s view: for him some injustice might be all-things-considered best, if the alternative involved the suppression of personal projects, massive efficiency losses, or some unacceptable sacrifice of another fundamental value in the pantheon of such values. So Cohen can say: “conscripting doctors would make society more just, but we shouldn’t conscript doctors, because that would be an unacceptable intrusion on their liberty.” And in fact he *did* say this (see footnote in the Stancyk paper).

    The final few sentences of this post are therefore also misconceived. It doesn’t follow from pluralism that liberty must yield to justice, and nothing follows about what the state is entitled to do (which would require further argument anyway). This is all notwithstanding the fact that a pluralist might indeed, being, after all, a pluralist, judge that some liberty should be sacrificed to justice. Indeed the view that we should sacrifice liberty somewhat if we can get big enough gains in some other value (welfare, justice) seems a very sensible one to me.

    • Hume22

      As a pluralist myself, I find it somewhat intellectually dishonest to conflate equality with justice in order to declare the sacrificing of some equality “unjust” as opposed to calling it what it is, unequal.

      • Your remark isn’t directly responsive to my comment, which it purports to reply to, but clearly you disagree with views that justice requires equality (in some respect). Of course, you are entitled to disagree with them, but merely to label egalitarian conceptions of what justice is as “intellectually dishonest” without argument is just schoolyard name-calling.

        • Hume22

          I certainly do not claim that justice does not require equality (in some respect). But I do agree with you that there is no need to call the Cohen line intellectually dishonest, and for that I apologize.
          (My concern is that there is no need for a pluralist to conflate equality and justice and thereafter claim that justice is just one value in a plurality of values. I am especially troubled with the plea to pluralism when such a conception of justice is faced with the authoritarian argument.)

  • TracyW

    A government may not imprison a few political dissidents just to increase the total amount of free speech in society (say).

    I find myself pondering this one. Say that a few people dissent from the current state of copyright law, arguing it should be much more restrictive, and sue people who, say, criticise their religious beliefs, on the basis that they’ve violated their copyright, with the aim of suppressing freedom of speech. Might not a government wind up imprisoning such dissidents to increase the total amount of free speech in society? (Presumably this would at first be a civil issue, but behind the civil courts is the threat of jail time for contempt of court).

    • Farstrider

      Good example. Another: army personnel may have their freedom of speech curtailed, and even eliminated, if necessary to preserve national security, i.e., to increase the total amount of free speech in society.

  • Farstrider

    This appears to be attacking a strawman. Of course liberty is subordinate to justice. That is why even libertarians can imprison or otherwise punish criminals. So, the only issue is whether justice includes as part of its definition a particular allocation of material goods.

    1. If justice was not concerned with allocation of material goods, then it would be unjust to restrict liberty for the purpose of improving (i.e., making more just) the allocation of material goods. This flows obviously from the definition of justice.
    2. If allocation of material goods was the ONLY concern of justice, then it would be just to restrict liberty for the purpose of improving that allocation. Far from being the necessary evil described above, i.e., something that makes “state coercion acceptable” this conception of justice makes state coercion just, not merely acceptable. This flows obviously from the definition of justice.
    3. If allocation of material goods is ONE concern of justice but not its ONLY concern, than some kinds of coercion for purposes of improving the allocation would be right, proper and just, but other kinds of coercion would not be.

    Rather than presenting an interesting argument on why particular authors erred in balancing the points under Point 3, the original post appears to be an argument against Point 2. But Point 2 is the strawman at least with respect to Rawls. Do the other authors cited really support Point 2? I suspect not, but I’m willing to be persuaded.

    • Sean II

      The original post was specifically hoping to avoid arguments about how the authors erred in this definition or that point of logic. As Teson said: “I don’t want to rehearse the obvious arguments any liberal can give against such a view…”

      I think he was merely holding this up as a morally curious specimen of what happens when someone stops all balancing and starts chasing his own logic down into a dark pit full of gruesome implications.

      Picture a gang of soccer fans standing around a pub before a big match. The first one says “FC Bruges is the house of all evil and must be destroyed.” Everyone cheers. The second one adds “They’re a filthy bunch o’ sheep stealers!” Everyone cheers. The third one says “Let them leave flesh blood, tooth, and bone upon the field, for they have no honor to shed!” Everyone cheers. They fourth one says “Let’s murder each one of them, rape their wives, enslave their children, destroy the medieval treasures of their town, then salt the whole place with a dirty bomb, and let’s kill anyone who disagrees, even if he be one of our own!”

      This time nobody cheers and everyone cringes, because the mood is spoiled. But technically, the fourth fan did not commit an error in logic. What he said was strictly in keeping with the premise established by the first remark.

      The reply to him should not be “Pardon me sir, you seem to have made an error in deducing X from Y. Let’s set up some truth tables and sort it all out.”

      The reply should be “Wow…you really are a sick bastard, and you’re really not even pretending anymore. All your other values have been simply thrown away now, to make room for just this one. That’s monstrous.”

      • Farstrider

        Like your fourth soccer fan, the proponents of my Point 2 are wholly imaginary. That is why it is a strawman. Better to focus on things people actually say, rather than imagine horrible things they might say if only they believed different things.

        • Sean II

          Haven’t met many soccer hooligans, have you? That’s probably good luck on your part.

          I think you’re using that weird internet definition of “strawman” that insists on smoking-gun quotes and plays deaf to the tendency and implications of things. You think Stanczyk is going to come out and say, like a third-grader finishing a book report, “…and in conclusion that is why I believe we should replace the job market with a series of shock labor brigades where workers are assigned to roles just like they were in Magnitogorsk back in ’28.”?

          Of course no one talks like that. But read one of his papers – there’s a peculiarly dead quality to the prose, like he’s not writing about people at all and the whole world is simply his to redesign.
          Here’s a little snippet where he talks about the coercion that may become necessary after subsistence has been guaranteed and severed from work:

          “These matters, then, must be addressed to determine what sort of work expectation it is fair to impose on everyone. It is an altogether separate question what should be done to enforce whatever turns out to be an appropriate expectation.”

          Now tell me seriously, taking in its anesthetic style, doesn’t that give your liberal heart the creeps? Doesn’t it sound like the sort of excruciatingly polite threat one would expect to hear from an oriental despot (or maybe just a Bond villain)?

          • Farstrider

            I propose that we judge a man’s ideas on their merits as articulated, rather than on what we imagine he might believe, in his secret heart of hearts. Especially when the only evidence of the latter is his purported similarity to fictional villains.

  • Joseph R. Stromberg

    TracyW: Yes, that’s true, and Labour stupidly opposed the policy because it represented a step-down from the ideal of public housing. David Selbourne gave them Hell for it in *On Socialist Illusion* (1985). Thereafter, Labour became whatever it is today, which ain’t much.

    If they’d listened to Selbourne, they could at least have done something useful in the way of conserving civil liberties.

  • Pingback: On the Blog: Bleeding Heart Libertarians on Social Justice | Sensible Social Policy()

  • Actually the counter arguments are simple. (1) Who gets to define what is justice? My definition will differ from yours. (2) Why is Justice absolute and freedom not? Perhaps neither can ever be absolutes. (3) How is slavery (which is exactly what you are talking about by constraining people into occupations) ever possibly be just? (4) Who died and made you God?

    The last is actually a serious argument, Where do they obtain the moral authority to possibly make such judgements?

    • John Alexander

      1) Those that are affected
      2) Because that it what is decided by those that are affected
      3) Again, that is agreed upon by those affected
      4) No one died, etc., we simply agree to follow the argument wherever it leads us.

      • Hume22

        John, This is the “All Affected” Principle. It entails a global democracy with a global government. Not sure how I feel about that.

        • John Alexander

          Don’t you think that the solutions would have global implications? If the goal of civil society is to create harmony between the constituents so that all benefit fairly from the association then it seems that it should be a global solution or some might be left out (against their choosing).

      • Well, No, those affected do not only get to choose. If the affected decided that their definition of justice demands my resources then I also get to decide. No, I am afraid your answers are too incomplete.

        • John Alexander

          Of course they are:-) The decision-making process needs to be all inclusive in that eveyone affected would need to reach a reasoned agreement on how to proceed – that is all I am suggesting. (Or there would have to be some story like Rawls’s Original Position that explains how such agreement can be reached) Conflicting definitions are a starting point, not the end game. The moral authority is the agreed upon process, just like agreeing to play a game – we agree to the rules and the outcome is just if the rules are followed (Barry’s Imperfect Procedural Justice comes to mind). Slavery would not be the result if everyone agreed to the process by which economic/social benefits were distributed I take it that that is one lesson from Rawls’s Difference Principle.

  • SimpleMachine88

    I’ll agree with this definition of justice, as a libertarian. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think that justice is a worthwhile virtue. Mercy is a form of injustice, giving someone less than they deserve. Charity is a form of injustice, giving someone more whether they deserve it or not. Both are worthwhile.

  • I
    believe that Jesus wanted social justice for the world. I have
    discovered a new book that shows how His message was covered up by
    His Gentile followers. The church has blinkered its past. It’s no
    secret that Jesus strove to bring in the kingdom of justice here on
    earth and his followers implemented it in the communal society we
    read about in Acts 2:44-47. The church’s dirty secret is that the
    Jewish followers of Jesus continued to hold his vision dear, later
    influencing such sects as the Bogomils and even, according to their
    own oral traditions, the Doukhobors. After exterminating the Jewish
    followers of Jesus, the church’s historians buried this history of
    justice-seeking but an author by the name of Lawrence Goudge has
    exhumed their story and presented it in ‘Cover-Up:
    How the Church Silenced Jesus’s True Heirs.’
    This book does the world a great service by illuminating for the
    first time this vital part of the history of social justice. I found
    it at

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