Symposium on Free Market Fairness, Social Justice

“Aiming at justice” and justice

Well, its been a while.  Having caught up with a few projects (at least for the moment), I thought I’d wet my feet once again in the blogosphere with this, inspired by discussing John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness with graduate students, especially Travis Holmes.

High liberals, Tomasi claims, believe that “To ‘realize’ justice as fairness, a regime type must (1) aim at justice as fairness and (2) include instititutional arrangements intended to satisfy the principles of justice” (216).  I want to raise a doubt about (1) here.  Mind you, I am not convinced Rawlsians need to accept (1) and I am not at all sure what it is for a regime to “aim” at justice as fairness (or anything else) in any case. (I’ll work with an intuitive understanding of the claim.)

So, imagine a faraway kingdom lead by King Lazyman.  A few days after ascending to the thrown, King Lazyman makes the following proclamation:

My good people people, I will not lie to you.  I am lazy.  I did not want to be King.  Given that, I will only be taxing you 2% because I will not be doing much in terms of being a king and thus think it would be morally wrong to tax you more. [Assume taxes were higher before and assume previous kings were more interventionist.]  Please be forewarned: I mean what I say here and will not lie about it, the details involved, or anything else.

You likely want to know how the 2% will be spent.  I am keeping 1/8 of the collected taxes for myself, to be spent in whatever way I wish; I will not keep public ledgers or otherwise share with you how I spend that money.  3/4 of the taxed money, though, will be used to keep our military at the level the experts over at Kingdom University have deemed necessary to avoid wars.  We will not build the military any more than that; should we be attacked, your local military bases will accept volunteers to help in our defense, but our hope is that at the level of funding we have allotted (and our natural boundaries and perhaps your patriotism), we will scare off any potential attackers.  The budget for the military will be available to anyone who requests it.  I hope some of you will request it from time to time in order to be sure the generals are not misusing the funds.  I do not want to be bothered with that either.  Finally, the remaining 1/8 of the taxes will be put into savings; the use of that savings is not now known–frankly, it is my hope and intention that it never be used (maybe in 50 years or so we can stop collecting any taxes and live off of the interest on the savings!).

Now, here’s the thing: you get to keep 98% of your money.  Since the kingdom will have no money to help you out, I strongly encourage you to save for your retirements, buy health insurance, etc. While I expect there will always be charitable people and organizations, they obviously can’t be expected to provide for everyone all of the time. At least, it seems like a bad idea to me to rely on them being able to do so.

Oh, one last thing: although the military leaders in each precinct will be a visible presence, they will not be being paid to act as a domestic protection service, so I encourage you to create police forces.  It may be that the military people will be willing to offer their services for a fee in that regard, and this will be permitted so long as it does not infringe upon their duties to protect us from foreign invasion (which I hope you will keep tabs on!).

That’s it.  Have a nice day!

Now, say the people realize King Lazyman is serious and form their own voluntary protection agencies.  Say these successfully protect rights (or protect them as successfully as would a state police force).  They also set up and build charitable organizations to provide aid to the worst off. Etc. None of this was King Lazyman’s “aim” in any intuitive sense. He is, after all, lazy. His only “aim” was to live in leisure without the hassles of governing. (Perhaps he did not even expect things to work out for the kingdom.) Nonetheless, as it turns out, the kingdom runs smoothly. Spontaneous order works rather well. Indeed, the kingdom runs along lines that would seem to be in accord with a market democratized justice as fairness (or even a social democratic form, if you prefer). That is, it seems like free market fairness (or, again, social democratic justice as fairness) is instantiated. It was not “aimed” at. Does it fail to be just because it wasn’t aimed at? The thought that it does seems very odd to me.

Keep in mind that I am not here discussing the legitimacy of the kingdom, nor the legitimacy or justice of King Lazyman. The question is only about the justice (or lack thereof) of the kingdom.

There is one clear enough reason people might think the kingdom can’t be just: the rights the people enjoy are not guaranteed. Here, though, I am inclined to agree with David Schmidtz about a point Tomasi accepts with regard to welfare goods: official guarantees do not necessarily work to actually provide what is promised (see page 223). More importantly, as I think Schmidtz would also say, what matters is that the rights are protected, not that the protection is guaranteed.

(Another possibility, I guess, is that one might think the voluntary protection agencies are the real governing force and that they aim at justice, thus allowing the kingdom to instantiate justice. But even assuming the voluntary protection agencies are the real governing force–something that is unclear to me since King Lazyman does retain an army–I don’t see why we should think they aim at justice rather than aiming at peacefully earning money.)

Published on:
Author: Andrew Cohen
  • Sean II

    You said as much in your second-to-last paragraph, but it works like this:

    Let’s say that by the seventh year of King Lazyman’s reign, an impressive savings has built up in the 1/8 account. But now imagine the very next year sees a plague of locusts combined with a drought followed by an epidemic, all of which conspire to throw some of the King’s subjects into extreme misery.

    Now the question of aims becomes a critical one. If King Lazyman aims for justice as fairness, he will not hesitate to spend that accrued savings to ease the pain of his poorest and most afflicted people.

    If he does not have that aim, who knows what he may do.

    • Andrew

      “If King Lazyman aims for justice as fairness, he will not hesitate to spend that accrued savings to ease the pain of his poorest and most afflicted people.” For the sake of argument, I agree. But, say the plague doesn’t hit and all is fine. Is the society just or not? I think it is.

      • Greg Byshenk

        I’m not sure that sort of time slicing works. Consider an alternative hypothetical case, in which at some given time no one was engaging in force, fraud, or other such abuses. Is this “state” therefore at that time a perfectly just libertarian one? What if the following day such abuses are rampant, and there is no redress? Do you conclude: “well, it may not be just -today-, but it was -yesterday-“?

        This doesn’t mean, I don’t think, that Tomasi is correct to say that a regime must “aim at” justice (at least not intentionally — though I haven’t read the Tomasi and don’t know how he means ‘aim at’ in context), but it does mean that exemplars in the form “at the moment it seems ok” are insufficient. A state in which justice cannot be maintained over time is at least arguably not a just one.

        • Andrew

          Fair enough, but I meant to indicate the society was stable and just (and stably just) so that there was no need to worry about time slices. (Though I also don’t mean to say we can judge a society once for all time; hence, my question is about the kingdom while King Lazyman is King.)

      • Sean II

        I guess the counter to that would be this:

        You are Peasant Yeoman, toiling freely and happily and prosperously in the realm of King Lazyman. One day a strange and comical man comes to town, calling himself a philosopher. He delights people in the village by playing a series of what he calls “thought exercises”, asking people to imagine worlds slightly different from their own.

        One of the philosopher’s thought games troubles you very much. He asks you to retrieve a calamity or misfortune from your nightmares, and then consider how it will affect you and the King differently. In almost every case you can dream up, you lose everything you value and the King loses nothing.

        The philosopher explains what this means. The king enjoys a special value, different from all the other values, which he calls “security”. You both have bread, you both have shelter, you both have clothing, you both have leisure, although the quantity and quality of these may differ. But the king possesses this one added benefit, which makes all the rest that much easier to enjoy.

        Now you’re life is not so happy, for you are suddenly aware of something that was missing all along. And for the first time you resent your king, and come to regard your kingdom as unjust.

        (PS – I don’t actually buy this either, I’m just playing along. I think the problem would much better be solved by letting a few insurance agents into the kingdom, and maybe escorting that philosopher to the nearest border crossing.)

        • Andrew

          At root, I think this is the “one clear reason” I was referring to.

          • Sean II

            It is exactly that. I was just spelling it out in long form.

      • j_m_h

        I don’t get why we care if the plague hits or not or what the King Lazyman does?

        You’ve already assumed the society has formed a social safety net and I thought the evaluation was about the structure of the social system and not the King.

        The idea that justice of the society is entirely contingent on current events, plague or no plague, raises big questions about both the concept of justice as well as how societies can be structured. In the later case I’m thinking of social rules that might apply to rare and extreme situations and how well we could live under them in normal times.

        • Andrew

          I didn’t mean to say justice was contingent on current events. I meant to ask simply whether the society I described was just. I think it is.

          • j_m_h

            Andrew, I don’t really disagree with your assumption — the kingdom will be as just as humans can manage. I just didn’t understand why you backed away from the event of the plague.

          • Andrew

            Ah. Didn’t really mean to back away from it. I wanted only to set it aside so as to return to the original question. Thanks.

  • (Excuse me if this is a repost. This system seems barely functional, sometimes.)

    It appears to me that you are conflating the fact that the Kingdom is a
    just one with the justice of King Lazyman’s rule. The two are not the
    same. To draw a parallel, we understand the Universe to be Orderly,
    because it has rules that we can understand well enough to make
    successful predictions based on them. But, for people who don’t believe
    in a deity, the Universe was not deliberately Ordered.

    It’s the same with King Lazyman. By saying that his regime is just, when it
    was, in fact his citizenry that created a working system of justice, you
    are giving him credit for the actions of others simply because he is
    ruler. But were he to have dropped dead before any his reforms went into
    place, left to their own devices, the citizens would have created the
    very same system. Therefore, King Lazyman did nothing to implement any
    form of Justice and deserves little, if any credit.

    • Andrew

      Aaron-See the second paragraph after the proclamation. I don’t mean to
      give the King any credit. My only question was whether or not the
      kingdom (i.e., the state he is nominally king of) is just, not whether he is or whether he gets credit for its
      being just. I think the kingdom is just, I have conflicting thoughts
      about the King.

      • Right, but what I’m saying is that to go from: “I am not at all sure what it is for a regime to ‘aim’ at justice as fairness (or anything else) in any case.” to: “The question is only about the justice (or lack thereof) of the kingdom,” is to say that the “regime” and “the Kingdom” are one in the same – which they are not in the same way “the Administration” and “the United States” are not the same entity. So even though you clearly disclaimed it, by then equating the fact that the kingdom is just with the idea that the regime of King Lazyman is just without his having “aimed” for it, you do, in fact, appear to be linking the two.
        So to clarify my earlier point, the fact that the Kingdom achieved a state of justice in the absence of any action to that end on the part of the King does NOT mean that his regime was itself just – only that it presided over a population that was.

        • Andrew

          I don’t know if you are missing something or I am, but I agree with your last sentence.
          If the “regime” is the King, I am not discussing whether it is just. I am discussing whether the kingdom (I.e., the land with the people living there) is just. I think it is.
          If I read him correctly, Tomasi thinks the regime must aim at justice for the kingdom to be just. This is what I meant to argue against.

          • I see.

            To me, the statement: “To ‘realize’ justice as fairness, a regime type must (1) aim at justice as fairness and (2) include instititutional arrangements intended to satisfy the principles of justice,” always refers specifically to the regime itself – not the society that it governs. I haven’t read Free Market Fairness, so I don’t know if that’s the way it was meant to be understood.
            So for me, the regime of King Lazyman and the society of the kingdom are two independent institutions, and each must aim at justice as fairness and include the proper institutional arrangements. So the fact that Lazyman blows this off doesn’t mean that the greater society also ignores it, So without demonstrating the direct link between Lazyman and the greater society, the fact that the society is just, without Lazyman lifting a finger doens’t disprove Tomasi’s point.

          • Andrew

            I actually do not think anyone or any institution needs to aim at justice in order for justice to be instantiated. (Which is not to say aiming at justice rules out justice.)

          • Ah. It seems to me that there are actually two different concepts at work here.

            My understanding is that Tomasi is saying: “For a given person or institution to instantiate justice themselves, they must specifically aim at justice.”
            (In other words for the regime (administration) of King Lazyman to itself instantiate justice, his regime must aim at justice as a goal.)

            What I understand YOU to be saying is: “A given person or institution need not aim at justice themselves for justice to be instantiated within their sphere of influence by another party (a different person or institution).
            (In other words, the fact that the regime of King Lazyman does not aim at justice as a goal does not prevent civil society of Lazyman’s Kingdom from instantiating justice.)

            So while I accept your example of the Kingdom of King Lazyman as workable – because of the differences between the two concepts, it proves your point, but does not simultaneously disprove Tomasi’s, as the two are different enough that they need not be mutually exclusive.

            This is because Tomasi’s point (I think) assumes only a single person or institution, while yours assumes multiple institutions that are independent of one another.

          • Andrew

            As I read Tomasi, he thinks a regime, which likely has multiple institutions, must aim at justice in order for justice to be instantiated in the society that the regime leads. I think that is wrong. I also think that it is possible for justice to be instantiated though NO institutions in the society (or elsehwere, for that matter) aim at justice. (I suspect that individuals must aim to be moral for justice to be instituted, but I am not even sure of that.). Hence, I did not mean to say that the institutions King Lazyman’s subjects set up aim at justice. They protect rights, say, but because they get paid to do so, not because they aim at justice.

  • martinbrock

    What does the Kingdom’s army protect the Kingdom’s subjects against, other than another king collecting the same two percent?

    “Invasion” can’t be the answer, because this King does not enforce an immigration policy. Anyone crossing the border for any purpose presumably becomes a subject of the King and is within his rights as long as he pays the two percent tax. What prevents any number of minor kings crossing the border, or emerging within the border, to impose their own taxes financing their own armies as long as they pay the King his two percent?

    This King should be a bit less lazy and use his taxes to impose a few rules in addition to the obligation to pay taxes to himself and his collegial army. He should outlaw any subject killing another subject against the wishes of the dying subject, and he should outlaw any subject holding another subject against the held subject’s will longer than necessary to deliver the held subject to the King, and he should outlaw any threats of killing or holding subjects in order to impose any other rule.

    The King’s subjects remain free to incorporate lands into communities enforcing any rules, including any individual rights of possession, that community members want enforced through threats of explusion from the community.