Social Justice, Libertarianism

A Theory of Justice, Post-Trump Edition

John Rawls famously argues that we should think about principles of justice from behind a “veil of ignorance.” How robust would you like the protection of religious freedom to be if you had no idea whether you turn out to be a Christian, Muslim, atheist, etc.? How would you like income to be distributed if you had no idea whether you’ll be rich or poor?

If there’s a chance that you’ll be part of an unpopular religious minority, you’ll want to make sure religious liberty is taken seriously. If there’s a chance you’ll be among society’s poorest, you’ll want the economic institutions that do the best job of alleviating poverty.

In a Rawlsian spirit, I suggest that when we theorize about the institutions we’d like for our society, we ask ourselves the following:

  • How expansive would we like executive powers to be if they might be wielded by Donald Trump?
  • What do we want the Department of the Interior to do knowing that it might be run by Sarah Palin?
  • How powerful should the Department of Education be in light of the possibility it could be headed by Ben Carson?

(These questions aren’t pulled out of thin air.) If there’s a chance that the Department of Education will be run by someone who thinks the Big Bang is a “fairy tale,” you might want to scale back its power, just to be safe.

This is an old thought. Hayek says it goes back to Adam Smith. On Hayek’s view, Smith’s concern

was not so much with what man might occasionally achieve when he was at his best but that he should have as little opportunity as possible to do harm when he was at his worst. It would scarcely be too much to claim that the main merit of the individualism which he and his contemporaries advocated is that it is a system under which bad men can do least harm. It is a social system which does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it, or on all men becoming better than they now are, but which makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity, sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes intelligent and more often stupid (“Individualism and Economic Order,” page 12).

Classical liberals like Smith and Hayek have a point. Now would be a good time for us to revisit it.

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  • dL

    A Post-Trump theory of justice would conclude that people are simply not Rawlsian liberals..i.e, people have no particular disposition to being maximally risk-adverse when it comes to politics as means, under whatever hypothetical construct one wishes to propose, even ignorance of identity. People are more than willing to gamble bad outcomes against a state sufficiently powerful to deliver/enforce moral preferences.

  • LapuLapu

    Secretary of Transportation: Chris Christie?

  • John_Kannarr

    That implicit assumption in the phrase “how income would be distributed” in Rawlsian theory really bothers me, because it assumes that income IS distributed, rather than being created or earned by individuals. It’s a form of “begging the question”.

    • Theresa Klein

      Good comment. I think many people mean “statistically distributed”, as in a random process, but that also implies a lack of agency on the part of the person receiving it.

    • j_m_h

      Except income is distributed and the “created and earned by individuals” as much a myth as fact. Almost all serious value is produced in a joint production process we know as a firm and there is no measurable marginal product value that sets the wages, nor is that perfectly impute by looking at market information. Note, this isn’t a rejection of the market but the recognition that in the real world incomes are determined as much by, and possible even more so by, distributional rules within business settings.

      • Theresa Klein

        If it’s all a myth why does anyone ever get paid more than anyone else? Firms can tell which workers are more productive, and they can and do pay them accordingly. Markets can and do reward individuals that create value. Consumers do not purchase products randomly.
        Also, it’s usually unions that want “distributional rules” that distribute income according to things like seniority, not employers.

        • j_m_h

          First, feel free to make up all the strawmen you want. I never said “all myth” and I’s surprised as you typically are a better reader than that.
          “Firms” cannot tell a damn thing about any one person’s productivity — they are just a conceptual collection of people, assets and operational procedures and rules. The Managers evaluating their reports make the assessment of performance and then apply both personal rules and the firm’s procedural rules to what they offer new hires and what raises and bonuses they offer existing workers. There simply is not good way for clearly and objectively measure the output a most jobs in a modern corporation. In short it’s driven as much by a set of distributional rules as it is by any objectively measured productivity by an individual (that’s the problem with the joint production when the inputs don’t even have a clearly defined linkage between their activities).

          • Sean II

            You have a point, but…

            “cannot tell a damn thing about any one person’s productivity” is WAY overstating it.

            In some industries you can tell quite a lot, in others less, in some firms a lot, in others less, but I’m having trouble thinking of any job or firm where “not a damn thing” accurately describes what managers can discover about individual productivity.

          • j_m_h

            I agree it was stated in the extreme and certainly in any number of settings it quite measurable–say the guy the owns a lawn/grounds maintenance company who mows the grass for a bunch of office parks. The output from probably all his employees and himself is going to be pretty clear — if not I suspect he’s doing things poorly! 😉

            But what about measuring the productivity of, say, the janitor for a law firm? Sure, we can look a the directly observable activities and the owner’s preferences for cleanliness and say the wages clearly map into the value the owner has for cleanliness. But if we try translating the janitor’s output into things like client assessment of the firm as a choice for legal services the attitudes of the legal and administrative staff in performing their jobs (I certainly work better in places that keep the work environment clean and well maintained versus those which don’t ) it gets a bit more problematic and that is what I was getting at. From the organization/firm perspective the income the janitor earns is driven more by distributional rules than the (Lockean/Smithean) labor theory of value I suspect the original person and Theresa were basing their claims on.

          • Theresa Klein

            I’m saying that the fact people earn different amounts is *evidence* that wealth is created and originally owned by individuals. The problem with the word “distributed” is that it implies that there is no individual agency involved in the creation of wealth. It is just something that happens externally so that the individual has no original ownership of the product of their own labor.

            Now, it’s true that the market does not always proportionately reward people according to their actual productivity, and that productivity involves exchanges and relationships between people. But the question of how income should be “distributed” implies that individual productivity is meaningless or unknowable. In reality, it’s not meaningless, and it is knowable even if some people do a bad job at it. If you got down to one-on-one relationships, many people know *exactly* who is doing the work. It just doesn’t percolate up to the higher echelons.

            Maybe a better question would be “If you had no idea if you would be rich or poor, what sort of rules would you want to govern compensation and trade?”
            As in , how much of the product of your own labor would you want to be able to keep? What sort of disclosure rules etc should govern employer/employee relationships?

          • j_m_h

            That just nonsense — the mere fact that we see differential incomes says nothing about how that income is derived. In fact one could just as easily argue that for the most part we are all very similar in abilities — randomly select people to form two basket ball teams and let them play. Then repeat that exercise a few hundred times and I suspect you will see the same (poor) quality of game in 99% of the games. We can probably play that out in a number of different scenarios. We can even do that within areas where people have specialized training — corporate lawyers, financial managers, trash collectors, politicians, CEOs… We’ll see the underlying distribution stating to emerge and my guess is that it doesn’t map well to the existing income distributions. If so that’s an argument for the difference to be driven by those determining the distributional rules in the firms. For that matter just look at the pay scales across firms and you’ll see that even with very successful firms some will produce higher gini coefficients than others. That is not due to productivity difference. (And here I’m ignoring how the underlying compensation rules serve to define productivity that is often only loosely related to the actual financial performance of the businesses).

          • Theresa Klein

            randomly select people to form two basket ball teams and let them play.
            Then repeat that exercise a few hundred times and I suspect you will see
            the same (poor) quality of game in 99% of the games.

            This is pretty much the most absurd argument I can think of. Obviously there are some people who are objectively very good at basketball. They don’t get picked randomly. They actually win games. That’s why they get paid millions of dollars. If you selected your basketball team randomly, you wouldn’t win any games.

            The fact that some people are better than others at basketball and get paid accordingly is just an obvious truth.

          • j_m_h

            And you continue to choose to ignore the point. I’m not saying there are not some people that are really good at some things. That doesn’t matter but I would agree that those that are will, when anyone cares enough to pay to have them do whatevver they are good at and that person is willing to perform on command as it were they will be paid more than others.

            Now why not comment on the points — that the claim of that differences in income supports the claim it’s not distributed but created/earned. It doesn’t that’s just stupid. Just simply assume your conclusion and skip the effort of a false premise to get there.

          • Theresa Klein

            First all sorts of people do stuff and get paid for it not “on command” or by large firms but by individuals. Self employed people. Independent proprietors. Some of those people for some reason still make more money than others even when directly paid by consumers with no intermediary Either consumers are all just randomly picking lawyers or there is some relationship between skill at being a lawyer and income. I don’t think I’m crazy to think that some lawyers get paid more because they are better at it. I don’t think I’m crazy to suppose that indicates that the lawyers are creating some kind of value.

          • j_m_h

            at least get the quote right “and that person is willing to perform on command as it were”. The “as it were” is important as a qualifier.

    • Farstrider

      Distribution here means where it is, nothing more. (Merriam Webster defines it as “the way that something is divided or spread out”) Like the distribution of dandelions in a field, or planets in a solar system.
      Your preferred type of distribution is just one type of distribution, and like any other type of distribution, it needs to be defended against the alternatives. So it’s not question begging at all.

      • Sean II

        Don’t play dumb. There’s a well known sense of distribution which means “allocated by design”, or something like that.

        The political left has been using that word in that sense for a couple centuries now, in a way clearly intended to make people think the wealth produced in a market economy is something like snack candy portioned out by a teacher prone to playing favorites.

        When people on the right say “income is not distributed”, they’re answering that innuendo by pointing out there is in fact no teacher who distributes incomes in the market…in that particular sense of the word distribute.

        He’s right, you’re wrong, and the dictionary has shit to do with it.

        • Theresa Klein

          Agree. This is about the left playing cute about using words in a way that is meant to frame the debate to their favor and smuggle in unstated assumptions. It’s hardly a secret. Orwell wrote a book about it.

          • Farstrider

            To TK, using actual dictionary definition of words is “playing cute.” It’s almost as if the meanings of words do not actually matter.

          • Sean II

            Dude, you’re not using the dictionary definition. Indeed you skipped right past the one Merrimack-Webster lists first:

            Distribution – “the act of giving or delivering something to people”.

            This is exactly what leftists think happens with wealth.

          • j_m_h

            I think in all fairness the word distribution is very confusing in these discussions as many come at it from different experiences. It started back with the classical economists talking about income distribution (pretty much in that statistical sense farstrider is using) among capital, labor and rent. They set about explaining the causes and social effects. fast forward to today and we think of distribution in this type of discussion as governmental program efforts to redistribute income to address what some see as undesirable and unjust outcomes from the economic interactions.

            I’ve thrown a slightly different take on distribution into the mix (intra-firm distributions) but clearly the market processes that react to market incentives of supply and demand produce a distribution of the spending in the market (it’s basically a closed system). So to say income isn’t distributed but created/earned is a bit misleading.

            In a social organization of production/political economy setting we really have two (we can probably add more but since we cannot mange the two why try that now?) objectives we’re trying to “optimize” across. Those arguing the “income is created/earn” want to claim market allocation and it’s efficiency is the real optimization problem and want to ignore the distributional side. Rawls and the liberals claim it’s the distribution and distributive justice that’s the real optinimzation problem and ignore the allocation side. The reality is the neither corner solutions is the optimum.

          • Farstrider

            I actually quoted a dictionary, so I do not see how I am not using it. But in the context of what Rawls wrote (which is the subject of this post), he meant the third definition. Meaning, there are lots of ways things (not just income) could be distributed in a society, and therefore we should determine way is most just.

          • Sean II

            You quoted it selectively. That word has three definitions.

            One supports your point. One supports the opposing point.

            You mentioned only the first.

          • Farstrider

            That’s why context matters. Rawls was referring to the latter.

          • Sean II

            Sure, but then you should have made that argument all along… instead of what you did, which was to pretend like no other meaning of “distribute” exists.

          • King Goat

            Sean II, he did say “Distribution here means where it is”…The here does suggest he was sticking to his ‘context matters’ (how Rawls meant it) argument the entire time.

          • Farstrider

            I did. I wrote “Distribution here means where it is, nothing more.” Emphasis added. By using “here” I thought it obvious that I meant “in this context.” Not some other context that no one is actually discussing.

          • Sean II

            Okay, works for me if you’re willing say “I just meant in re: Rawls, but I’m totally willing to admit that lots of people use ‘distribution’ in a more loaded way and I understand Theresa was responding to that..”

          • Farstrider

            Usually, the loaded term is redistribution.

        • Farstrider

          No, this is a word trick on the right, not the left. Income (like any other political or material good) really is “distributed” under any system. The only question is: how do we want it to be distributed? Pretending that one type of distribution is not distribution is just putting your thumb on the scales. It makes your preferred type of distribution to seem somehow above the fray, so that you can claim that you have no need to defend it. It’s intellectually lazy. If your preferred distribution is the best, then defend it. But do not pretend it is something it is not.

          Or put another way: what word should we use instead of distribution, to mean “the way that something is divided or spread out”? I mean, since we can’t use the word that actually means that? You see how silly this is. You object to a word – even though the dictionary is on my side, not yours – but utterly fail to grapple with the idea behind it.

          • Theresa Klein

            Ok, maybe you don’t realize that it’s smuggling in assumptions.

            We’re not arguing about the dictionary definition of the word “distributed”. We’re pointing out that the word distributed, according to it’s dictionary definition, takes no account of how things came into existence in the first place. So by using it, you’re biasing people to think of all income as a windfall.

          • Farstrider

            No, you are seeing assumptions where none exist. Things are distributed in a certain way in this world. Whether they ought to be thus is a different question.

          • Theresa Klein

            Do you understand the concept of a blindspot?
            The word distributed creates a blindspot by what it leaves unmentioned. It’s a question that ignores context.

          • Farstrider

            I do understand the concept of a blindspot. Do you understand the concept of taking a word out of its context to attack it semantically, rather than addressing the merits of the idea discussed?

  • Puppet’s Puppet

    I can think of worse people to be in charge of Interior than Trump and Palin. “Drill, baby, drill,” curbing BLM harassment, returning Mt. McKinley to its former name…

    Also, Trump in charge of Education? Couldn’t be worse than Obama. Speech codes, kangaroo rape courts, Common Core (yes, that started with Bush). Trump has said little about education except his hatred of Common Core and the importance of shrinking the Federal role.

    Trump is the most nakedly authoritarian person ever to run for President (more so than Hillary, and that’s certainly saying a lot). But you couldn’t have picked worse examples!

    • Sean II

      “But you couldn’t have picked worse examples!”

      Right you are. Trying to scare people with “Ben Carson doesn’t believe in the Big Bang, and soon he’ll make sure your kids don’t either” feels like one of those misguided left-outreach strategies gone silly. Few things libertarians are supposed to know:

      1) Schools are already well and truly captured by left-wing indoctrinators. So no clutching-pearls about the possibility someone from the other side might sneak in a bit of their bullshit.

      2) Education is mostly signaling, so why worry too much what’s in it? (Indeed, even that massive left-wing indoctrination seems to wear off quickly after college, probably because – brace for shockitude – the students were mostly ignoring the teachers anyway).

      3) Okay fine, let’s say some madman seizes the means of lesson plan production and makes young earth creationism a standard part of the common core. What terrible things might happen because of this? None! Only a tiny fraction of very smart kids were ever going to a) understand the Big Bang (or evolution, etc), or b) do anything with their lives that requires understanding it. And that little smart fraction is virtually defined by the fact that they do more learning out of the classroom than it. They’ll be fine.

      4) Shit like this doesn’t work. We’ve been trying forever to reach statists by saying “Hey, what if the other guy wins? Isn’t that reason enough to limit government power?”

      No. Not to them. You can’t turn a maxarchist into a minarchist by asking “what happens if you lose?” As an empirical matter, that argument never works. Presumably because for statists of both stripes the orgasmic fantasy=[what my side will do with total power] is more vivid in their minds and for more compelling in their hearts than the nightmare=[what the other side might do with total power].

      Imagine going up to Lenin and saying “Yo Vlad, you gotta rethink that whole dictatorship of the proletariat thing. Someone else might seize the controls and you could up with Kornilov in charge of children’s education…”

      He would have looked at your strangely and said: “So what? I’ll risk it. What I’m trying to accomplish requires unlimited government, and is well worth the risk. You simply can’t change the status quo as much or as fast as I want to, with limited power.”

      Every would-be world-changer thinks like that.

      • j_m_h

        4) was my first action to the post — thinking “Isn’t this what people say all the time about the power creep.

      • King Goat

        You don’t think that what you see as political dogma passing as educational curriculum has negative effects on society? For example, I’d imagine you think educational orthodoxies on group differences, genetics, blank slate-ism, etc., has seeped into the public and policy in harmful ways. If you do, why wouldn’t that ratchet work both ways?

        I take your point about the Lenins of the world, but I think the answer is that not all ‘statists*’ are Lenins, some of them are Wilsons, who seem to be capable of recognizing on principle some liberal limits to the use of the state to achieve their goals. This kind of argument is for them.

        * speaking of ‘statists’ as you do, do you consider yourself a libertarian? I really wouldn’t have guessed that. Your immigration policy is granted something that libertarians debate about, but I’ve never met a self identified libertarian who would advocate for the ‘police should hassle twenty men if it helps them catch one guilty one.’

        • Sean II

          Most of the libertarians and classical liberals who have ever lived agree with me where policing is concerned.

          It’s only this last generation or two of bubble-bred fools who imagine that public order and safety can be had without cost.

          • King Goat

            That seems like an inverse error to me. I take your point that they didn’t write on the subject, but they were all academics engaging in somewhat specific projects of grand political economy, not criminal justice policy. There’s lot’s of subjects (probably most) in the latter area at that time they didn’t comment on. I’m not sure you can conclude their approval by their lack of comment.

            But, fair enough. My point was more a sociological one. I’ve been to some libertarian gatherings, local LP meetings and some college libertarian events. The people at those events hated cops almost as much as they hated the IRS, maybe more. And that wasn’t the ‘bubble-bred’ ones, it was probably most strong among the non-professionals there. You don’t come across that?

          • Sean II

            We’ve been over this one before.

            “Better that 10 guilty men go free…” is a silly bit of poetry, not an argument. It’s very clear that even people who have said that couldn’t possibly have believed it literally.

            In any case that’s not even close to the debate were having now. Argument today is closer to “’tis better that one guilty black kid should go kill another black kid than that ten innocent black kids should get frisked and talked to rudely in order to prevent it”. Also silly, but much less poetic.

          • j_m_h

            As someone pointed out somewhere convicting the innocent man causes two bads. It punished someone who shouldn’t be punished and it leave to guilty free among a population that now thinks the threat is gone. In other words, imposing the standard of doing everything we can (you can argue this is different or that we’re largely doing it but I’m not sure that’s the case) to avoid convicting the innocent and in so doing will let some guilty go free but doesn’t that leave us in a better position than locking up the innocent and letting the guilty off?

          • Sean II

            Except we’re not talking about convicting the innocent these days.

            What we’re doing, crazily enough, is worrying about how bad it feels to be frisked or pulled over in urban areas where homicide is the leading cause of death among young men…and where high crime is the leading cause of nobody wants to invest there.

          • King Goat

            Your math is a bit off (for example, in NYC there were over 600,000 stop and frisks and 500 homicides). So even if we assume the stop and frisks would have prevented these murders (a big, well impossible, assumption), it’s more like 1200 people harassed and assaulted for every murder prevented.

          • Sean II

            Wrong. You don’t use the number of murders, you use the number of murders and other violent crimes prevented, as best you can estimate that.

            Then you start to notice all kinds of crazy shit, like how the age of unprecedented safety and the age of mass incarceration happen to be the same thing. Or how the New York of today has a slightly different atmo from the New York of Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon.

          • King Goat

            Only about 10% of those 600,000+ stop and frisks were justified by the officers as involving investigation of violent crime and similarly only 10% resulted in an arrest or summons.

            As to crime rates, they have more to do with things like demographics (age cohorts) than mass incarceration.

          • j_m_h

            Sure but that was basically TV and movies. The one time in my life (many, many years ago) when I was in just that position the cop didn’t say “or I’ll shoot” nor did he. Let’s not mix the romance of the cop show where the actors have known roles with reality.

          • Sean II

            Nope, it was not just a TV trope at all. Unless those sneaky screenwriters somehow went back and ret-conned the common law to make it match their scripts.

            Cops really could and did shoot fleeing felons in the back, and for a long time no one even thought that was weird.

          • j_m_h

            Well that was and is not my experience so I’ll chalk it up to regional differences. that said just note your own rhetoric here “Cops really could and did shoot fleeing felons in the back” not suspect, not unknown person fleeing for unknown reason but a known felon. Perhaps you are trying to say everyone bought into the cops only shoot the guilty and only the guilty run but that doesn’t get us anywhere good. Only in a case where the cop knows with an extremely high degree of certainty that the person poses a deadly threat to others should we tolerate the police shooting someone in the back.

          • Sean II

            Don’t mistake me: I’m against back shooting in all but the craziest circumstances.

            I was just trying to show Goatmaster how wrong he is to think that most libertarians were law enforcement doves (hawks? skeptics? whatever) like so many people today.

            How could they have been, to tolerate that practice without comment!

          • King Goat

            Mises and Hayek to my knowledge never wrote about gun control-this at a time when places like NYC had laws like the Sullivan Act- so I guess we can conclude they were ok with that too.

          • Sean II

            Okay with it, or just convinced it wasn’t important.

      • 3) is clearly false. You don’t need to “understand” the Big Bang or evolution to make good decisions based on whether they’re true or not. People decide how to treat others based on whether they evolved that way or were made. People decide whether to vaccinate their kids based on whether they believe what scientists say about the world. People decide whether to give all their possessions to a cult based on whether they think God is going to end the world according to some formula based on when he supposedly created it.

        • Sean II

          1) What “good decisions” do regular people make by believing in the Big Bang?

          2) Interesting you should bring up evolution. The thing we’re all supposed to believe there is “humans evolved from pre-human primates, but then immediately and totally stopped evolving” (because, you know, if they didn’t then race would be real and we all know that is LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE or something.

          In other words: not a great example for you. The part of evolution schools are willing to teach is irrelevant to the lives of all but a few people. That part that is relevant is forbidden.

          3) Who said anything about vaccines?

          4) Who said anything about cults?

          • 1) The fact that the universe is ~13 billion years old helps people decide that young earth creationism is false. It also helps put human existence into context (maybe we aren’t the center of the universe after all).

            2) You brought up evolution. I was addressing your point that “Only a tiny fraction of very smart kids were ever going to a) understand the Big Bang (or evolution, etc)…” But I have no idea what you mean when you say it’s “not a great example for you”. To what end? What group do you suppose I belong to that would have a problem with the facts of evolution?

            There is some evidence that evolution is still going on, but the selection pressures have shifted tremendously which makes the process much less “natural”. There’s no question in the scientific community that there is a genetic component to race. The only outstanding issues are what these differences control other than the phenotypes we all see.

            3) Me. I was addressing your assertion that what you learn is school has no bearing on people’s every-day lives.

            4) See 1.

          • Sean II

            1) Doesn’t answer. Most people don’t make decisions where either things matters – knowing the Big Bang is true, or knowing YEC is false. Picture a person with a 100 IQ. How is the contex of their lives enriched by knowing these things? It isn’t.

            2) Evolution is not a great exaample for you because you’re trying to argue that truth in general education is important. But…as presently taught, general education is a colossal mess of lies about evolution, because the one thing every school seems to agree on is “humans did not evolve after leaving Africa, race is a construct”, all that crap. Which means: the part of evolution they get right is distant and irrelevant from most people’s lives; the part of evolution that matters for current life and policy is the one teachers almost uniformly get wrong. Bad example for anyone making your argument.

            3) & 4) Let me rephrase: you have supplied no evidence that the content of education has anything to do with making people a) accept vaccines, or b) reject cults.

            Most folks seem to reach both conclusions very well on their own.

    • Theresa Klein

      returning Mt. McKinley to its former name…

      You mean Denali?
      (and yes, I share the sentiment that it should remain Denali)

      • Puppet’s Puppet

        “Denali” is its current name, so I meant return it to “Mt. McKinley.” I don’t know if it ever had a Federal name before McKinley; its state/territorial and local name has never changed. I have no problem with its state name remaining Denali; I just want its Federal name to be McKinley.

        • Theresa Klein

          I think renaming it Denali was a nice gesture to the local Native American tribes, and McKinley is not a particularly important President. Plus, for tourism purposes, it’s nicer to have tribal names for places instead of boring obscure Presidents.

  • IEIUNUS

    No. Democratic rule is to accept that the other person’s tribal leader manipulated enough people to acquire at least a simple majority of the population to believe their chosen one is indubitably the only good achievable through human conduct.

    • Farstrider

      Or not a simple majority, in this case.

    • IceTrey

      Thank doG for the Electoral College.

  • Jeff Hamilton

    Just goes to show that smaller government is best on almost every axis when preventing the worst of outcomes.

  • geoih

    “Now would be a good time for us to revisit it.”

    All you have to do is read the essay of Elizabeth Anker linked below to see that this not going to happen. Those protesting in the streets, or pleading for unity, or wringing their hands at how this could happen, are only interested in one thing, returning to power. When your religion appears to suffer a setback, true believers do not stop worshiping, they worship twice as hard and hunt down the infidels, heretics and blasphemers.

    • Sean II

      Yep. And at this point anyone with one working brain hemisphere should be able to see this: The biggest threat to liberalism now is not Trump. It’s what the empire will do when their time comes to strike back.

      To glimpse the target list, look no further than the election autopsy going on right now. Here’s what beat the left last week:

      1) Free speech, in the form of dis-intermediated communications
      2) Trying to fit unpopular feminism into a crowded identity agenda
      3) Federalism, in a way that goes beyond just the electoral college
      4) White people

      The attack on 1) is sure to be the defining feature of left-wing politics from 2018 or 2020 forward.

      • King Goat

        It seems like lately you’ve got a lot of 1. don’t worry everyone, Trump and his allies can’t do much even if they wanted to! and 2. OMG the left, when they get back in power, it’s Stalin-Time! How does that work?

        • Sean II

          Easy.

          What I said about Trump is not “he can’t do any harm” but only “he can’t do much harm the establishment doesn’t want him to do”. Big difference. Obvious difference.

          When the establishment comes back to power, they will be able to do lots of harm…because if it’s the establishment doing the harm, we certainly can’t count on the establishment to stop themselves, now can we?

          And if not them, who? Certainly not the people in this particular case, for they only grow more hostile to free speech as you move down the age pyramid.

          • King Goat

            Ah, the Establishment. Should have saw that coming.

          • Sean II

            Yes, you should have.

          • King Goat

            No, I should have seen it coming because The Establishment always shows up to play its part in these Manichean style worldviews.

          • Sean II

            You’re pretending these entities don’t exist. Why?

          • King Goat

            People on the Internet use all kinds of vague, useless buzz words. Establishment and elites are two of them.

            I mean look at what you’re doing, arguing there’s a uber-powerful, monolithic ‘Establishment’ and pointing out how it got beat as an example of it’s existence.

            What people call ‘The Establishment’ is actually such a quite pluralistic, fluid, much divided group of interest groups, government officials, advisors and various professionals that it’s pretty useless to talk about.

          • Sean II

            That comment was idiotic.

          • King Goat

            Maybe The Establishment made me do it.

          • Sean II

            Better!

          • King Goat

            What would be even better would be for you to state clearly what this Establishment is. What’s the criteria for being a part of it?

          • Sean II

            “What would be even better would be for you to state clearly what this Establishment is…”

            Why would I bother? The meaning of that term is obvious, and you’re the only person pretending not to understand.

          • King Goat

            So obvious you can’t supply it, I see.

          • Sean II

            Hamilton tickets are expensive.

          • King Goat

            Due to the Establishment, I’m sure.

  • j_m_h

    I have the view that we really don’t need to worry about positive externalities — they will take care of themselves (contra the public good under production arguments some offer for government) — where as we do need to worry about negative externalities. I think you’re concerns as similar. That said I have to ask, is it really the institutions/departments that are so powerful as opposed to the people running them? If so then the problem is about how such leadership positions are filled.
    So I think that just gets us back to a more fundamental and to my knowledge still unanswered question about the separation of markets and governance as social tools and what types of problem they can address/solve. Education might be a good point — for the most part it’s suppose to be locally controlled it’s grown from being purely a local thing (either community or the school itself) into this multi-tier complex structure spanning the specific school and the various governments local to federal level. SO is it really possible to get an institutional structure in government settings that is likely to produce the positive outcomes Smith and Hayek attribute to the competitive market processes? Or are such attempts going to fail because they, ultimately are attempts to use the wrong tool for a given job?

  • CJColucci

    I have a vague recollection of people saying that Rawls was wrong because he was making unwarranted assumptions about tolerance for risk and that people might prefer a society with greater risk of a bad outcome for people like whoever they turn out to be than and a greater opportunity for really great outcomes.

  • Josef Kaps

    Social justice is really injustice. All justice goes back to one basic right and one basic obligation: the right to one’s life and the obligation to respect this right of all others. Social justice is disrespectful of this basic right.

    But justice is only one aspect of a happy, healthy society: harmony is an important second aspect-possibly more important than justice. Usually most advocates of the right to one’s life do agree that an important function of the state is to provide security and they find taxes on individuals justified as long as they are limited to internal and external security. The concept of harmony requires more: the philosophy of the right to life delegates a substantial amount of authority and responsibility to the individual. It is a very decentralized form of organization of the state. It is therefore not necessarily true that the free individuals in a state perform all the functions that are necessary for a happy and healthy society to function well. The concept of harmony therefore requires that taxpayers not only pay for their internal and external security but that they also pay for the functions that are necessary to keep their society in a happy and healthy state despite the fact that the free individuals do not want to perform some necessary functions on their own. Some taxes therefore can be considered as a penalty for nonperformance of necessary work.

    In any society both jobs, the job of looking after justice, individual rights and the job of looking after harmony are crucially important. They should be institutionalized. The compromise between those who look after justice and those who look after harmony is essential in every society that expects to survive. Polarization in an election between those who look after justice and those who look after harmony is quite helpful as long as the polarization does not ruin the chance of compromise. Polarization has become a worldwide accepted marketing strategy in elections. The present polarization, however, is not between poles like justice and harmony that are beneficial to society. It is rather a polarization between tribes, the blue tribe and the red tribe, and the polarization does not end in developing new and better ideas. The polarization today is the spectacular presentation of “dirty laundry” which provides headlines for the infotainment industry. Important exchanges and discussions no longer take place.

    In the United States the importance of religious fundamentalists in political life is quite often underestimated. The red tribe is strong in many parts of the country, where they strongly rely on religious fundamentalism. The issue is not the metaphysical concept: even string theory could be explained as a pantheistic concept. The issue is epistemological: humanity learns and advances through falsification of existing ideas and concepts. If some members of a society block this process because they maintain that certain premises must not be questioned, then progress slows down for its members. An important consequence is the increasing disagreement between the educated young and the not so educated establishment. Even if the educated young have lost in this recent election, they are bound to eventually win if nothing else, because of biological reasons. The cost of the transition, however, could be substantial.

    • Counsellor

      One answer I have had to the way Hayek stated the question, “What is Social Justice.” might be that it is the performance of obligations through social instrumentalities or facilities.

  • Counsellor

    But what happens when “Justice” is perceived as the performance of obligations?

    • Josef Kaps

      Thank you for your response. Your point is of course well taken. I have no problem accepting the obligation to respect another person’s right to life as part of justice. I have a problem to go further because it would imply that I accept another person’s title to my life and even worse that I would gain title to someone else’s life. In addition the title would be unspecified: Ownership is theft??? The majority at a given time decides the amount??? (I would have great difficulty to accept the recent election campaign in the US as a suitable process to determine any limitations placed on my right to life.) Would you have an ethically justified way to extend the term justice beyond the bare minimum as I am using it?

      • Counsellor

        No. Proudhon fails the performance of obligations test.

        “Life” and its “possession” may not be an appropriate example for what seems to be your point.

        Others may (and actually seem to) have a claim on our lives, which is experienced in war – at least in my experience. Obligations can, and do, override the possession of life – and not just in war or other combat.

        • Josef Kaps

          I did not notice this important point until just now. Please still comment although I am late.

          It actually is not possession, it is ownership. A soldier still possesses his life but he does not own it as he/ she has given it to the state. Collateral damage is no ethically justified way of taking someone’s life. There is no contract. In other instances, like medical tests, there is a contract.

          In a related case the German Supreme Court has decided, that the German Airforce is not entitled to take down a plane under the control of terrorists heading for a large city. The right to life of the passengers according to the Supreme Court prevails. A large majority of the German people would find the taking down of the plane as justified. I assume they accept an injustice for the sake of a higher good. As I do not accept “social justice” as justice, there are many every day instances where injustices are committed by the state for the sake of a higher good as in the case of many tax payments. I do accept a certain amount of injustice for the sake of harmony. But I have not been able to find a clear ethically acceptable yardstick, defining the limit: There are obviously many instances, where conversely justice is more important than harmony. But what could be an ethical guideline?

  • Counsellor

    Note in this piece the idea of “government” as an entity the “does” things.

    Normative Libertarianism is framed by the impacts of the
    functions of governments on Liberty and thus to limit those impacts by limiting
    those functions.