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This essay is the second of three about justice. The first was about justice in the legal system. This second  is about what is called “distributive justice.” As background for this presentation I will provide a brief summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature. I will be concise so this review won’t take long.

All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill. Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort. Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money. This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money even though it is the most important truth about money. The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated. What follows are some of the consequences of that physical object nature.

First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against that owner’s will; by force, fraud, or stealth and it can also be lost or destroyed. This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.

Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral. Even animals are amoral, in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money. You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.

Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.

Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties. Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense. It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.

Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control. In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.

Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions. Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gets an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages. This is particularly true of money. The old saying “them as has, gets” is true. Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier. Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction. Thus the relationship is unstable.

Keeping that review in mind, let’s consider several ways of looking at justice. Last week’s lecture dealt with aspects of justice in the state’s response to crimes. But there is far more to the ideas of justice than just what happens in a courtroom or on the executioner’s block. This week’s lecture deals with distributive justice – or how societies, nations, and economies distribute goods, social rewards, and power.

Every society has rules or norms for how these desirable things are to be apportioned. One listing of types of these norms is given by Wikipedia as follows and I QUOTE.

“Equity: Member’s outcomes should be based upon their inputs. Therefore, an individual who has invested a large amount of input (e.g. time, money, and/or energy) should receive more from the group than someone who has contributed very little. Members of large groups prefer to base allocations of rewards and costs on equity.

Equality: Regardless of their inputs, all group members should be given an equal share of the rewards/costs. Equality supports that someone who contributes 20% of the group’s resources should receive as much as someone who contributes 60%.

Power: Those with more authority, status, or control over the group should receive more than those in lower level positions.

Need: Those in greatest needs should be provided with resources needed to meet those needs. These individuals should be given more resources than those who already possess them, regardless of their input.

Responsibility: Group members who have the most should share their resources with those who have less.”


Please keep in mind that these are norms and are, therefore, subjective. It isn’t as if there was some “right answer” that one could discover by studying science or look up in the back of the book as to the real basis on which things should be distributed. So my comments about each of these must also be subjective because there is no meaningful way I can prove any of them to be wrong in any absolute sense. On the other hand, I can and will point out consequences of each approach in the society that applies norms of one type or the other.

Let us begin with equity. In equity the more you put in the more you should get out. This seems to be followed by Mother Nature in that the harder and smarter one works, the greater the production. If one is a skilled fisherman and works hard at the trade one can reasonably expect to have more fish to eat at the end of the day than a person who knows little about fishing and who only tries for a little while to catch fish. So that aspect of equity is quite simple and seems obvious. But look at the variety of things one can “put in” to some enterprise or project, especially if one is working with others.

One can put in strength and physical effort. One can put in time. One can contribute ideas. One can serve to coordinate the actions of others. One can give money. One can give permission. One can pray for the desired outcome. One can applaud success. One can coach the participants. I am confident there are many other things as well. One could argue about which are more important under which circumstances but regardless of that, one must admit that it is not obvious how to decide what each participant deserves given the contribution of each. Societies and economies which use equity to some degree still have serious internal disagreements over the relative “just desserts” of each kind of contribution.

It has been observed that slaves are lazy, shiftless, no-account, immoral, and unproductive. It has been suggested that the lack of justice in their rewards for their efforts might have a lot to do with their relative lack of productivity. It has also been observed that capitalist economies tend to be quite a bit more productive than do socialist or totalitarian economies. The idea that one’s rewards are a product of one’s effort and hard work contributes greatly to the productivity inherent in capitalism.

Other observers have concluded that capitalist economies do not reward effort and hard work, and they base that conclusion on their observation that the vast majority of adults in such an economy work quite hard for long hours and barely get enough to survive as a result. Capitalist economies even employ slaves in some cases.

There are also times and situations in which almost anyone would conclude that equity is the wrong norm to use in allocations. For an extreme example, take babies. They contribute nothing yet it would be foolish to deny them food, comfort, care, and so forth. There are less extreme cases as in students, the unemployed, the ill, and the aged. Any society or economy that actually uses only equity will probably not last long.

For many other observers, if one considers any single kind of contribution and compares that to some other kind of contribution there will be discrepancies. The results of such a comparison will show that the two different contribution standards provide differing distribution standards. So even though one chooses to follow the equity norms, one will have a difficult and subjective task in blending all the various kinds of contribution into a single result that is appropriate.

I would suggest that a true free market could, in theory, do a pretty good job of generating a blended single result on the equity standard. We would have the “Mother Nature” aspect working in such a case and the diversity of buyers and sellers would automatically bring all other considerations into the mix. Both buyers and sellers in the free market would be accorded rewards in goods, power, and status so that all participants would be apportioned a share proportional to their contribution. But that would require a true free market – which we have already, in a previous essay, shown to be impossible with physical object money, or POM.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the various consequences of a POM guarantee that the equity standard for allocation of goods and other rewards will not be followed. There’s nothing fair, moral, equitable, or just about the distribution of rewards or resources in a POM economy. A simple glance at the consequences of POM shows why that is the case. The amorality, the taking of POM against the will of the owner, the zero-sum game simulation, the two-party interaction all lead to abuse and exploitation of the weak by those who are stronger or more well-connected. So whether the economy is capitalist, socialist, communist, or anything else; if the money is a POM, the distribution will not be on the basis of equity.

On that depressing note, let’s move on to equality as a norm for resource distribution. On the surface it would seem fair that everyone receive the same goods, social rewards, and power. We were probably all taught to take turns and everybody gets one dessert and so forth. “We are all equal before the law.” “We are all equal in God’s eyes.” As a standard for fairness that sounds great: Of course we want the same “rules of the game” to be applied to all of us… if we want things to be fair.

But outcomes matter. We don’t treat everyone the same for good reason. Not everyone is exactly like everyone else. Some dogs are approachable, and you can pet them; and some dogs will bite you if you try to pat their heads. Social systems which have attempted to make the rewards equal for everyone have, in general, not been too satisfactory. Where’s the reward for working harder than the next guy? Where’s the benefit in being moral if the immoral person over there does as well or better in life? Even God is said to distinguish the good person from the bad person after death. Why should our norms not punish the malefactor and reward the charitable?

We see what happens when the “equal rewards no matter what” approach is used in recreation sports teams. Those teams that play every basketball player the same number of minutes tend to lose to those teams that give their better players more time. Sure, some of the difference in playing skill is due to luck (either good or bad) in one’s physical body and mind; but whether the skill difference is from luck or virtue in practicing frequently and well, the performance on the court is in large part a product of that difference in skill. In the proportion of games won, the equal-playing-time teams will not win as many games. As an aside, if the games are being played for exercise only, then equal times should be followed. If the games are being played for more than that as in to teach players that by giving greater effort they can have a greater chance of success, then the better skills should get more time.

But let’s get back to the society which uses only equality as a norm for resource distribution. The reward one gets is a form of feedback from the society. If the reward is the same no matter what one does, the feedback is empty of content. It will not influence behavior. In fact, the message will be that it does not matter what one does. The spoiled rich kid and the slave child receive very similar messages. No matter what the rich kid does there will be no punishment and no matter what the slave child does there will be no reward. Neither learns to be of value to the society.

For this and many other psychological reasons, equality of distribution is not actually practiced in any society. In practical terms it is virtually impossible to do anyway and in emotional terms it feels bad to many people. Finally, in power terms, those with power are far too tempted to take what they want if they can (and POM ensures that they can) to ever actually put such a system into practice.

Our next type of norm is the power norm. This norm is brutally realistic in one sense and insane in other senses. It is brutally realistic in that with a POM those with power take all the resources. We can see this tendency – although that’s too weak a word – in all POM economies. Power becomes concentrated, because wealth becomes concentrated, and that power is used to gain more wealth. It’s a positive feedback loop. POM allows that power to be exercised in fraud and in force… often direct physical force as in the case of slaves. This norm does have a little to do with the equity approach, because there is a lot of competition and rivalry at the top: because those with power contest with others who have power for the resources those others control. So there is some skill and effort involved in keeping one’s power and wealth in a POM economy.

The power norm is unlike the equity and equality norms in that it is not so much an ideal as it is something observed in the real world and learned about as a result of that experience. But despite the fact that on any philosophical grounds the use of power alone to distribute resources cannot be justified, those who do have power somehow manage to get people to believe that they deserve that power and those rewards. You may have noticed that the rich are usually credited with having earned their wealth, despite the high proportion of wealth by inheritance, capital gains, and/or fraud to be found in almost any industrialized nation. With agricultural economies, the proportion of inherited wealth owners is even greater. Rags to riches success stories were quite rare in ancient times. Yet the nobles of those times were thought to deserve their wealth because it was the wealth of their families. They “came by it honestly” in that their parents were married to each other. That alone justified their acquisition of wealth and power by inheritance.

But clearly the economy and society do not benefit from such a norm for distribution. The productive capacity of the economy is not increased by great concentrations of wealth and power in the hands of a few. In fact, such concentrations are one of the main reasons for economic collapse. So the use of such a norm can be considered to be insane no matter how “realistic” it may be and no matter how common if not quite universal it is.  It is a path to destruction for the society. It is certainly a source of weakness. And, of course, it is a product of the POM nature of our money.

Next comes the norm of need. This is the norm of kindness, compassion, and pity. This is the norm which fits well with the majority of religious ideologies. This is the sort of distribution which can make people feel good about themselves, but it is also the opposite of the power norm in that whereas the power norm exists in practice but not as an ideal, the need norm hardly exists in practice but is extoled as an ideal. It very well may be in many cultures that it is considered to be a good thing to give to the needy; it is also true that every culture has a large portion of its population that is in need.

Clearly application of this norm would cover taking care of small children, as well as the ill, the elderly, and the infirm. But even after all the needy are cared for, there is a huge amount of resources that have not been distributed at all. What should the society do with those resources?

This illustrates that the need norms arose in response to the suffering made obvious by the power norm. It is in response to the deprivation brought about by POM consequences that such a norm would be needed. If people were not suffering want and deprivation such a norm would never have existed. But despite the norm, despite the religious injunctions, despite the satisfactions which come from giving, people fear this norm’s application because they fear being forced to give what they have to others. There has often been an element of coercion involved in organized attempts to provide for the needy. Religion threatens one with punishments after death for ignoring the poor. The state threatens jail or other punishment for not paying taxes. The club or circle of friends threatens embarrassment for not kicking into the pot for poor old what’s his name in his hour of need. The good feeling one gets when giving to the needy is destroyed when one gives out of fear or under duress. Being forced to give to the poor tends to breed resentment and anger toward the poor. That coercion makes enemies of the needy even though the poor are not the ones doing the threatening. It’s much safer to be angry at the poor who are weak than at the Church, government, or wealthy powers-that-be who are able to take revenge for one’s failure to obey.

Giving to each according to their need is also associated in the popular culture with revolutionary communist ideology which gives the norm many bad associations in the mind and emotions. There is a tendency to reject the need norm and try to substitute the equity norm. “If they have needs let them work and deserve my help” is a popular response to an expression of the need norm. Of course, there’s no need to oppose the need norm because it isn’t applied much anyway. Those in need are weak and will not have their needs met because of the power norm.

Finally, we come to the responsibility norm. In this one the better off are expected to share their wealth with those who happen to be less well-to-do. Clearly this is not a popular norm with the rich and powerful. Clearly it is an expression of resentment that others have more than we do. It’s another attempt, like the need norm, to redress the ills brought on by the concentrations of wealth and power that always come about with POM economies. But this norm does not appeal to one’s better nature to succor the needy. This norm assigns blame. If this norm is not followed, one can direct one’s anger at the wealthy. It also has that “Sunday School class” tone about it, in which one is required to share one’s toys with others, like it or not.

At least the responsibility norm allows the wealthy to retain all the resources they are not compelled to give to the poor. But that’s small consolation for those who suffer the condemnation of the philosophers holding up charity as an ideal. It’s embarrassing for a wealthy person to sit in church and hear it said that the rich cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. So the priests and ministers have to be careful to avoid saying that the rich will be condemned by God. Fortunately for the wealthy, such responsibility norms are never codified into law and enforced. No wealthy person has ever been arrested, convicted, and jailed because there were poor people suffering in the wealthy person’s community. On the contrary, they are extoled as pillars of the community. So we know that this norm is all talk and no walk. It’s just a verbal norm that a few people feel obligated to talk about but no one is expected to actually obey.

So these are the five types of distributive norms Wikipedia describes. We find that power rules, equity justifies; and equality, need, and responsibility are only ideals to be talked about but mostly ignored.

Are distributive norms really helpful, needed, and useful… or are they mere after-the-fact ruminations of the philosophers and political theorists? Let us examine that from the point of view of a Martian observing human life through his super-telescope. Our entomologists study ants in much the same way as I picture this Martian watching humanity. We see the ants going about their business, searching for food, feeding the queen, caring for the eggs and larvae, fighting with other insects and defending the nest. We see how evolution has shaped the behavior and bodies of the ants to be efficient and not waste energy. We see how the various insects cooperate and coordinate their actions to bring about results desirable for the ant colony. We can see that those ants which do not act in such efficient and well-coordinated ways do not survive as a colony. So I picture this Martian seeing how humanity actually distributes resources but without knowing the justifications for that distribution. What would the Martian think?

It seems to me the Martian would think humanity was doomed, insane, and defective. It seems to me the Martian would view what we do as totally dysfunctional. We produce many things that we either don’t need at all or which harms us. We give vast resources to a few while the multitudes suffer want. We greatly reduce our productivity by slavery, poverty, pointless projects, and poor maintenance of our infrastructure. We provide miserable care for many of our children. In other words, it would appear to the Martian that we were actively attempting to destroy ourselves. It would appear that our minds were addled and our social systems were designed to fail. Why else would we destroy our environment? Why else would we squander scarce resources? Why else would we drive many species to destruction? Why else would we fight wars? Why else would we act as rivals, competitors, or even enemies – not just between nations, not just between companies, not just in the workplace, but even within the home between blood kin family members? Clearly something has gone seriously wrong with our genes, or some pollutant has gotten into our food supply, or perhaps some insect has laid its eggs in our bodies and the larvae have worked their way to our brains and are controlling our actions! Something is making humanity crazy: There’s no other possible explanation, because we are most definitely destroying ourselves.

Well, the Martian is right, of course. Something has gotten into our brains and has made us crazy. What has taken up residence in our brains is the idea that money should and must be a physical object or something which we can treat as if it were a physical object. For all these insane behaviors, every single one of them is a consequence of POM. To see that such is the case, let’s see how a non-POM economy would distribute resources.

Turning first to power norms we find that in non-POM power only comes to those who use that power to benefit others and prevent harm to others. Therefore, seeing that the poor have all their needs met is a possible source of power. In other words, one can earn non-POM by feeding the poor, casting one’s bread upon the water as it were. One can earn non-POM by clothing the naked, by sheltering the homeless, by treating the sick, and by educating the ignorant. This is one path to wealth and power. This path also eliminates any need for norms of equality, need, or responsibility. No one need be coerced to take care of the poor if there are such great rewards for doing so.

The powerful do gain control of resources in using those resources to benefit others. The powerful lose that power and control of capital resources if they fail to generate benefits for others. This constitutes a powerful feedback loop to those in power to use their power in such a way that it maximizes benefits and minimizes harm. It rewards thinking ahead, caring for the environment, maintaining the infrastructure, cooperation, and coordinating with others: In other words, it gives positive feedback for those actions the Martian would consider sane.

Non-POM economies use true, pure free markets to produce the appropriate feedback. As mentioned in the equity section; such markets can take all the elements of contribution both mental and physical into account and generate a subjective resolution to the question of how goods, social rewards, and power are to be distributed. In other words, non-POM actually provides an equity distribution in action. By coincidence, those with power gain the greatest rewards but it is because those in power have generated the most benefits to humanity.

To appear to be just, a distribution system must appear to be fair or equitable. A free market is about as fair as a human institution can get. Everyone can participate. No one uses force or fraud in a true free market. The benefits one derives from the market are based on consequences and accomplishments rather than effort and status. In a free market each person is evaluated on their own personal merits, not on the accomplishments of their ancestors, the color of their skin, the ideals of their faith, or the nation of their origin. Who you are is not as important as what you can do. And with non-POM the free market is an intrinsic part and aspect of the system. It comes to exist spontaneously and without enforcement. It requires no coercion, no laws, no regulations, no ordinances, and no central planning board. Therefore, it cannot be subverted, destroyed, evaded, cheated, or overcome. It’s just there, like it or not.

So both the rich and the poor benefit greatly from non-POM. The poor have their needs met regardless of their contribution; so babies, the infirm, the unlucky are taken care of – and may one day even be able to contribute, themselves. The rich get the respect, admiration, and good feelings of everyone for the beneficial works they have brought about. No longer do the rich have to fight to keep and gain more of the resources since everyone is quite happy to cooperate with them. Everyone in the middle has a chance to become rich, and has no risk of suffering their needs not being met… even in the worst case.

So with non-POM the Martian would see entirely different behavior. The individual people would go about their business quickly, quietly, and efficiently. They would cooperate and coordinate their actions in their families, their workplace, their corporations, their nations, and the world at large. Scarce resources would be conserved. Endangered species would be protected. Pollution would be minimized. Discrimination would be avoided. Infrastructure would be enhanced. War would be impossible. All these actions would come about because non-POM is earned by generating benefits and foregone by generating harm.

If you don’t see how this is at all possible then I strongly suggest that you take the time to read the novel “Invisible Hand” at NOPOMSTUFF.INFO or, you can listen to me reading the novel at the same web site. It’s not utopia by any means, but it is a major improvement… and does at least have people striving to bring about justice.

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