This is the third essay about justice. The first was about justice in the legal system. The second was about what is called “distributive justice.” This third essay on justice deals with fairness with an emphasis on Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice.” As background 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 fairness in justice.
Wikipedia is once again the principle source for information and in particular its entry on “A Theory of Justice” by John Rawls. I chose Rawls work because it stirred up a lot of comment and stimulated a lot of thinking on justice, but also due to the fact that it attempts to use fairness. It seems to me that although fairness has usually been a subtext of ideas relating to justice, it has been among the first things to be ignored or omitted when any system of justice has been attempted. Rawls theory at least gives the appearance of attempting to retain fairness in putting his theory into practice.
Rawls ideas are developed from taking what he calls an “original position.” This is a hypothetical point of view in which one knows nothing about oneself, and is therefore “behind a veil of ignorance.” So you don’t know your gender, your race, your nationality, your occupation, your social class, your education, your place of residence, or even whether you have a home, wife, or children. Now if you were in such an amnesiac condition and you were asked to come up with a scheme of justice to live under, what would the principles of that system be? Rawls held that under those circumstances, from that original position, you would want a system that was fair to everyone. Since you would not know what your situation would be in such a system, your best chance to be all right would be to make it fair for everyone so that at worst, it would be fair for you as well. One would not choose a system with slavery, for example, since one would not want to be a slave.
As Rawls says on page 11 of his book QUOTE “They are the principles that rational and free persons concerned to further their own interests would accept in an initial position of equality as defining the fundamentals of the terms of their association.” UNQUOTE.
The two principles are QUOTE “First: each person to have rights equal to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.” UNQUOTE
And second: Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that QUOTE
“(a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle (the difference principle).
(b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.”
Let’s explore that first principle, having rights equal to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others. In other words, so your right to swing your fist ends before hitting my jaw. Of course Rawls is talking about political liberty here, freedom from government oppression and freedom to participate in government by voting, petitioning, lobbying, holding public office, getting due process, and security in private property. But oddly enough, Rawls does not consider capital goods to be included in that private property nor does Rawls include freedom to contract. Those are not considered to be basic rights. They are rights and can be derived from basic rights. One supposes that Rawls could accept a socialist economy as meeting this first principle of justice.
Now I can see how one person exercising his rights could interfere with the rights of other people. We saw that in the days of slavery in the U.S. And after slavery was supposedly ended by the Thirteenth Amendment something very much like slavery was still practiced by large land owners (tenant farmers), industrialists, and mine owners. Remember that line from the song by Tennessee Ernie Ford “16 Tons” that says “I owe my soul to the company store”? The employee could not leave the job or the farm due to being in debt. Any attempt to leave might well be stopped by the sheriff. To put matters in a more political context, attempts today by elected officials to make it difficult for some people to vote also constitutes an exercise of liberty by elected government officials which restricts the liberty of others. Or the Supreme Court ruling that corporate “persons” can use money supposedly owned by their stockholders to influence elections whether those stockholders have agreed to such actions or not.
So to limit liberty by such a principle of justice seems to me to be quite appropriate and reasonable. It seems only fair. Otherwise the whole concept of justice loses its meaning. However, Rawls feels that such a principle legitimizes the use of coercive political power to impose those limits. Personally, I find that position to be quite repellent. Any such position can be used to justify coercion of any kind. For example, we find people today saying it’s all right for a policeman to gun down an unarmed person if that person has used marijuana or has stolen merchandise from a store. We hear people saying that it’s okay to ignore due process of law when our military has captured persons who are not U.S. citizens. Members of the government say it’s permissible to use torture for gaining information which might protect our interests. And, of course, there’s always the lynch mob. It seems to me that if there is any excuse for ignoring liberty, for limiting freedom, that excuse will be used. To say that it’s allowable for me to coerce someone else in order to protect a third party’s liberty pretty much gives me free reign to use coercion on others.
I suggest that there are a host of means by which each person’s liberty may be protected without using coercion. I further suggest that it is because we are so used to treating each other as rivals, competitors, and enemies that we tend to ignore those other means and jump right to coercion. I don’t deny that there are some circumstances when coercion is required, necessary, the only reasonable course of action. But I also contend that those circumstances are quite rare. Perhaps I have led a sheltered life but I am pretty old and I have never been in a situation that required coercion. I further suggest that most situations requiring coercion arise when one party attempts to use coercive force on another party as in rape, robbery, and assault. Coercive aggression tends to provoke coercive responses and solutions.
Moving on to the second principle of justice, which is in two parts. In the first principle, equality was emphasized. Each person is to have equal rights to liberty. In this second principle of justice, inequalities are not just acceptable but preferred or required. The circumstances under which inequality is to be promoted are a little confusing to me. It is in pursuit of fairness that these inequalities are to be promoted. The only way I can make sense of Rawls’ position is to note that life is not fair at all even if all people are equal before the law and in the eyes of government. Some people are just born with better looks than others and some just happen to be afflicted with unattractive features. Some people are born into poor families and some into rich families. Some people are more intelligent and other people cannot think very well. Some people have personalities that attract friends easily and some people have personalities that are difficult to get along with. Some people have real problems with impulse control and others are masters of their emotions. And let’s face it, some people are just really lucky and others are really unlucky.
Now in the situation of considerable unfairness among people, to make things less unfair, we can see that those who are least blessed by fate are granted more of the goods and services society has to offer in compensation. Inequities can be just, according to Rawls, if they are to benefit the least-well-off and if those inequities are not brought about by making things worse for the least advantaged.
As I see it, and a reasonable person might very well disagree, this means taking from the rich to benefit the poor. It also means taking from the good-looking to benefit the plain, taking from the intelligent to benefit the foolish, taking from the skilled to benefit the incompetent… I could go on, but you get the idea.
Is that fair? Does fairness demand that no matter how greatly one contributes the result should be that everyone benefits the same? Is this “fairness of result” what we mean when we say that society should be fair? Obviously, there are circumstances under which that may be exactly what we desire. The handicap in golf is one such example. In order to generate an equal chance of winning one golfer, the weaker player, is given an advantage in the score. The same kind of thing is employed in horse racing, when weights are added to the saddle to ensure all horses carry the same burden; or in gambling either by offering odds such as the two bettors putting up different amounts with the winner of the bet taking the pot or by one of the bettors saying that he will lose unless the team he back wins by at least some number of points (point spread).
But in life, do we feel that it is fair that every person who works for a company should live in the same kind of house and drive the same kind of car and have the same income no matter what their job with the company might be?
Does Rawls actually advocate such equality of outcome? Probably not. I think that Rawls would allow considerable inequality of outcome. What I think he would object to is the weakest and poorest of society being exploited to the benefit of the rich and powerful.
I think that Rawls also feels that one should morally deserve the benefits received. That is, what did anyone do to deserve the family into which they were born? A Hindu might have an answer for that, but in the U.S., the idea of being punished for sins from previous lives has not caught on all that well. So Rawls is suggesting that it’s unfair for a person – disadvantaged by things over which she has no control (such as being born female) – to have less as a consequence.
I would suggest to Rawls that although we can see some benefits, such as the goods and services one can purchase and the amount of money we have, there are other benefits which we have no way of measuring or evaluating as yet. Happiness, satisfaction, pleasure, relief of pain or anxiety are just some of the variables that exist and are perceived by those who experience them but we can only imagine how others experience those feelings. So we take a person like Robin Williams. He had great professional success, wealth, health, and social status but he also suffered from depression. He had all the external things we can see but he was unfortunate in his brain chemistry. We also have testimony from those who suffer great medical problems such as crippling injuries, severe burns, blindness, and illnesses that though there is a period of depression and certainly pain, that one becomes accustomed to those conditions. After a time; one can be cheerful, satisfied, pleased, and happy to be alive even with all of these additional obstacles to overcome. Therefore it’s difficult to say in any meaningful sense that we can determine whether those who appear to be disadvantaged are really worse off in their experience of life.
To sum it up, I would contend that Rawls is concerned with the appearance of unfairness rather than with any true or real unfairness at some deeper level.
Probing deeper into Rawls principles we arrive at the second part of the second principle, that offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. Now that brings up considerable issues. At first glance it is obvious that society is biased against many categories of people. This is why in politics old, white, male, Christian, heterosexual, speakers of English have dominated government for the entire history of the U.S. The chances of a black, lesbian, atheist, with a thick accent being elected to high office are as close to zero as makes no difference. And these characteristics have nothing to do with how good a job that woman might do in office. So we know that there is not fair equality of opportunity in politics. Similar, although not as strict, discrimination exists for many other offices and positions. The glass ceiling exists and the price for breaking through is great. Double standards abound. These truths are self-evident. It’s an unfair situation.
But let’s examine the issue at a deeper level. Equality of opportunity also is related to family background and education. If you are born into a wealthy family you will have every opportunity to get a good education which will prepare you in a variety of ways both academic and social for a good paying career. On the other hand if you are born into a poor family you will find it very difficult to get even a high school education and decent middle class job. Even a little bad luck in health, reputation, appearance, or personality will doom you to a short life of poverty and physical want. That’s not fair, but the resources the wealthy command to give every advantage to their children actually do give every advantage to their children. The children of the wealthy actually will, in general, have more, both materially and academically, than the children of the poor due to these advantages. The roots of unfairness run deep.
Equality of opportunity as we view it today applies largely to adults. We picture a just and fair world rewarding adults who are productive. We picture the level playing field for all young adults upon graduation. But the playing field is tilted even before a child is born. Fetal nutrition and the environment of the womb depend on the mother being healthy and well-fed. Poor mothers are less likely to be healthy and well-fed. The developing embryo suffers accordingly. The very air that poor mothers breathe as well as the water they drink is of lower quality than that of the wealthy. Less expensive food has less nutrition. Poor women are less likely to get adequate pre-natal medical attention. So there can be no real equality of opportunity.
Let’s take an even more fundamental look at fairness, though. Think about it. Why does anything have to be fair? What’s so bad about life being unfair? Why do we so concern ourselves with whether or not things are fair in our society? Picture the 1930’s Norman Rockwell family. They may not be rich and they may have patches on their clothes but they are living a good life, a happy life, a rewarding life. Why is that? Is it because they are all equal? Is it because those with advantages are being coerced to give to those who are disadvantaged? No. It’s because they love each other, they care for each other, and they want what’s good for each other. They are together, and all on the same side. Does the question of what’s fair even come up? Do the parents have to give exactly the same gifts or gifts of the same price to each child? At what point would such a group of human beings think about fairness? When would the concept enter their minds?
I suggest that in such a family context, there would be no need for anyone in the family to think about fairness. But now let’s change the context slightly. Let’s say the family receives a board game from a friend of the family for Christmas. So the family sits down to play the game. The game is Monopoly. Can you see where I’m going here? Do you see what’s coming? When the play starts does each player begin with the same amount of money? If not, then the game isn’t fair. Does one player get to be the banker because he’s the best one at arithmetic and thereby sneak a few hundreds from the bank’s supply into his own stack of currency? Does mother have sympathy for Missy and not charge her rent when Missy lands on mother’s hotel on Indiana Ave? That’s not fair. Suddenly, what was once a situation in which fairness never came up has become a situation in which fairness is essential to the game. There are opportunities to cheat, and some people have it easier than others: And that’s just with pretend physical object money, not even the real thing.
Fairness only comes into matters when the participants are rivals, competitors, opponents, or enemies. The concept of fairness is needed only when human beings are working against one another. If we were not rivals, competitors, opponents, or enemies when would it feel necessary to be fair? If you have children and love them all, and are able to provide easily for their needs, do you ever worry about being fair to them? You are already doing what you can for each to meet their needs and enrich their lives. Is it necessary to pay attention to exactly how much each is getting of your time, attention, energy, resources, and love? If you give exactly the same gift to each of your children would that equally reward each of them? Would the boy enjoy a bride doll as much as your daughter enjoys her bride doll? Would your daughter enjoy a catcher’s mask as much as your son enjoys his catcher’s mask? You see… we don’t give things to those we love based on being fair or being equal. We make gifts to each based on their needs, wants, and personalities. We try to choose personalized gifts in which they will take delight, because our children are each unique individuals, not cookie-cutter identical copies of one another. So when dealing with those we love, we have no need to think about being fair: Fair doesn’t enter into it. If you have two children, one healthy and one with a serious chronic illness, do you think you are being unfair because you spend so much more money on medical treatment for the child who is ill? Of course not. People are not equal and life isn’t fair. We do what we can to make the lives of our loved ones as good as possible, and we don’t tend to count the cost or compare what one receives with what another receives.
But when we use a POM, or physical object money, we have a situation in which people feel themselves to be rivals, competitors, opponents, or enemies of most – if not all – other people. We even have those feelings about family members. “Momma, don’t spend all that money on a fancy vacation. You’re too old to really enjoy it now.” Do you have any doubt in that context that daughter is thinking about all the money that momma is spending that will not be available for said daughter to inherit? When we use POM we get two-party interactions which leads to most of the money and power being in the hands of a few who naturally try to get unfair advantages over everyone else. And that POM can be taken from you against your will so that makes everyone else a potential threat to your money. In the context of a POM economy fairness and justice suddenly become very important, not because people are inherently evil but because we live in a context shaped and determined by POM. When we get away from that POM context justice becomes unimportant. It’s just that POM is so ubiquitous in our lives that it’s difficult to escape. 200 years ago on the frontier, a farm family had little money and spent that money rarely on the infrequent trips to town. You might read the “Little House on the Prairie” books to get some idea of how the Ingalls family interacted with one another and with family friends.
Non-POM is a totally different context. Let’s review how non-POM affected such things as liberty, the market, rights, and government. If you read the essays on those topics you may remember that in a non-POM economy, government almost ceases to exist because it is not needed. Government becomes quite unnecessary. In fact, if all nations were to adopt non-POM, eventually it would be quite difficult to detect any government at all. Most people would never have to deal with government except in reading their history books; so, as the speech on government showed, non-POM renders government unnecessary.
The presentation on rights also had a similar conclusion. QUOTE “We have established a pattern here. For each category of rights, no matter whether the rights are – the rights of individuals or categories of persons – the rights are either irrelevant to life in non-POM, or are already provided as a matter of course without any need for enforcement of any kind. Do you think there should be a right to education? In non-POM economies anyone who provides useful education gets paid for doing so. The educator needs no one’s permission to provide that education. And, that education can be provided by any means of communication. It can be done in one-on-one talking, or lectures, tweets, videos, pantomime, sign language… by any means that people have found to communicate ideas. Do you think that people have a right to healthcare? In a non-POM economy, anyone who provides beneficial health care earns money. So there’s no need for insurance or medical plans. No one gets paid to deny health care.
The conclusion that we can draw from this pattern is simple and mind-blowing at the same time. The need for rights is a consequence of the nature of our money, our POM. The idea of rights would never have come about if it were not for POM. The idea of a right is an adversarial concept. That is, it is the idea of stopping someone from doing something or of requiring someone to do something. It is an attempt to control persons. Rights are saying you must do this or you must not do this. The idea that people must be coerced into behaving properly is a POM-inspired idea. The relationships among people that are influenced by POM, and that includes most human interactions in this modern world, those relationships are made antagonistic and coercive by the nature of POM.” UNQUOTE.
In the free market essay we found the following conclusion.
QUOTE “Non-POM would promote, encourage, and facilitate free markets, as well as have free markets integral to its existence and functioning.” UNQUOTE.
We also noted in that particular essay that the only time markets are not free is in the presence of POM.
Finally, the liberty essay noted QUOTE “The conclusion is that a POM economy will naturally and spontaneously move toward restriction of – and elimination of – any liberty which may exist, regardless of whether the government participates in that restriction or not.” UNQUOTE. Whereas with non-POM there is no motive and no means to deny liberty and no means to escape responsibility for how one uses one’s own liberty.
These conclusions lead us to a similar deduction with respect to justice and fairness. Non-POM creates a context, a situation in which the mutual interdependence of human beings upon one another is emphasized, reinforced, strengthened, and obvious. In such a context, people will act toward one another as friends, partners, teammates, collaborators, helpers, and even as family. People will be alert to and conscious of ways they can provide assistance whenever they see someone in need. It might be a greedy thing to do but acting altruistic is the best way to gain wealth in a non-POM system. So each person would be dealt with as the unique individual that they are in a unique situation and with unique sets of needs and wants. There would be no concern with being fair. Why should your rewards be limited just because someone else suffers some limitation? Why should the destruction of a neighbor’s house require the demolition of your house? Why should you be prevented from being kind to one stranger just because you cannot be similarly kind to all strangers?
With regards Rawls’ first principle: QUOTE “First: each person to have rights equal to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.” UNQUOTE. We see that non-POM provides liberty whether you like it or not. Liberty is inherent in a non-POM economy so the whole idea of liberty might go away for lack of the need of liberty.
On to Rawls’ second principle: Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that QUOTE
“(a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle (the difference principle).
(b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.”
Once again, with non-POM, social and economic inequalities are self-arranging. No one has to lift a finger to make any such arrangements. They spontaneously arrange themselves to generate the greatest benefit to everyone consistent with the just savings principle. The same thing happens with offices and positions because such are determined by a completely free market. Free markets are open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. If they are not open to everyone, they are not free.
So you see: all the conceptualizations of justice and fairness become pointless and unimportant in a non-POM system, they would cease to be of concern. Just as no one brings scuba gear to a picnic on the green in order to have oxygen to breathe, so people would not need ideals of justice and fairness to defend themselves from injustice because there would be no injustice. Though life itself is unfair, that would not be an issue with non-POM because unfairness would not be something imposed upon you by other people.
Can you imagine what life in a society which does not need these concepts would be like?