Thursday, May 19, 2005

Exploitation & Social Justice

Social justice
"refers to the overall fairness of a society in its divisions of rewards and burdens."
I find it difficult to understand what "social justice" is supposed to mean and why this concept should be seen as the basis for a normative theory of the purpose of government. It seems that most often those who "fight for social justice" (I recall Senator Kerry suggesting that his faith leads him to fight for social justice) are advocating that the purpose of government is to redistribute income and wealth so that social justice can be achieved. My difficulty in understanding this normative theory of government is that I see government redistribution in general as government using its coercive power to take from Mutt to give to Jeff, and that generally seems unjust to me. I suspect that the advocates of social justice see government as correcting an injustice that is the result of exploitation, and that when our system of political economy is under the social justice microscope the idea is that our system is, by its nature, characterized by exploitation.

But, then, I've got to say I don't think I understand what exploitation means. I think I tend to be suspicious of the term because it is often used to condemn market exchange which I see as involving voluntary behavior in general. I don't think exploitation, of a worker for example, can be claimed when the situation called exploitation occurs because the identified exploited individual voluntarily chooses to be in the situation under review. I suspect that in general, there can only be exploitation if there is coercion. That leads me to this question: Can there be exploitation without the coercive power of government being behind the person who exploits others?

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