What is meant by Justice for all? What is Justice and what must a society do for it to exist for all? In this election season we must look for evidence that justice is first and foremost in the minds of those who vie to become our leaders. We must further ask if Justice is possible without government.
Let us assert that Justice is a societal system applied in equal measure to all members and designed to constrain and direct human behavior in order to produce an optimal collective effort. Administered by a central authority within a framework of rules and regulations it is intended to ensure that all members receive their due either in terms of rewards or punishment for adhering to or in violation of that framework respectively.
Given this definition it would seem obvious that some form of government is essential to the establishment and maintenance of a System of Justice. James Madison, in Federalist Paper 51 asserted, “Justice is the end of government.” for, “If men were angels no government would be necessary.” Looking around, it becomes obvious that all societies have some sort of central authority essential for the control of its members, to resolve conflict and provide direction to the collective effort at the core of its reason for existence.
The need for Justice exists in recognition of the nature of man. We are not angels. We are humans concerned with ourselves: our needs, our wants, our desires. Every individual is inclined to preserve his/her life and seek that which is not only necessary but pleasing to him/her. In pursuit of our own interests we are inevitably placed at odds with our fellow man who is equally involved in the pursuit of his/her self interest.
There are two fundamental lessons for every human to learn. First, humans can realize a higher degree of their potential for both survival and happiness through a collective effort with other humans. Second, in order to attain the highest possible degree of happiness within that effort, the individual must constrain his behavior, limit his personal freedom and relinquish a portion of his rights to the community at large.
The first lesson seems obvious, the second counterintuitive. How can one achieve a higher degree of freedom by restricting that freedom? How can one preserve their rights by relinquishing a portion of those rights to the community at large?
Consider for a moment our common rules of the road. They constrain and direct human behavior on our highways and byways. One fundamental rule is that traffic always stays to the right. Suppose some individuals, to do as they please for their own happiness, decide to drive on the left side of the road. Absolute freedom would allow such a choice. And, such individuals would be absolutely free – right up to the point they were involved in a head-on collision and ceased to exist.
Similarly, if people were free to enter an intersection at any time and any speed, that freedom would be short-lived as the chances of deadly collision would rise in proportion to the exercise of that freedom.
Thus, within a collective effort, the individual must agree to place restrictions on his behavior for the common good because it is ultimately in his own best interest to do so.
At the core of any group is an economic system that provides for the distribution of goods and services essential to each individual’s needs and desires. Clearly, if the individual engages in the collective effort for his own benefit and a system of justice is essential to optimizing that benefit, then that system of justice must apply to the economic system as well.
One vision of a just economy asserts that those who produce things that are essential and improve our quality of life should be encouraged to do so without constraint. The argument is that, when constraints are placed on the so called “makers”, others will suffer because there will be less of what is needed, less of what will improve the quality of life. The makers are rewarded with increased wealth. Others are rewarded with the means to meet their needs and improve their lot in life. Wealth then is a quantification of the benefit produced, the fulfillment of those things essential to survival and which enhance happiness. Therefore, since wealth reflects the derived benefit of others, it is fully deserved and just.
Of course the key to this vision is production. The argument only holds when there is actual production involved and goods and services actually enhance the existence of society as a whole. However, when there is a deficit of production, when pure speculation and the gaming of the system is involved such that wealth is wrung from the system without producing benefit to others, then this vision of justice has been violated and there is an imbalance in the system.
This is what happened in 2008. Tremendous wealth was created through the gaming of the system; financial products were created and sold producing nothing of value in return. The resulting wealth violated the fundamental formula of that vision of justice. The imbalance caused devastation for millions of members of our society and created a deficit that will require years, if not decades, to restore. It was a catastrophe – a multi-trillion dollar pileup – on the highways of our economy.
With wealth comes power. In an economic system where money is the medium of exchange, those with the most money have the potential to exercise the greatest power over that system. And, since men are not angels, experience has shown that those who can accumulate power will do so and exercise that power to their fullest advantage. If that power is not controlled and directed, it becomes counterproductive to the collective effort in that benefit accrues to those with power and is depleted in the lives of the rest.
In contradiction to this vision of a just economy based on the non-restraint of the individual is the assertion that the system is equally necessary and the entrepreneur is just as dependent on the system as is the system on the entrepreneur. The entrepreneurial capacity cannot flourish in a vacuum; certain conditions are required for that capacity to realize it’s potential. For example, would anyone believe that had Bill Gates been born in a small fishing village deep within the rain forest of the Amazon, he would have still produced the benefits to humanity which his company, Microsoft, has rendered? If Steve Jobs had been born 100 years ago in Madrid, Spain, would he still have produced the Apple Computer?
Obviously certain preconditions must exist before such advancements occur. It is the responsibility of society to create, maintain and enhance those conditions which allow the entrepreneur to flourish. Just as rules of the road are necessary to control and direct movement on our highways, rules of the marketplace are essential to facilitate an optimal degree of creativity and productivity.
To argue that regulation serves no purpose in economic endeavor is as illogical as to contend that we do not need traffic laws and rules of the road. Both serve a necessary function to enhance our ability to survive and flourish. Both inhibit individual behavior for the common good. Justice demands such rules be understood, respected and obeyed. Those who cannot must be punished as is their due. Justice permits nothing less.
In this season of political activity each of us must listen carefully to those who would become our leaders. We must wisely analyze which among them are truly concerned and, especially, have the intellectual capacity to comprehend that which is necessary to ensure that we, indeed, have justice for all.