Social Justice by Saying That Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

He writes, "The postulate of material equality would be a natural starting point only if it were a necessary circumstance that the shares of the different individuals or groups were in such a manner determined by deliberate human decision" (p. 81). Demand for equality or material redistribution can be based only on the belief that someone's decision has created the inequality so. Obviously, by assuming that the social does not exist and that the market is impersonal, there is no decision to blame for inequality. Further, he operates from the assumption that any starting point of equality is impossible to achieve due to the practical nightmare it would entail to redistribute wealth and resources. Another assumption he makes is that impersonality "brings about a greater satisfaction of human desires than any deliberate human organization could achieve" (p. 63). It is not clear on what history he bases this claim on the market's unintentional benevolence. Yet it clearly assumes that "nature" is a better means to achieve well-being than institutionalized human morality or social programs. Another assumption he makes is that we have discovered this market procedure and discerned that merit is not part of its assumptions: "these values which their services will have to their fellows will often have no relations to their individual merits or needs" (p. 72). This connection between deserving and rewards is alleged, not real. In his view, value is determined by worth to the receiver alone. The assumption is that real value cannot be known "except in so far as the market tells him" (p. 77). You cannot construct value -- i.e., know what just remuneration is -- without knowing the market. The important thing for Hayek is that remuneration is based on accident (luck), but that "the individual is to be allowed to decide what to do" (p. 81).

In the end, Hayek proposes a view that excludes social justice from discussions of capitalism. Since the free market is the most desirable form of social order, it should be left alone to work itself out without social (or socialist) interference. The spontaneous ordering of haphazard outcomes among free individuals should remain free of meddling. If inequality results, it is neither good nor bad, only neutral. The only way an economic system could be judged morally is if its process is intentional and designed to affect the well-being of others. That would mean governmental control, which he opposes to a preferable free system. Redistribution cannot be done with predictable outcomes.

Perhaps the fundamental flaw in Hayek's position is to assume that the market and its procedural game are impersonal. Clearly the free market is a human invention in the first place. It is a socially constructed idea, not a naturally occurring process. For millennia, humans lived without the benefit of a capitalistic free market. There have been many societies based on other forms of exchange. More than that, its legitimacy is socially constructed. In this vein, a powerful critique of Hayek's position comes from Hilary Wainwright's article "Arguments for a New Left." Her main concern with Hayek's view is its epistemological individualism which presumes that no person or collective can know in advance the market's outcomes. This leads him to unwarranted faith in a mysterious self-regulating price mechanism in the free market. It likewise sees the state as the protector of the market's spontaneity. The contradiction she exposes in this is the monopoly, which arises spontaneously but which has the perverse effect of limiting competition -- precisely the point that Hayek wants to preserve. Hayek cannot deal with this problem since his view cannot tell a government when to intervene. By contrast, Wainwright says, "If knowledge is understood as a social product, the foundation for Hayek's case for the free market begins to crumble" (Wainwright 1994). She points effectively to collaborative efforts in Japan and in the Italian textile industry as empirical examples of social cooperation to shape the market. While still a limited knowledge, cooperation can increase the predictability of the social consequences of economic action. This decreases their haphazardness and recognizes their social construction. It opens up the possibility for social planning and experimentation, not just subjection to luck-based impersonal market laws. Such desirable social projects incorporate human agency and ground the potential for social justice. Social justice becomes real.


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