A Better Approach to Justice

one that actually solves material problems for society

Photo by McCabe Coats on Unsplash

Long ago, having abandoned a serious consideration of Marxism, I decided to try to figure out what a really just economy would be. I had no idea that would end up requiring a whole new approach to justice. Yet, I learned that the existing economic system (in any nation) can be made more just — while solving all of the societal problems associated with it — by changing only one thing: the way it is supplied with money (as currency).

What follows is the distillation of decades or reading, studying, and thinking about what justice must really be. That included earning an M.A. in economics. (My Thesis was in political economy, where economics and philosophy intersect; it included an extensive review of the academic debate concerning ‘distributive justice’ that was initiated by the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice.)

Needless to say, I had to accept lots of new information that did not exactly jibe with my preconceptions. Reading further will be a waste of time for anyone not willing to do that.

I learned, foremost though not first, that ‘conditions of justice’ must take the place of ‘Rights’ as the framework for societal justice. The latter are inherently self-centered; the former are not. As has also been pointed out by postmodernists (not to mention all religions), self-centeredness is, to say the least, a problematic starting point for justice.

I found that the ethic of justice is, most broadly, mutual respect — of a basic kind: taking one another into account as we live our separate lives together in this world. Justice is, not surprisingly, ‘other-centered’. Respecting others in that way is the “definitive, sufficient, prescriptive condition of justice.” It becomes the societal ethic by which individuals can govern themselves and the just structure and functioning of the political process and the economy can be determined. Individualism is not rejected, but it is reoriented.

A requirement of mutual respect does follow from a belief in human equality. The philosophy of Liberalism is therefore pregnant with that ethic. Unfortunately, basing justice on any belief means it cannot be justly applied to the governance of society because it must be imposed on anyone who rejects that belief. That puts coercion at the very core of society.

“Real justice” (as I have come to call this approach to justice) involves no belief. The ethic of real justice follows from the observation that in our material existence human beings have no choice but to effect choices (i.e., choose among perceived alternatives and take action to bring that choice to fruition) [which I got from Warren J. Samuels, via Dr. Boadu at Atlanta University]. Those choices can range from the trivial to those that affect the whole future course of a person’s life. No one who accepts the validity of that observation can deny the applicability of the ethic that follows from it to all people, including oneself.

To respect others in that context is to take into account, when effecting any choice, the persons and interests of any other people who are involved in any way. To respect other people that way is to acknowledge them as fellow human beings. To act otherwise regarding any other person is to deny in some way, to some degree that person’s humanness.

Thus, the ethic of justice is mutual respect in effecting choices. Technically, mutual respect is the ethic of justice and effecting choices is the domain of justice, the vast but finite aspect of life in which people’s actions must be governed by mutual respect. Outside it, personal morality takes over.

The implications of this ethic for individuals, the political process, and the economy follow from it as certainly as day follows night. It is all strictly rational.

There is no ‘moral relativism’ here: real justice boils down to a “minimum, necessary, proscriptive condition of justice:” no co-opting or (otherwise) preempting other person’s capacity to choose when effecting any choice. It entails a handful of absolute prohibitions: no killing, harming, coercing, stealing, or manipulating (which includes lying, cheating, tricking, etc.) in effecting any choice.

Anyone who is refraining from violating any of those prohibitions in obtaining any end, for oneself or on behalf of any other entity, whether public or private, is being ‘just enough’. In a society governed by real justice, everywhere and always, no matter what, whether acting for themselves or on behalf of any other entity, private or public — or any cause, to include the cause of justice — individuals would be constrained by those prohibitions. Justice is present in the interactions among individuals when all people are governing themselves that way. (Every society must have a system of criminal and civil justice to judge specific claims of injustice that arise.)

So real justice is an advance beyond Liberalism (the meta-ideology that has spawned the political ideologies of libertarianism, conservatism, liberalism, and democratic socialism). In Liberalism, equality and a Right to liberty are the ‘twin pillars of justice’ for a society. Unlike liberty, with real justice there is no need to limit how ‘justly’ a person might choose to act. Unlike equality, there are no practical limits on applying real justice to the governance of society, including the economy. Unlike liberty or equality, mutual respect as the ethic of justice can even apply to relations among nations. Mutual respect in effecting choices is unlimited goodness.

Still, a society governed by real justice would look very familiar to anyone living today in a Liberal nation. It would have the maximum liberty that co-existing people can share simultaneously. It would also have a democratic political process. The economic system would be structured and would function as a societal system exactly the same as at present — but the outcomes for society of that system would be transformed. (‘The economy’ is the process of producing/acquiring goods and services; the ‘economic system’ is the set of institutions via which that process proceeds in nay society.)

Real justice provides three conditions of justice for the economy: freedom for people to decide how/to what extent to participate in the economy; the existence of a “democratically distributed income” (DDI); and the absence of exploitation. The more of those conditions that are met, the more just the economy will be. Currently, almost every nation’s economy meets the first of those conditions; no nation’s economy meets — or, to include the ‘Communist’ nations, has ever met — that one and either of the other two.

For any nation that would do what is necessary realize at least the first and second of the conditions of justice for the economy, the results would be as irrefutable as they are astonishing: the economy would become fully self-regulating, with no unemployment (at no cost to anyone) and no poverty (without having to redistribute anything). The same process could be used to fund government (all government, from central to local) with no taxes (of any kind) and no public debt (at any level of government). Sustainability would be increased (even without additional regulations or any changes in behavior). There would be built-in protections against inflation (unlike the current economic system of any nation). To be clear, no limit would need to be imposed on income/wealth. (For more, there is “Same Economy, Way Better Outcomes for Society” or, primarily for economists, “Paradigm Shift,” both in Medium.)

When I first came up with the idea of a DDI I had no assurance it would make any economic sense at all, much less produce those outcomes. The money for it would be created as needed, without involving debt (sort of a permanent ‘quantitative easing’ for people). It would become the supply of money (as currency) for the economy. It would be “democratically distributed” because any (adult) citizen could become eligible for it, if paid to retirees and adults unable to work as well as employees in minimum-pay positions. (Employers would use benefits to compete for such employees in a free labor market.) It would be a bulletproof guaranteed minimum income.

To realize Marxism’s goal of eliminating exploitation, thereby becoming a fully just economy, would require only an expansion of the DDI, such that every employee of any business or government would be paid it. In short, there would be an impermeable barrier between the revenue of all businesses and government and all people (with only these exceptions: where appropriate, businesses could buy the raw food of farmers/ranchers and pay out commissions and royalties). Different positions of employment in the economy could still command different packages of (in-kind) benefits, with no limit imposed on them. Since those accrue to a person only for the time that person is in that position and cannot be used to accumulate wealth, such differences would not represent exploitation. There would still be no limit on the amount of income people could earn otherwise. Besides commissions and royalties, earning such incomes could take three forms. One would be people working together as partners (defined as people with a say in all decisions related to the enterprise). One would be people working as “singularly self-employed individuals” (i.e., alone and neither an employee nor the employer of any other person) — whether exclusively or complementarily, e.g., ‘side-hustles’. The other form such incomes could take would be employment in private not-for-profits, such as foundations and churches. (The issue of legitimacy regarding such entities would be moot, in the absence of outright fraud, because any such entity would be limited to donations from individuals for their money — no money from any business or government — and no one employed in any such entity would be allowed the DDI as compensation for working in it.)

It is vitally important that the first or both of those other conditions of justice involving a DDI can be realized within the existing economic system of any nation. All that is needed is a central bank (to administer the DDI), which institution is currently a part of every nation’s economic system (although, as an alternative, a Monetary Agency could be established.)

Moreover, this economic paradigm can stand alone as an economic proposal, without any reference to justice whatsoever. Not only could any nation adopt it, but groups of nations could adopt it by having a common DDI — without compromising any nation’s sovereignty one whit.

For the matter, every nation on the planet could one day share the same DDI, still without compromising any nation’s sovereignty. Nations could still choose to opt for a fully just economy or not. In any event, all of the material benefits of the DDI associated with the first and second conditions of justice for the economy would be realized equally everywhere on Earth.

Imagine that.