The Socialist Nonsense of Distributive Justice

The socialists claim they simply want a fair division of the wealth, an equal sharing of the cake for all. They call it “Distributive Justice”

All sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it?
After all who would be in favour of an unfair division of the wealth, or “Distributive Injustice”?

This is however, just another example of the left twisting words with positive emotional content to mean entirely different things to further their agenda, just like:

Child Poverty
Fuel Poverty

The problem of course is that there is no THE wealth or THE cake.
(There is MY wealth, YOUR wealth, HIS cake and HER cake.)

True distributive justice requires a knowledge of how the wealth was created.

Let’s simplify the explanation by considering a desert island scenario.

Five people are shipwrecked on a desert island. They wander around the island together and discover, by luck, a small natural orchard of fruit trees.

I would find it hard to argue that anything other than an equal division of this wealth, found by luck, is fair. In this case I agree with the socialists that distributive justice requires equal shares.

As time passes four of the people are quite happy to sit in the shade of the orchard, spend their days talking, relaxing and living off the fruit, hoping that a ship might rescue them.

One person, we shall call him Murray, wants more from life. He spends his time searching the island for suitable plants to make yarn. After many hours, over several months, of trial and error he discovers a plant and a process that can produce yarn. He sets about trying to make the yarn into netting. It is more difficult than he imagined but  eventually after many long days and nights he manages to construct a net. Then he goes fishing. At first he catches nothing, it takes quite a lot of skill and effort to master fishing with his improvised net, but he perseveres. After weeks of catching nothing he finally catches a large Tuna fish.

Now the socialists call upon their version of distributive justice and say that THE wealth (the  Tuna fish) must be shared equally among the five people on the island. They ignore the fact the wealth was created entirely by Murray and is therefore not THE wealth, it is MURRAY’S wealth.

True distributive justice demands that Murray should be able to keep his fish and eat it all himself, or share it if he wants to, but the decision should be entirely his.

Now most people with any common sense would agree with the second version and that Murray’s wealth should not be shared equally, unless that is what Murray wants.
(They would almost certainly fail to see that this is exactly what taxation does, but…)

Socialist philosophers have a “clever” way around this. They say that there is actually no difference between the wealth found by luck which rightly belongs to all and the wealth created by Murray.

Their reason is, that all people are a product of luck and the people who sat around and did nothing do so because they are pre-disposed to do this by the luck of nature which gave them their genes. Likewise Murray was pre-disposed to work and be productive through no merit of his own. It was the luck of nature which gave him the genes to be productive and the inclination to use them.

Therefore all wealth is ultimately the result of luck and no one is entitled to any more of it than anyone else.

Amazingly, many “intellectuals” find this argument convincing. (or at least a suitably coherent cloak to mask their envy of those more wealthy than themselves)

The implications of this view are not limited to distributive justice and it is in the absurdity of their ramifications in other areas that the nonsense is exposed:

If people can take no credit for their positive activities in the creation of wealth, because they are not responsible in any meaningful way, they were simply lucky in the lottery of nature and received genes that left them no choice, then it MUST follow that you cannot blame anyone for their negative activities either.

The sadistic  paedophile who tortures and murders an innocent child cannot be punished, he is not responsible in any meaningful way, he was simply unlucky in the lottery of nature and received genes that left him with no choice.

The socialists cannot have it both ways!

People are either responsible for their actions, in which case the wealth they create belongs to them, or they are not responsible for their actions in which case we must let all the evils of the world go unpunished.

It seems, to me at least, that a society that cannot punish crime is far too high a price to pay to ease the envy felt by socialists.

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  • BenS

    Do you not find Rawsian justice even slightly convincing, for instance?

    • Murray Rothbard

      No, I think Nozick convincingly took Rawls apart in Anarchy, State & Utopia.

      True Egalitarian’s do have real problems with Rawls, because to argue with Rawls’ view of distributive justice they have to accept that it is better to be equal even if that means that the worse off are even worse off. That clearly puts envy above absolute welfare and whilst I think envy is the driving force of egalitarianism they don’t like to admit it!

      Rawls would say that Murray could keep some of his fish, but only if in so doing it improved the situation of the worst off members of the community. This still falls into the trap of treating wealth as if it appears by magic and the only problem is how to distribute it fairly. 

      Once you see accept that wealth is created by the actions of individuals and they have a right to what they produce, you can no more accept Rawls view of distributive justice than you can a true egalitarians.

      I think its actually very simple: Murray should keep as much of his fish as he wants, because he sacrificed leisure time to innovate and work and it was his efforts alone created the wealth.

      Redistribution in any form is simply theft.

  • Sam Amer

    Beautiful, just beautiful. I’m so pleased I discovered your blog. I’ve added it to my feed to tweet out. Please keep up the good work.

    • Murray Rothbard

      You are very kind

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  • Jerry O Riordan

    Interesting however you use a singular source of inequality of origins – genes – and neglect variant socialisations stemming from the disparity of privilege. For example do you mean to tell me that a person brought up in a home with two illiterate  crack-heads for parents is going to have the same competences such as linguistic skills and literacy along with confidence and aspirations as a person reared in a home where both parents are lawyers or professors regardless of genes  (This is not simply down to luck either but largely system related – poverty, closed doors, poor education and crack use are linked). Are they going to have the same opportunities granted to them by the social network they have been born into.
    Furthermore your analogy is weak. On your Island there are no consumers or workers which would be required for anyone to produce and distribute their product. Workers who have not had the same privileges to be the company founder but yet create much of the wealth for the founder through sacrificing a large amount of their time often in banal and repetitive labour processes. Steve Jobs and Apple benefited greatly not just from their smart products but also from the slave labour conditions of the Chinese labourers building their products.

  • Joshua Bailey

    If anyone gave a shit about libertarianism other than an oddball collection of 17 year old internet warriors, we’d have had a “nightwatchman state” decades ago. As it stands, you’ll just have to put up with the right of the majority to exercise their freedom of democracy to choose – in overwhelming numbers – for big-state policies and “distributive justice” :) If the majority of the public strongly advocate such policies, you have to accept them. Stop whining about “socialism”, you sound like a conspiracy theorist – it’s not “socialism” but “political reality” (of the centrist variety) which ensures you’ll never escape your dreamland.

    “The sadistic paedophile who tortures and murders an innocent child cannot be punished, he is not responsible in any meaningful way, he was simply unlucky in the lottery of nature and received genes that left him with no choice.” – This kind of antiscientific genetic determinism nonsense suggests you need to get a relevant degree before making claims which contradict the facts, in order to conform to your 19th century dogma.

  • Dukereed

    “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” – Steinbeck