Distributive justice not justice at all

By Tibor Machan: Freedom New Mexico columnist

For a long time, political philosophers were interested in identifying the nature of justice. It started with Socrates and lasted to when John Stuart Mill did his work, although by that time there had been talk of this thing called distributive justice.

By now, most political theorists dwell on little else.

Yet, I have never quite understood why the idea has become so prominent since it is clearly question-begging. Distribution is something done by people who have things to distribute, who are legitimate, rightful owners of what may be wanted from them about town. Money, mainly.

So in our day government takes money from people — the resources they have made, earned, found, won or whatever — and hands it to some other people (after taking a good cut for itself).

How the distribution goes may be judged as arbitrary, fair, unfair, corrupt or just. But all this couldn’t even begin if it were determined that the initial taking of the resources is wrong.

And as I have managed to figure these matters, taxing people is wrong. That means that distributing what is taken in taxes is also wrong.

Accordingly distributive justice could not be justice at all. It is at most something touched by a bit of generosity, as when bank robbers divvy up their loot among some needy folks, in what is taken to be a Robin Hoodish way.

Why is taxation wrong? It is depriving people of what belongs to them without their consent. Sure, some people in a society may consent, by voting for it, to the taking of other people’s resources, but that couldn’t possibly make the taking anything better than confiscation because it involves coercion and lacks the consent of the owners.

And this is what had been realized, more or less, when individual rights were finally clearly enough understood and affirmed by some political philosophers.

Few came right out and condemned taxation because they held the mistaken belief that the administration of a just legal system required it. But it does not.

They had similar ideas about slavery in various places until finally they gave that up.

They should have given up taxation along with its conceptual sibling, serfdom.

Both of these had their home under feudalism and other types of monarchy since in such systems the government — king, czar, pharaoh, dictator, ruler, politburo, etc. — owns everything and thus when people live and work within the realm, they are made to pay taxes as their rent and fees.

Government in such systems permits people to live and work and charges them for this by making them serve in the military, subjecting them to forced labor, etc. The benefits government provides are privileges, grants from the sovereign to the subjects. Such systems do not recognize individual rights.

Distributive justice is a weird hybrid that combines feudal or monarchical features with those of a fully free society, one in which it is individual citizens who are sovereign, not the government.

But the two, wealth-distribution by government and justice, plainly enough don’t mix, despite how sophisticated folks claim they do.