Rules of Just Conduct versus Social Justice

by on January 31, 2005 at 2:36 pm in Economics | Permalink

Elizabeth Anderson and other commentators misunderstand Hayek and in the process they fail to understand the sense in which market outcomes may be said to be just (Tyler comments also).

Hayek argued that the concept of social or distributive justice was "empty and meaningless."  Anderson tries to use this argument, which she explains well, to suggest that any idea of libertarian or free market justice must also be empty and meaningless.  Hayek, however, did not argue against rules of just conduct, "those end-independent rules which serve the formation of a spontaneous order."  Among such rules may be Nozickian or Lockean rules of voluntary exchange.

It’s quite possible, for example, to be a good Hayekian and also to say that I deserve my income because it was acquired by just conduct, e.g. by production and trade.

True, it is an accidental fact that I live in a time and place where my skills are highly prized.  In this sense, I do not deserve my income (i.e. my income is in part a function of things beyond my control).  But I do deserve my income in the sense that it was acquired justly and to take justly acquired earnings may be an injustice.

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