Thursday, 27 April 2006

Anti-social behaviour

I am very pleased that I had the opportunity to meet F A Hayek a couple of times. On of his many insights was that the concept of "social justice" is essentially meaningless:
Reason: Well, then, why isn't there any such thing as social justice?

Hayek: Because justice refers to rules of individual conduct. And no rules of the conduct of individuals can have the effect that the good things of life are distributed in a particular manner. No state of affairs as such is just or unjust: it is only when we assume that somebody is responsible for having brought it about.

Now, we do complain that God has been unjust when one family has suffered many deaths and another family has all of its children grow up safely. But we know we can't take that seriously. We don't mean that anybody has been unjust.

In the same sense, a spontaneously working market, where prices act as guides to action, cannot take account of what people in any sense need or deserve, because it creates a distribution which nobody has designed, and something which has not been designed, a mere state of affairs as such, cannot be just or unjust. And the idea that things ought to be designed in a 'just' manner means, in effect, that we must abandon the market and turn to a planned economy in which somebody decides how much each ought to have, and that means, of course, that we can only have it at the price of the complete abolition of personal liberty.

How sad it is to read about this misguided event:
SCOTLAND’S GROWING social enterprise sector held its first national trade fair in Perth yesterday.
We are told that:
Social enterprise is a growing part of Scotland’s business mix
That's unfortunate then. A proper business exists to provide its services in the marketplace and makes a profit if it succeeds in that aim. There's nothing at all wrong with businesses that are cooperatives and don't have non-employee shareholders provided that those organisations exist in the free market. As I suspected, the organisation behind this fair doesn't support that kind of enterprise. They claim that they want "social" enterprises to be "Competing on a level playing field to deliver public services across Scotland".

And here's how that is to be achieved:

The Scottish Executive should:

* Support the development of social enterprise through continued, significant and long-term investment in Futurebuilders Scotland

* Recognise and take action to address the distinct needs of social enterprise within the wider social economy

* Work with finance institutions to develop forms of finance which meet the needs of emerging and existing social enterprises

* Play a lead role in putting social enterprise at the heart of social and economic policy across Scotland

Scotland's local authorities and other public agencies should set targets for social enterprises winning procurement contracts, and take all necessary action to meet these targets.

Scotland's economic development and regeneration agencies should put social enterprise at the heart of their policies and practice and take positive action to support the development of social enterprise.

The voluntary sector should recognise and work with social enterprise as a partner in its work to meet social need and develop the social economy.

The private sector should explore how it can work with social enterprise to deliver responsible and sustainable business growth.

In other words this whole boondoggle is about spending taxpayers' money on politically correct non-businesses that can't exist fair and square in the marketplace. Scotland's problem is that politicians of all parties refuse to speak out in favour of the real businesses that are forced to pay for their "social" competitors.

Hayek was right. When we abandon the market and turn instead to the incoherent ideas of social justice and social enterprise the ultimate outcome will be "the complete abolition of personal liberty".


David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

Squander Two, you're right. Justice doesn't mean fairness. Unfairness does not necessarily have a moral content, while justice does. The organisation of society is not something outside our control. There is unfairness, as Hayek points out, in some families suffering more deaths than others, and of course, that is not injustice. But where unfairness has been created by human agency and can be rectified by human agency, it does not seem unreasonable to say it has a moral content and to call it injustice, even if you cannot hold one individual to account for it.  
Robert Speirs, you say groups can't take actions? What's an Act of Parliament then? What is the incorporation of a company? Groups take actions all the time.  
The strange thing about this argument is that Hayek himself is a social reformer arguing that the present state of affairs in society is unjust. Like Marx he may dress his argument in economic objectivity, but it is a moral argument: he believes that certain people are receiving unjust preference from government; he seeks to move towards a society where government is minimal; he regards the spontaneously working market as the basis of a just society. He believes in social justice - just a different sort from the people who usually espouse the term.

5 May 2006, 23:42:55 GMT+01:00
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Squander Two
> It is perfectly possible to use "justice" or rather "injustice" in the broad sense, where a situation appears on the face of it to be unfair and where the unfairness can to some extent be rectified 
I think the word you're looking for is "fairness". Justice is something else.  
It is perfectly possible to use the word "infer" to mean "imply". Lots of people do. They're wrong.

3 May 2006, 17:38:22 GMT+01:00
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Robert Speirs
I see. Now "justice" means "special favours from government". Why didn't someone explain it like that before? Hayek is exactly right. "Justice", like morality, is a concept that applies only to individuals and their actions, for the very good reason that groups can't take actions. Individuals often say their actions represent the will of a group - to compensate, for instance, for "unreasonable" income distributions. But this untrue assertion just marks the individual making it as unjust, vicious and criminal.

1 May 2006, 16:31:10 GMT+01:00
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Hayek is himself playing on words in the original quote. He relies on a narrow meaning of "justice", i.e. one where there is someone in particular who is responsible for having brought a state of affairs about and who can be brought to justice. It is perfectly possible to use "justice" or rather "injustice" in the broad sense, where a situation appears on the face of it to be unfair and where the unfairness can to some extent be rectified - like a society where, for no very good reason, some people have a lot more money or a lot more access to opportunities than others.  
The trade fair sounds a pretty innocuous event, bringing together what sound like businesses that have some genuine economic niche - and it's even praised by Murdo Fraser MSP, former Hayek disciple.  
As for the quote from the SSEC - isn't special pleading the work of any trade association? Doesn't every such body from the British Bankers Association to the Federation of Master Builders to the Law Society of Scotland demand money and special favours from government?  
Get over it!

29 April 2006, 00:03:14 GMT+01:00
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David Farrer said...

Bang on. Another million or so like you and we get the revolution we need in the peoples republic of North Britain.

28 April 2006, 13:05:44 GMT+01:00
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I do the audits for a lot of these type of organisations.Unbelievable waste - every invoice in its own plastic folder, every staff meeting gets catering bought in,if somebody leaves theres no whipround - present paid for out of petty cash etc etc

28 April 2006, 01:03:21 GMT+01:00
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"If I spend all my money down the bookies, lose the lot and get my house repossed and get the sack, am I then a victim of 'social injustice'?" 
Of course you are - after all the evil capitalist bookies tricked you into it, didn't they? Anyway, it will all be okay because the government has given up on protecting you from criminals (see several hundred such criminals un-accounted for by the Home Office) as they are just suffering from 'social injustice' too and is instead going to concentrate on protecting you from yourself - best get out the checkbook though, cause making you live right is going to cost a fair bit.

27 April 2006, 14:28:38 GMT+01:00
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Anon A Moss
Scotland is a country where you can often hear people banging on about 'social justice', and for years I have been trying to get one of these advocates 'social justice' to tell me what it actually means. I have never had any such explanation, and so must presume that it is merely another of those nebulous terms like 'family values' that is essentially empty.  
I did find something about it here: 
If I spend all my money down the bookies, lose the lot and get my house repossed and get the sack, am I then a victim of 'social injustice'?

27 April 2006, 13:50:52 GMT+01:00
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andrew duffin
A good thought trick is to assume that anything prefixed by the word "social" means the OPPOSITE of its proper meaning. 
Thus "social cost", "social wage", and now, as you've noticed, "social enterprise". 
Where this leave social workers I am not quite sure.

27 April 2006, 12:41:43 GMT+01:00
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Hear, hear.

27 April 2006, 10:51:38 GMT+01:00