Distributive Justice: A King's Castle Is His Home college
topic: Philosophy - Moral Issues (341), Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison
Should the strong be required to support the weak? How does a society "distribute" wealth among its members? These are the questions of Distributive Justice. There are three basic sides to this issue. The Permissive system entitles individuals to a subsistence income simply for existing as a human. The Puritan system requires that people at least be willing to contribute to society in order to receive a subsistence income. Finally, the Individualist view holds the property rights of the individual to be sacred: no one may forcibly deprive him of his goods I will argue for the last alternative.
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\rightline {Zak Smith}
\rightline {April 26, 1995}
\rightline {Section 324}
\rightline {11:00 Tues}
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{\bf \centerline{A King's Castle Is His Home}}
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     Should the strong be required to support the weak?  How
does a society ``distribute'' wealth among its members?  These
are the questions of Distributive Justice.  There are three
basic sides to this issue.  The Permissive system entitles
individuals to a subsistence income simply for existing as a
human.  The Puritan system requires that people at least be
willing to contribute to society in order to receive a
subsistence income.  Finally, the Individualist view holds
the property rights of the individual to be sacred: no one
may forcibly deprive him of his goods.\footnote{${}^{1}$}{M \& Z, pp. 373-376}
I will argue for the last alternative.
\par

     Individualism is an extension of Locke's idea of
property rights.\footnote{${}^{2}$}{Locke, pg. 8}
An Individualist believes
each person owns his own life, the fruits of his labor, and
his property.  No one may deprive him of these property
rights.  He is free to act as long as his actions do not
interfere with the property rights of others.\footnote{${}^{3}$}{M \& Z, pp 352-353}
\par

     At this point it is important to define what {\it money} is.
Money is an exchange of value.  Money has value because it
represents labor, or value, one has created but not yet
used.  Money in my pocket is what I have created but not yet
consumed.  Money is not a natural resource; it does not grow
on trees.  Men can make money by their physical or mental
labor.\footnote{${}^{4}$}{Ayn Rand, {\it Atlas Shrugged}, pp. 410-415}
Do I not, then, have full claim to my earnings?
\par

     Govier says no.  She questions the very idea of
causality.  If {\bf A }discovers a cure for AIDS, it surely was
not solely a product of {\bf A}.  Society's framework made the
discovery possible: {\bf A } had to build on previous knowledge;
she had to use a laboratory she probably did not own.  All
of these factors make society a partner in the discovery.
Therefore, she does not have the right to all of the
benefits of her discovery; she must give up some of her
benefits to society at large.
\par

     It is true that {\bf A }did not personally create every piece
of equipment she used to make the discovery; however, the
point missed by Govier in this situation is that property is
held by individuals, and {\bf A }had to exchange value in the form
of money buy or rent the equipment she used.  The owners
have already been paid for the use of their equipment.
Business agreements occur between individuals; there is no
entity, ``society,'' that handed her a gift.  If {\bf A }were to
have to pay more to ``society,'' then she would, in effect, be
paying twice!
\par

     If a Permissivist responds with  ``but she will get rich
selling the cure for a high price while thousands are
dying,'' there are two responses.  The first is that this
phenomenon displays the actual {\it value} of her product -- the
price paid in a free market.  The second is that any attempt
to take her money simply because ``she has a lot of it'' is
simply robbery.

\par
     In a state of nature, I cannot get something for
nothing.  I cannot reap what I do not sow.  If I do not
invest effort planting and caring for my crops, there will
be nothing at harvest time.  Fish are not going to jump into
my boat; I have to catch them!  Govier and others who argue
for Permissivism or Puritanism seem to forget that the
wealth they want to redistribute must have a source, because
money represents value already created.  Thus they cannot
dole out wealth as if there were an inexhaustible supply of
it; Govier calls it ``manna from heaven.''  The only solution
they have to this problem is to rob those who already have money!

\par
     Govier's response to this is the ``causality argument"
which has already been dealt with.  Her next objection is
that the Individualist ignores the problem of ``just what
would constitute a good reason for giving {\bf A }a higher income
than {\bf B}.  Level of need, degree of responsibility, amount of
training, unpleasantness of work -- all these have been
proposed and all have some plausibility.''\footnote{${}^{5}$}{M \& Z, pg. 381}
\par
     She is still looking at wealth as ``manna from heaven,"
not as value that has been created.  If the ``Central
Distributor,'' as she calls it, did indeed dispense wealth as
he pleased, we would think there would be some primary
quality he would look for.\footnote{${}^{6}$}{M \& Z, pg. 381}
In reality,
however, the value of my creations is determined by what I
can exchange with others.  This is called ``free market
value.''  There is no need to use artificial attributes such
as need, responsibility, or training because there is a
{\it natural distribution} of wealth, which
occurs when individuals freely exchange products whose worth is determined
by the traders involved.  This is a ``natural distribution'' because
no man has the value he created, his wealth, taken by force.

\par
    A common objection to the Individualistic viewpoint is:
``Who will take care of the poor people?''  This brings up the
important point that Govier also made, ``many people will
suffer tremendously.  Some would even die as a result.''\footnote{${}^{7}$}{M \& Z, pg. 377}
\par

     In response to this question, the Individualist says,
``You may help them if you wish, and I may help them if I
wish, but no one may be forced to help them.''  When Govier
forces me to help the poor, she is trying to
spend more value than she has the right to -- she tries to
spend more than she has created.  John Hospers illustrated
this well,\par

{
\leftskip = .4 in
	  ``I enjoy seeing operas; but operas are expensive
     to produce.  Opera-lovers often say, `The state (or the
     city, etc.) should subsidize opera, so that we can all
     see it.  Also it would be for the people's betterment,
     cultural benefit, etc.'  But what they are advocating
     is nothing more or less than legalized plunder.  They
     can't pay for the productions themselves, and yet they
     want to see opera, which involves a large number of
     people and their labor; so what they are saying, in
     effect, is, `Get the money through legalized force.
     Take a little bit more out of every worker's paycheck
     every week to pay for the operas we want to see.'~''\footnote{${}^{8}$}{M \& Z, pg. 353}
 \par
}
     Govier may respond to this particular example by saying
that Opera and welfare are two totally different things; one
is mere entertainment and one affects others' lives.
That distinction is valid, but the issue at hand is:  trying
to spend more than you produce at the expense of others.
\par

     Am I responsible for your welfare?  Unless I choose to
be, you have no claim on my life or property.  I am not
hurting you by making money because there is not a static
amount of money, it can be created at will simply with
labor.\footnote{${}^{9}$}{Ayn Rand, {\it Atlas Shrugged}, pp. 410-415}
\par

     If a portion of the population is very poor, the
Permissivist would argue that there
could conceivably be violence.\footnote{${}^{10}$}{M \& Z, pg. 378}
One of the
roles of government, according to Locke, is to enforce
property rights, so one solution is that the government
would have to deal with the violence.  It is more likely,
however, because people have compassion, that {\it private}
organizations would be set up to help the poor get back on
their feet.
\par

     There is one major issue that has not yet been
addressed: What about those who are willing to work, but
cannot because of a disability?  Are they {\it entitled} to a
subsistence income?  The Individualist reply is this:  No,
they are not {\bf entitled} to anyone's labor, because no man may
force another's wealth from him.
If the disabled truly cannot produce anything of value, they are
at the mercy of those who can.  This may sound harsh, but if
the Permissivists really {\it value} human life as much as they
say, they will be more than willing to support these unproductive
individuals.  They still cannot spend more than they create. 
You have no duty to take
care of my crippled child, it is your choice.  Since I value
my crippled son, I choose to care for him.
\par
    Govier's response to this would be, ``A society which does not
accept the responsibility for supplying such a person with the basic necessities
of life is, in effect, endorsing a difference between its members which is
without moral justification.''\footnote{${}^{11}$}{M \& Z, pg. 375}  The point
she is missing, however, is that my property -- value I create -- and
the fact that I can create it {\it is} moral justification for the difference.
\par
     The question of Distributive Justice comes down to
which is more important: Public Utilitarianism or the
Natural Rights of Man.  Locke's Rights of Man, when applied
to Distributive Justice, produce a consistent model in
which the individual has both liberty and responsibility for
himself.

\end

[Zak Smith] [zak@computer.org] [/~zak/documents/college/philo-justice/tex]
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