The following post was written on October 17, 2012
If you could actually implement “social justice,” what does it look like? By “social justice,” I mean that the government controls all economic goods and can pass them out to achieve complete fairness. Nobody can have more than anyone else. But of course the judgment as to what constitutes fairness is now made by the government. And in order to get to this world where the government can achieve perfect fairness, you have had to give up your right to achieve beyond what the government will give you. Now your only access to anything – from the most frivolous luxuries down to the most basic necessities, such as food – comes from the government, through its benevolence, or its whim. Surely the government – particularly a government that by all its public statements is totally devoted to the achievement of fairness and justice - will pass the goods out in a fair and just manner!
Lacking a Stalinist Soviet Union or a Maoist China at the moment, the closest we have to the perfect social justice state is North Korea. And they are very restrictive about who can get in and write about them. Every so often there is a crack, but they are usually careful to choose as visitors those who won't embarrass them. The linked article resulted from one of their rare mistakes.
You really have to read this article to believe it. It was written in 1991 by a British physician by the name of Anthony Daniels (who also uses a pen-name Theodore Dalrymple). Actually the amazing thing is that Dalrymple is one of the very few writers with a grain of understanding of totalitarianism who has actually penetrated into North Korea and turned on some critical powers of observation to see what is going on. Dalrymple looks at a department store in North Korea and asks, what is the reason that this thing exists in this form and that people created it and devoted the work to make it as it is? It turns out that despite a superficial physical resemblance, a department store in North Korea bears almost no resemblance by these “why?” criteria to a department store in a free society. It doesn’t take very much observation to figure it out, but that doesn’t mean that many people have been able to figure it out. (Part of that is that few westerners get in; another part is that the few who get in are vetted for likely devotion to the “cause” of social justice or international socialism or whatever; and not a small part is the general lack of curiosity of most people.) I’m reminded of a credulous NPR crew that was given access to North Korea a few years ago and actually conducted and broadcast an interview with a North Korean family. The idiots had no idea that they were putting this poor family in mortal danger, where even the slightest mis-statement would get them killed.
So that's perfect social justice in practice: you must demonstrate humiliating and servile loyalty to the government at all times, failing which they can take away your job, or your home, or your food, or send you to a prison camp, at their complete whim.
Well, at least surely nothing like that could ever happen in the United States! We certainly don't have anything at the North Korean level right now, but do we have examples where the government uses its access to resources taken through the tax (or borrowing) system to buy loyalty of the citizenry to its existing programs? Yes. Here are two (of many):
(1) In the U.S., the federal criminal system has become so complicated that literally the only way to gain the expertise necessary to be in private practice in the area is to work several years as an assistant U.S. Attorney, that is, as a prosecutor. There are only a handful of practitioners in the area who are not former AUSAs, and they are all older guys and will be retired soon. Suppose you think (as I do) that the federal drug war is unconstitutional; or maybe you think it’s constitutional but just a bad idea. Well, here’s how you can be completely excluded from participation in the federal criminal system. The AUSAs are all required on entry into the job to spend the first couple of years on drug cases. Don’t want to do it? You can’t get the job. To get entry into a job as AUSA you must demonstrate loyalty to the drug war and operate as a soldier in the war for several years. The AUSA credential is so valuable, and for some purposes so necessary, that absolutely no one would dare, or even think, to raise a question.
(2) Another example of the government's purchase of the citizen's loyalty through its control of resources: the government will not pay a social security check to anyone who has declined to sign up for Medicare. Signing up for Medicare means, among other things, giving the government blanket access to all information about our health.
I could give many other examples that are more or less close analogies. My point is that we can all be bribed out of our freedom much more cheaply than we think.