The Vermont Worker’s Center has recently come out with a push for a so-called “People’s Budget”, which is designed to promote “economic justice”. I have read numerous commentaries that point out the fact that this is just another high tax wealth redistribution scheme. My reaction has been “of course it is, what else would you expect from this group”? There also have been commentaries about how we are already way over taxed and have no room for further tax increases. Again, an observation so blatantly obvious that it should be categorized as a “self evident truth”.
I would like to pursue a more fundamental line of inquiry regarding the latest pronouncement from the Worker’s Center. Namely, is “economic justice” true justice? To ask this question is to dig deeper than the argument over the numbers involved and question the very premise that the whole scheme rests on. The symbol of justice as our founders understood it was a blindfolded lady holding an equally balanced scale. The notion that “justice is blind” refers to its impartiality in dealing with various individuals. Justice is blind in respect to one’s race, gender, creed, economic class, etc. The idea is to dispense equal justice under the law. It as not intended to tip the scales in favor of any particular party, but to simply ensure equality before the law.
The Progressive notion of justice is based on what the philosopher John Rawls has dubbed “distributive justice”. Here the government acts not as a neutral and impartial enforcer of the law, but seeks to tip the scales of fortune in favor of a preferred party largely by confiscating the resources from other parties that it deems to be more successful and redistributing them to parties deemed less fortunate. This is a completely different notion of justice than that one America was founded on and more closely resembles the welfare states of Europe. The fundamental question here is not merely can we afford this, but far more importantly is this notion of justice something that we Americans should adopt?
There is a reason why our founding vision of justice was that of a neutral enforcer of the law. When the government steps in and begins to favor various parties, a process of corruption begins that often leads to tyranny. A prime example of this was the Roman Caesars giving grain handouts to the masses from the common storage. They succeeded in turning the loyalty of the Roman citizens away from the Roman Senate and to the Emperor. This was a factor in how the relatively free Roman Republic became an empire and went down the path to tyranny. The dependency of the citizenry on the state to tilt the scales of fortune in their favor turns citizens into subjects and statesmen into demagogues. This was a situation that our founders wanted to avoid at all costs, as their study of history had made them aware of just how destructive it was.