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Sep 30 2009

Social Justice

C.M. Phippen

Social justice . . . a really nice sounding phrase that isn’t easily defined.  The words themselves would lead us to embrace them; after all, we’re a country that believes in the idea of “liberty and justice for all,” and uses that idea in our Pledge of Allegiance.  But, as always with politics and politicians, beware.  What is the definition of “is” anyway?

According to the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare, “Social justice is a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action.”

So, social justice includes violating the rights of those with more resources in order to redistribute them to the “oppressed,” while at the same time empowering all to “exercise self-determination and realize their full potential.”  Does the “all” include those whose resources have just been forcibly taken?  I don’t think they needed someone from Berkeley “empowering” them prior to the pillaging of their resources.  (Then again, maybe that’s part of the plan.)  If that which they’ve worked for has been taken, how are they able to “exercise self-determination and realize their full potential” unless these two ideas (self-determination and potential) are completely divorced from economics.  If so, the question must then be answered as to why the redistribution would need to occur in the first place.  In other words, #1 and #3 are completely contradictory and cannot both be achieved in the same society.

As if that isn’t enough, someone now needs to hand a few opportunities to those who haven’t availed themselves of the myriad already available in this great society.  It’s unclear exactly what that would look like.  Maybe something like the student with the 4.0 who worked hard and excelled in sports and student government just needs to have someone “redistribute” his “opportunities” and give them to the guy who spent his high school years smoking dope.  Put a few of these guys in elite schools and we’ll call it diversity.

Now, the redistribution of responsibilities is a fascinating idea.  From #2 we can make the assumption that the “roots of oppression and injustice” are to be blamed on a society that rewards productive behavior and attempts to suppress, through punishment, destructive behavior.  This could mean that those who engage in productive behavior would need to be responsible for the destructive behavior of others, and possibly those individuals who have chosen a destructive path are now responsible for the productivity of others. 

This sounds like a little experiment tried in Zimbabwe.  Among its many horribly destructive policies of the past 30 years is the socially just redistribution of that country’s wealth:  its land, and thus the responsibility of being productive on that land.  Beginning in 2000, many white landowners were forced from the land which they had farmed and it was redistributed to poor blacks.  That country has been sent into a tragic economic tailspin, in part due to this policy. 

During the period since these redistributive policies began, the decrease in food production has been estimated at 90%.  A nation which less than a decade ago was able to produce enough food to feed its own population and export the surplus has now found itself in the position of needing food aid for over 50% of its citizens.  The beneficiaries of these new “wealth and responsibility transfers” lacked the tools and expertise to contribute to the economy to the same degree as those from whom the wealth was confiscated. 

When those individuals who had the responsibility of producing food for the nation as a natural consequence of free-market principles did so because they chose to use their land in this manner, the people were fed and the nation enjoyed the benefits of exporting surplus.  When the responsibility of producing food was redistributed to the “oppressed,” and the “victims of injustice,” all of society suffered.  I guess this is what the School of Social Work means when they state that “social justice is a process, not an outcome.”  The outcome may be the creation of greater poverty, starvation, and disease, but the process is what they find important.

Historically, the natural state of man is one of poverty and oppression.  In free societies, all are lifted by the exceptionalism of the productive, and all have the opportunity to be one of those who blesses the lives of mankind through their chosen profession, whatever it may be.  John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice, says, “Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override.  For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others.” 

In this idea of social justice, the “greater good” (which ultimately always turns out to be a mirage anyway) can never been used to deny justice to the producers and possessors of resources simply because they have more; it encapsulates the ultimate value of freedom of the individual to realize his full potential, or not.  It is his choice and it respects each to make that choice.  While not politically correct, it is the only “social justice” on which a prosperous nation can be built and if we want to become one again, the only one through which that can be accomplished.


Sep 9 2009

Just Who Are We Americans?

C.M. Phippen

The more I hear about the Obama administration the more I realize that this president honestly doesn’t know who we are as a people.  He thought this vastly diverse country that has lifted more people to prosperity than any other nation in the history of the world was made up of haters, extortionists, and whiners.  Apparently that has been his experience.  He has chosen, over the decades of his adult life, to engage with those who claim victimhood as a right.  During the campaign he told us to look to the people he surrounds himself with to understand who he is, and to do so is a frightening expose.

Since graduating from law school, he hasn’t worked in any organization that actually produces anything.  He has, though, spent time working as a civil rights lawyer and teaching at a university, in addition to running for numerous political offices.  Our current president seems to have never held a job that brought him into regular contact with the vast legions of hardworking Americans who just want government to allow them the freedom to pursue their own idea of success and happiness – those Americans who ask for no financial remuneration from the rest us outside of that willingly offered in the exchanges of the free market.  This is the America that works, and this is diversity: each pursuing his own idea of fulfillment and happiness.  Unfortunately, our first African-American president apparently didn’t even know it existed.

While many Americans, especially the youngest who haven’t yet been tutored by the realities of family life and budget concerns, gladly buy into the paradigm of “something for nothing” and “let the other guy pay my way,” that isn’t the heart and soul of this country.  Those who value freedom over freebies apparently needed a push in order to wake up.  And wake up we did. 

The problem with this latest uprising is that it was completely unexpected by those in Washington who have been passing legislation for decades, unchecked by those of us who believe in personal responsibility and other such silly notions.  Most of us have just been too busy trying to keep our heads above water and create, within the walls of our own homes, our own little havens of peace.  We now realize more brutally than ever that those who’ve chosen not to work to create their own sense of security and happiness feel entitled to ours and have the support of those in power in informing us that we owe it to them.  Watch out, America, community organizing has moved into the White House!

We are a country founded on the principles of hard work, freedom, and the ownership of our own private property (as opposed to the ownership of someone else’s).  Extortion and arm-twisting just aren’t the way most of us live our lives.  But, because of our long silence, some misunderstood; they mistook that silence for either acceptance, or proof that we didn’t exist at all.  Well, hello, Mr. President!  Here we are, louder than ever, and willing to say what needs to be said.  It was grassroots support that got you where you are today, and without a willingness to listen to us now it will be grassroots opposition that makes sure your reign of serfdom lasts no longer than it must.


Sep 2 2009

Health Care and Individual Priorities

C.M. Phippen

Am I the only one who’s noticed a fundamental shift in the expectations of the American public over the past 20 or 30 years?  I remember a time when individuals paid their own way, were proud of their ability to do so, and felt more than mildly uncomfortable when circumstances required that they ask for help (and I’m not that old). 

Nobody questioned the validity of the premise that a free society must be, of necessity, based upon the willingness of the masses to choose to work, pay their own bills, and give a little whenever possible to help the guy who’s struggling but just can’t make it right now.  Something has happened, though, as the welfare class mentality has spread into the middle and even much of the upper classes.  Growing up, everyone I knew was pretty much raised with the notion that honest individuals work hard, live within their means, save for a rainy day, and contribute in a meaningful way to the society around them.

I am astounded to converse with peers who believe that while living in $500,000 houses, driving late-model cars, and putting money away into savings accounts every month, their expectation is that someone else should be paying their medical bills.  Where have we gone wrong as a society?  Most of us would agree with the idea that those truly in need ought to be helped by those who are able.  Too many of us, though, have picked up this idea somewhere along the way that the necessities of life should be provided by “the government.” 

This, first of all, manifests a basic lack of understanding as to what, or who, “the government” is.  Government produces nothing and therefore has no resources at all outside of those which it seizes, by coercion or force, from the 57% of us who are lucky enough to be required to pay federal income tax.  They aren’t providing us with anything; the hardworking men and women of America are, and let’s not forget it.  Anyone who has lived long enough to be able to read the writing on this page knows that the piper must always be paid in one form or another, and that despite what our president keeps repeating, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

Many of these people I talk with are part of the classes who historically would have helped the poor.  They have the resources to take care of their families quite adequately, and never miss the yearly family vacation or the latest technological gadget.  This is where the shift has occurred.  Rather than focusing on what they can do to ease the pain of the unfortunate in our society, they choose to paint themselves as victims for having to use their own money to pay for their own insurance and medical bills.  All the while they recognize no immorality at all in their selfish demands for someone else to pay for their new welfare entitlement program. 

Most of us would take seriously a healthcare debate that addresses the issue of the downtrodden and their lack of care (of course, we have addressed it and it’s called Medicaid, and it’s going bankrupt), or the unsustainable, ever-increasing costs of insurance for the small businesses and individuals in America.  But you have to be kidding me if you think government (meaning me and others like me) should make your health insurance a greater priority than you choose to make it for yourself.