We live in a post-rational world, where everyone tries to be as moral as possible and it is fashionable to boast about emotional-intelligence credentials: the ability to feel what other people are feeling. This is supported by studies in behavioural economics, which show that people are highly irrational, displacing the dry old studies of 'economic man' that sought to explain how individuals make rational choices designed to maximise their utilities.
We live in an age where it is accepted that being selfish is very very bad. Everyone should care about other people in society. You should share your toys with the other children and play nicely together. You should put your neighbour's interests before your own. You should love your friends enough to lay down your life for them. You should be happy to pay higher taxes, so that those poorer than you can have a bit more money.
The platform economy is built upon new forms of work relationships created through apps and online platforms. This economy has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for those who were excluded from traditional labour markets. The internet is truly the great equalizer.
Adam Smith's theory of justice seems sketchy and anaemic to modern eyes. It is often described as 'thin' because it included only three rules of justice that must be guaranteed by law:
These days it seems that most people align themselves with either the political left or the political right. This rigid and simplistic dichotomy creates a lot of confusion as people try to dig up all the philosophers from ages past with the aim of classifying them as either left or right within the modern political lexicon. Hence the epic battle for Adam Smith’s legacy. If Adam Smith still walked the earth, would he be a left-leaning liberal or a right-leaning liberal? Is Smith's natural liberalism leftish or rightish? Does his defence of freedom mean that he was conservative? Does his defence of the poor mean that he was socialist?
Capitalism, as defined by Milton Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom, refers to 'the organization of the bulk of economic activity through private enterprise operating in a free market...a system of economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom.' Friedman thus defends capitalism not for its own sake, nor even for its capacity to create wealth, but because of its association with individual, economic, and political freedom.
The normative foundations of law are sometimes rooted in economic efficiency and other times rooted in social justice concerns. How do these normative foundations vary, and are the variations justifiable?
Private property is often criticised for failing to promote equality: with private property rights, some people inevitably end up with more than others. Is this unjust, on grounds that economic “equality” is an essential component of justice? We know that justice is a good thing (nobody would argue that injustice is an admirable goal to aspire to) but does it follow logically that the full force of the law should be harnessed to equalize everything? Equal amounts of stuff, equal pay for all working people especially if they're women, equal benefits for all unworking people and equal opportunities for all to have an equally good life. Everything should be equally distributed. Because otherwise it’s not fair.
Capitalist free markets do not generally create a situation where everyone has the same amount of stuff. Sadly, progress tends to yield unequal outcomes. Enter the welfare state, a creature of most modern capitalist economies. The idea is that taxes will be collected to create a repository of public funds to provide a safety-net for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Thus the welfare state would be expected to meet the costs of unemployment insurance and pensions for those who found themselves cast on the heap when the company they worked for goes bust.
Proponents of economic equality push forward vague notions that people should have more or less the same amount of stuff, and nobody should have much more stuff than other people because It Feels Very Unfair when some are so rich while others are so poor. That is not a very sophisticated way to understand economic life. What's the relevance of comparing how much one person has, to how much another person has? Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom (great book, google it) challenges us to think a bit more intelligently about the meaning of 'equality' in the context of a market economy. If we are to translate the ideals of equality into reality we'll need a conceptual framework that's a bit more sophisticated than 'everyone having the same amount of stuff' or 'paying everyone the same wage'.
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