The American Bear


Procedural and Distributive Justice | Matthew Bruenig

I apologize for the large size of this snip, but this analysis is fascinating (and useful):

Generally, when people categorize economic and political philosophies, they do so according to a left-right spectrum. Writers group all of the philosophical arguments that tend towards right-wing conclusions together, and then do the same for philosophies that tend towards left-wing conclusions. Although helpful for some purposes, those actually interested in the philosophical moves in economic and political theory should split the philosophies, not into the categories of left and right, but into the categories of procedural and distributive. As the names suggest procedural justice refers to the use of just processes, and distributive justice refers to the achievement of just distributions of things like resources, capabilities, benefits, burdens, and welfare. […]

Procedural justice approaches to economic and political philosophy ground the justness of a particular system in the processes the system follows. On this view, any system that follows just processes is just, no matter what else obtains about it. In the contemporary era, there are two philosophical approaches that primarily concern themselves with issues of procedural justice: right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism (sometimes called anarchism).

On the right-libertarian line, just processes are those which are “non-aggressive” and therefore voluntary and non-coercive. Right-libertarians like Murray Rothbard and Robert Nozick argue that a free market, laissez-faire, capitalist system (perhaps one without a government at all) is the only one that follows just processes. They regard taxation as a form of aggression that is wrong in itself, no matter what its impact on overall social welfare might be. A very strict procedural right-libertarian would think that it is more just to permit hundreds of millions of people to starve to death than to feed them by levying a tax. The starvation of hundreds of millions does not relate to justice in this worldview because only just processes matter for justice. […]

Left-libertarians (or anarchists) are similarly obsessed with procedural components of justice. Anarchists think that just economic and political processes are those which involve non-hierarchical, consensus-based decision-making. Although anarchists generally have egalitarian ideas as well, the primary emphasis of the view — at least among actual self-identified anarchists — is on process. A just system is one that follows the procedural requirements of non-hierarchy and consensus, regardless of what results from it. […]

Unlike procedural justice, distributive justice concerns itself with the distribution of goods within society, not the process of how those goods are distributed. Like procedural justice, distributive justice has right-wing and left-wing forms.

On the right, distributive justice primarily takes the form of desert theory: society ought to be constructed so as to deliver to each person what they deserve. What constitutes deservedness is rather slippery of course. But on the right, it tends to be defined in terms of marginal productivity: a person deserves to keep what they produce. In a world of independent yeoman farmers — the world Thomas Jefferson yearned for — desert based on marginal productivity is not too hard to figure out. You keep what you grow or raise. In a modern capitalist economy, the connection of work to productivity becomes more tenuous. Mitt Romney for instance “made” over $20 million in 2010 without doing any work at all: the money was just returns on investments. […]

Distributive justice on the left-wing however encompasses an enormous number of philosophies and theorists. The most famous and most relevant set of those theories were written from the late 20th century to the present. John Rawls — the most famous of the bunch — argued that the main task for economic justice should be deciding upon the distribution of primary goods, i.e. goods that everyone wants no matter what else they want. These goods include things like rights, liberties, income, wealth, and social respect. […]

I think distributive justice tracks better what people are truly interested in. I am doubtful that people are actually interested in the maintenance of abstract rules of process. Does the starving woman feel any better about her hunger when she knows that at least libertarian exchange processes are being upheld? Probably not. Ultimately, I suspect that people are actually interested in well-being, welfare, capabilities, and so on. Distributive justice frameworks center those things as the focal points of justice, which makes me more partial to that approach. That does not mean that process is irrelevant of course. It just means that processes should be primarily judged according to the distributive consequences they generate, not as just or unjust in themselves.

Read the whole thing

Occupy Online: Why Capitalism and Anarchism oppose


Since this seems to be the trend among the anarchists on tumblr, why not join the scuffle.

Capitalism (not to be confused with the market mechanism) is an economic system where an individual who owns capital, enters into a contract with a person who has only labor. The laborer acts upon said capital in some way shape or form, to create new wealth. The new wealth is then divided between the laborer and the capital owner. Since Labor without capital is pretty much stomping in the mud, the laboring classes become dependent on the capital owning classes, this is the one of the reasons anarchists refer to this as wage slavery. If we assumed that everyone received compensation equal to their contribution, the capital owner would receive value equal to his initial investment, and receive no profit, since that is all the value he contributed, all of the rest would be the result of labor. In capitalism, one can receive value for basically owning commercial property, this value has to come from somewhere, it is the value that the laborer did not receive. This is the second reason anarchists refer to this as wage slavery. Even individual anarchists, such as Benjamin Tucker opposed capitalism, saying

“From Smith’s principle that labor is the true measure of price – or, as Warren phrased it, that cost is the proper limit of price – these three men [i.e., Josiah Warren, Pierre Proudhon, and Karl Marx] made the following deductions: that the natural wage of labor is its product; that this wage, or product, is the only just source of income ; that all who derive income from any other source abstract it directly or indirectly from the natural and just wage of labor; that this abstracting process generally takes one of three forms, – interest, rent, and profit; that these three constitute the trinity of usury, and are simply different methods of levying tribute for the use of capital; that, capital being simply stored-up labor which has already received its pay in full, its use ought to be gratuitous, on the principle that labor is the only basis of price; that the lender of capital is entitled to its return intact, and nothing more; that the only reason why the banker, the stockholder, the landlord, the manufacturer, and the merchant are able to exact usury from labor lies in the fact that they are backed by legal privilege…”

Capitalists like to justify it, by saying that it is possible to build up enough money and start your own business, but that doesn’t make it any less slavery, Roman and Greek slaves could buy their freedom if they could save up the money, but that didn’t mean they weren’t slaves to begin with. Although I don’t care Vladimir Lenin that much, he was right when he said “Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners.”

Capitalism is very much dependent on the concepts of private commercial property. Private means something that only a select few have access too. So, this means, that in order for property to be private, there needs to be some way to restrict access to it in one shape, form or another, some kind of coercion. That coercion is called the State. Even Murry Rothbard, the man who coined ‘Anarcho’-Capitalism defined the state as legal coercion. How can you keep property private without legal coercion? You can’t. Public property is a natural state. Thomas Paine, the man Libertarians love to quote, denied that private property is natural, or right.

There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it.

Basically, Capitalism needs the state to function, and forces people into a system of slavery, that is not anywhere close to anarchism, individual anarchism or otherwise.

(via jayaprada)

When Libertarians Go to Work… | Corey Robin

[If] liberty is the absence of coercion [“negative liberty”], as many libertarians claim, and if the capacity to act [“positive liberty”]—say, by enjoying material conditions that would free one of the costs that quitting might entail—limits the reach of that coercion, is it not the case that freedom is augmented when people’s ability to act is enhanced?

More to the point: is one’s individual freedom not increased by measures such as unemployment compensation, guaranteed health insurance, public pensions, higher wages, strong unions, state-funded or provided childcare—the whole panoply of social democracy that most libertarians see as not only irrelevant to but an infringement upon individual freedom?

In one sense, of course, the libertarians are right: such measures require taxation and redistribution, limitations on what people can do with their property, all of which do infringe upon some limited group of people’s freedom. But by providing to others some version of the freedom from material constraints that [an unmarried, young, childless, mortgageless, etc. worker] already enjoys—state-sponsored childcare, for instance, being in one limited respect the financial inverse of not having children at all—such measures would also enhance the freedom of a great many more.

That, it seems to me, is the great divide between right and left: not that the former stands for freedom, while the latter stands for equality (or statism or whatever), but that the former stands for freedom for the few, while the latter stands for freedom for the many. ”We are all agreed as to our own liberty,” wrote Samuel Johnson. “But we are not agreed as to the liberty of others: for in proportion as we take, others must lose. I believe we hardly wish that the mob should have liberty to govern us.” That’s why libertarians [..] can sense so clearly the impending infringement of his freedom [coercion or “negative liberty”] while remaining indifferent to the constraints of others.

Liberalism: An Ideology of Exclusion? (Part 2) | New Left Project

In the second of a two-part review of Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History (Verso 2011), Ed Rooksby challenges Lorsudo’s central contention that liberalism is defined by a logic of exclusion and develops a rival account of the nature of liberal ideology.

Part I is here. That should be read first, obviously, as this is a counter. - TAB

Losurdo’s argument is certainly striking. Even those familiar with radical critique of liberalism and, indeed, with the historical crimes committed in liberalism’s name, will find some of the practices and political positions uncovered by the author shocking. Certainly, as counter-history, as a broadside against liberal hagiography, the book is highly effective. Furthermore, Losurdo’s core argument – that, more than anything else, liberalism is defined by an internal logic of inclusion/exclusion – is original and audacious. It is, in a sense, an inversion of the prevailing view in relation to this political tradition. Liberalism, for Losurdo, is not, at its heart, a doctrine of universal normative principles, but an exercise in separating the legitimately free from the legitimately unfree, masters from servants, ‘us’ from ‘them’ and thus it is fundamentally an ideology of domination. This is a powerful argument. Nevertheless, while I am sympathetic to much of what Losurdo argues I am also unconvinced by much of the book. […]

Some of the most damning passages and quotations that Losurdo uses to illustrate the dark history of liberalism are gathered from figures probably better categorised as conservative than as liberal – Calhoun, for example[2].  The fact that Losurdo is able to present conservative thinkers and their views as unproblematically and straightforwardly liberal indicates a major problem with Losurdo’s definition of liberalism. The definition is so expansive that conservatism is absorbed almost completely within liberalism. A logic of exclusion is not, after all, very difficult to detect in traditional conservative thought and practice. If a logic of exclusion is the defining property of liberalism then it follows that conservatism, which is deeply structured by this same logic, must be a form of liberalism. In the way that Losurdo presents things, then, conservatism is effectively expunged from the political-ideological landscape as a distinct political tradition. It is surely significant that conservatism is mentioned in the book only once, very briefly and in passing. The cursory treatment of this tradition reflects the fact that there is simply very little conceptual space for conservatism in Losurdo’s schema. Clearly there is a very complex and closely intertwining relationship between the two traditions – there is certainly no absolute distinction. It makes little sense, however, to regard the two traditions as wholly synonymous. Amongst the similarities and the positions held in common between the two there are, surely, significant differences as well. […]

Exclusion…emerges as something that has to be continually explained away and rationalised in relation to liberal values rather than as, in itself, a core commitment. One can see the tension between exclusion and principle in the attacks of guilty conscience that occasionally afflict liberal thinkers. Losurdo himself points to such bad conscience on the part of liberals in relation to the oppressive politico-social relations that ‘most blatantly gave the lie to their proclaimed attachment to the cause of liberty’ (p. 278). Here, indeed, Losurdo lets slip liberal attachment to a universal normative principle – notwithstanding the reference to this attachment being a ‘lie’, the mismatch between proclaimed principle and concrete reality seems to be a matter of some importance. The proclaimed attachment is indeed a keenly felt one and the failure to live up to it is seen as a matter of real distress. This sort of bad conscience on the part of liberals is inexplicable if exclusion really is the central commitment at the heart of liberalism. If so, what is all the guilt and embarrassment about?

It is also quite difficult to explain the successes of the ‘struggle for recognition’ waged by the excluded unless we understand that this struggle drew on the normative resources provided by liberalism itself. From where did these struggles draw their moral force and power? The struggle for recognition was not just a matter of force (though that was a crucially important part of it) it was also a matter of shaming social elites and winning support from some of them – a process of moral persuasion and of winning the argument. It is precisely because liberalism proclaims universal values for itself – commitment to liberty and equality for all – that these values provide a kind of ideological-ethical ammunition for struggle on the part of those who are, in practice, subjected to conditions of unfreedom and inequality. Groups who are in reality excluded from the realm of liberal equality and freedom can draw on the stated or implicit universalism of these liberal principles and demand their inclusion.  The ‘struggle for recognition’ Losurdo describes then seems to have been dependent on some sort of universalist ethical and normative core to the liberal tradition over and above its exclusionary practices.

Read the whole thing →

Liberalism: An Ideology of Exclusion? (Part 1) | New Left Project

Political theorist Ed Rooksy examines the original perspective on the liberal tradition set out by Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo in Liberalism: A Counter-History

How do we make sense of this paradox at the heart of liberalism – the simultaneous invocation of liberty on the one hand and the justification and promulgation of severe forms of oppression on the other? The key to all of this, Losurdo argues, is to grasp that liberalism is founded on an implicit logic of exclusion. Only once we have understood this can we start to resolve the seeming inconsistencies. Liberalism has always pivoted, Losurdo argues, on drawing a dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – those who are worthy or capable (morally, intellectually, biologically/racially) of the gamut of rights and liberties we associate with liberalism and those who are not. Liberalism was always, of course, centrally concerned with the condemnation and limitation of despotic power and the corresponding assertion of rights to self-government, autonomy and so on – but this struggle was always waged by, and on behalf of, an exclusive section of humanity – what Losurdo terms ‘the community of the free’. The history of liberalism is thus in great part a history of how the particular specification and location of the boundary line between ‘the community of the free’ and the excluded has evolved and shifted.

With this exclusionary logic in mind we can make sense of the paradoxes of liberal slavery, liberal empire and liberal authoritarianism towards wage labourers and the poor. In each of these three apparent paradoxes we are, in fact, confronting particular instances of the opposition between the justly free and the justly unfree. It is not that the brutal world of slavery, for example, represented a failure or negation of proclaimed liberal values, or revealed the hypocrisy of contemporary liberals, it is that the ‘community of the free’ in which the sphere of liberal rights and freedoms applied did not, and was not intended, to encompass black people. Liberalism, for Losurdo, was never a doctrine of moral universalism. We can see now, how racism and class contempt operated as necessary ideological supports for this system of exclusion. Slavery and colonial expropriation and domination was justified on the grounds that non-white peoples were by definition uncivilised, in a condition of ‘nonage’ (Mill), not fully human or even ‘savage beasts’ (Locke) and were thus rightly excluded from the ‘community of the free’. Similarly, workers and the poor in the metropolis were not intelligent, morally developed or, again, human enough to be admitted into the sacred space of the free community of liberals.

It is not just that liberalism was long characterised by exclusion for Losurdo – it is also that, to a great extent, the liberty of the community of the free has depended on the exclusion and oppression of the unfree. That is, the relationship between the community of the free and the excluded has been one of exploitation in which the privileges of the former have been rooted in the expropriation and coercion of the unfree.

Rooksy’s critique of Losurdo and rival account of the nature of liberalism are developed in Part 2.