On Justice

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Like “equality,” which I discussed recently, the word “justice” is used with different meanings by those of differing political opinions. I thought it might be of interest to compare and contrast some of these meanings, and to offer my own ideas on the subject too.

 

The question “what is justice?” sounds simple. Yet an attempt to apply to it that bluntest of philosophical instruments, the dictionary, rapidly ends up going in circles. Justice, we find, is just conduct or fairness. Fairness is being fair, or otherwise said, just or equitable. Equitable means – yes, you’ve guessed it, fair or just.

 

Perhaps one useful thing we can learn from this exercise is the etymology of the word justice. It comes from the Latin ius, normally translated as “law” or “right.” But it’s important to note that ius is law in the sense of agreements and commitments between people; as opposed to lex, which is law in the sense of legislation imposed from above.

 

Looking at what pundits of the past have had to say on the subject seems more promising. I’ll start with Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who flourished in the early 3rd century BC. He said: “Natural justice is a pledge of reciprocal benefit, to prevent one man from harming another.” This is, to me, a very deep insight. For, first, it tells us that justice is something natural. Second, that it is a two way process. And third, that it is about not harming others.

 

But Epicurus aside, few thinkers seem to have dared to try to define what justice is. Ulpian, a Roman jurist of the 3rd century AD, opined: “Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to everyone his due.” The difficulty with this, of course, is in determining exactly what is due, and who has the right to allot it. And few, if any, other definitions of justice seem to have survived the test of time to take their places in the quotation book.

 

Kinds of justice

 

What kinds of justice are put forward as desirable? First, there is Epicurus’ justice; a two way pledge intended to prevent individuals harming each other. This is sometimes called commutative justice (the word “commutative” means “working either way round.”)

 

Second, there is the kind of justice delivered by honest, non-politicized courts of law. This divides, broadly, into two. One, restorative justice; that is, enforcing compensation by the perpetrator to the victim or victims of an actual harm. And two, if appropriate, retributive justice; that is, criminal punishment according to the perpetrator’s intent to cause harm to others. These kinds of justice, at least when dispensed honestly, are rooted in Epicurus’ ideal.

 

Third is distributive justice. This term is used to cover, for example, the promotion of a fair or just distribution of some good, such as income, wealth or political power. But there doesn’t seem to be any necessary relation between this kind of justice and the Epicurean kind. And its promoters fail to tell us exactly and without doubt what they mean by “just,” or where they get the right to decide what is fair for others.

 

Fourth is “social justice.” It’s hard to work out exactly what this means. Wikipedia calls it “a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society.” But here again, “fair” and “just” are not elucidated. And what or which, precisely, is “society?”

 

My own view of justice

 

I am strongly in favour of commutative justice. The way I see it, there should be a close relation between the way an individual treats others and the way the individual is treated by others. I call this idea “common sense justice.”

 

So, those who do not treat others badly deserve not to be treated badly. For example, those who do not violently attack others deserve not to be violently attacked. Those who do not rob others deserve not to be robbed. Those who do not defraud others deserve not to be defrauded. And those, who do not place obstacles in the way of others’ progress or the satisfaction of their desires, deserve not to have their own progress or desires obstructed.

 

On the other hand, those that behave badly towards others in any of these ways can have no cause for complaint if others, in their turn, do correspondingly nasty things to them. And those that maliciously or irresponsibly do wrongs to innocent people can expect not only to be made to compensate their victims in full, but to be punished in addition.

 

But common sense justice has a positive side, too. Each individual, who treats others well, deserves to be treated equally well in return. Those who honestly earn prosperity, pleasures, thanks or appreciation should receive all the prosperity, pleasures, thanks and appreciation they have earned.  And so, putting the positive side together with the negative, we arrive at what seems to me a decent definition of justice. That is: Justice is the condition in which each individual is treated, over the long run and in the round, as he or she treats others.

 

So my ideal of justice, like that of Epicurus, aims to minimize injustice. It strives to avoid gross or persistent treatment of individuals worse than they treat others.

 

I’ll add one supporting argument. If a society existed based on common sense justice, everyone in it would have a positive incentive to behave well towards others. For in such a society, the way to get more of what you want, the way to get treated better by others, is to treat others better! Imagine how peaceful, happy and prosperous such a society could be.

 

Lady Justice

 

As to the kind of justice which is (or should be) delivered by courts of law, there is a common personification of justice as “Lady Justice.” She carries three objects: a blindfold, a pair of scales and a sword. The blindfold represents impartiality and objectivity. The scales represent the weighing of the evidence in every case. And the sword is the instrument of punishment.

 

William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, had this to say about justice. “Justice is justly represented blind, because she sees no difference in the parties concerned. She has but one scale and weight, for rich and poor, great and small.” I would add that the scales of justice, beyond weighing the evidence, have another function too. That is, accurately to balance the rights and interests of each individual against the rights and interests of others.

 

As Penn suggests, in a proper system of justice, what matters in any case is not who an individual is, but only what they do. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter what colour someone’s skin is. It doesn’t matter where they were born. It doesn’t matter what religion they were brought up in. It doesn’t matter what their gender or their sexual preferences may be. All that matters is their actions and their intent towards others.

 

Once courts of law become politicized, though – as too many are today – then justice loses both its impartiality and its balance. Such courts cease to make decisions and to mete out punishments on the basis of natural justice or ius. Instead, they become merely a means of implementing lex; that is, of enforcing bad laws made by dishonest politicians.

 

Such a politicized system of “justice” inevitably leads to quite the opposite of natural justice. And Epicurus himself knew this. For he said: “If a man makes a law and it does not prove to be mutually advantageous, then this is no longer just.”

 

Distributive justice

 

When we look at distributive justice, it’s all but impossible to separate the concept of justice from the closely related idea of equality. John Stuart Mill had this to say on the subject: “Society should treat all equally well who have deserved equally well of it, that is, who have deserved equally well absolutely. This is the highest abstract standard of social and distributive justice.”

 

What Mill is saying here is that it’s what an individual deserves which matters for the purpose of justice. And not – for example – what that individual needs. I agree heartily. Indeed, I like to go further, and make my own version of Karl Marx’s famous dictum: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his deserts.”

 

More recently, John Rawls in his “original position” argument has put forward an egalitarian flavour of distributive justice. In this thought experiment, a group of people aim to agree on a political and economic structure for themselves. Each is behind a veil of ignorance. Meaning, they don’t know what their own abilities or characteristics will be, or how well a particular social structure will favour them. Rawls argues that they will use a strategy called maximin, aiming to maximize the payoff in the event of the worst possible outcome. From this he deduces that (beyond a basic minimum set of rights and liberties) any inequalities that do exist must benefit the least advantaged. This is usually interpreted as supporting economic egalitarianism.

 

Even if I buy Rawls’ argument up to the maximin bit (and I’m not sure I do), I disagree fundamentally with the conclusion. Recall, if you will, that when I looked at equality, I came out strongly in favour of political equality and moral equality, but very much against the idea of equality of outcome. If I were in Rawls’ original position behind my veil of ignorance, I would choose a social structure based on political equality, not economic. That is, I would pick the kind of equality in which no individual is subject to another, and no-one has power over another.

 

Moreover, I expect that any society built on enforced economic equality would very soon cease to be egalitarian. For, if some are allowed to re-distribute others’ earnings or wealth as they see fit, who will stop them re-distributing those earnings or that wealth into their own pockets?

 

Social justice

 

Most promoters of “social justice” use it as an excuse for ever increasing government powers over everyone, particularly through taxation. For example, to quote a 2006 United Nations report: “Social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.” Such conceits are both unjust and hateful. And most of all, when they are uttered by highly paid bureaucrats, that have never contributed anything to the economy, to human knowledge or to technology.

 

Further, when implemented, this “social justice” leads inevitably to a three-class society, as we see today. On the one hand, there is the productive class of honest, economically active people, who are drained of our earnings and denied the wealth we deserve. On the other, there is a recipient class, spoon-fed drips of wealth that they do not earn. And between and above the two is a rich, politicized class of the powerful and their cronies. That class creams off for itself much of the wealth generated by the productive, and feeds the remainder to the recipient class in exchange for their votes and political support. Only one of these three classes gets a net benefit from such a system. Guess which?

 

An even more damning view of social justice comes from Polish politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke. “Either ‘social justice’ has the same meaning as ‘justice’ – or not. If so – why use the additional word ‘social?’ ... If ‘social justice’ means something different from ‘justice’ – then ‘something different from justice’ is by definition ‘injustice.’”

 

Bombastic though Korwin-Mikke’s statement may seem, I think it has a substantial kernel of truth. For me, “social justice” is a perversion of the idea of justice, in which something called “society” (with or without a capital S) takes pride of place over the individual, and over natural justice. This perversion, I think, would be better called social injustice.

 

Then there is the authoritarianism of so called “social justice warriors.” Such individuals identify themselves with groups who have, or have had in the past, some real or perceived grievance; women, gay people or black people, for example. And they seek to empower these groups at the expense of everyone else. At the same time, many of them want to enforce political correctness, and to stifle the freedom of speech of those who disagree with them. The result, again, is not social justice, but social injustice.

 

So for me, the phrase “social justice” is no more than a fig leaf, under which political activists seek to hide the fact that what they want is to do injustices to innocent people. For me, such individuals are worse than criminal. Far from being either social or just, they are not fit to be admitted into any society of just, honest people. Not even a tiddlywinks club.

 

To sum up

 

Justice, for me, is the condition in which each individual is treated, over the long run and in the round, as he or she treats others. Or, otherwise put, in which people receive what they deserve. My sense of justice is consistent with Epicurus’ idea, of a pledge that seeks to stop individuals harming each other. It is also consistent with conventional forms of civil and criminal justice, provided that the justice they deliver is honest and non-politicized.

 

In contrast, distributive “justice” bears no relation to justice. And so called “social justice” is merely a euphemism, used as a decoy by those with an agenda to harm innocent people.

 

Comments

George N Romey Added Nov 8, 2017 - 8:06am
Justice has morphed as society has been made more complicated. Years back we were primarily an agricultural society with little contact with the outside world. Today we interact with it daily.
 
I don’t see equality the same as justice but close. Again equality has changed with a more complex society.
Bill Kamps Added Nov 8, 2017 - 9:30am
Justice is a funny thing, its kind of like what Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, we kind of know it when we see it.
 
A big part of it, is that the laws are enforced evenly regardless of who is before the court.  See the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.  This of course is an ideal, and never exists.  However there are great differences between countries in terms of what rights people have before the courts, even within the Western Democracies. 
 
Soviet Russia had a constitution very similar to the one  in the  US.  People had freedom of speech, assembly, they voted, etc.  Unfortunately, none of this was enforced, quite the contrary.  Having been to Soviet Russia several times it was easy to see how their society didnt live by its constitution.  The constitution was merely a prop used by the government to say the people had rights, and if you didnt go there, you wouldnt really know what was the situation.  Other countries have similar constitutions, and nearly all countries violate those constitutions to a degree including the  US.  However, the degree of violation matters a great deal, some violate their constitution a lot more than others.
 
Obviously rich  and powerful individuals get preferential treatment, and we saw when the NSA clearly engaged in overreach by spying on US citizens.  Justice is not black and white, and even our idea of what is perfect justice, evolves over time.
The Burghal Hidage Added Nov 8, 2017 - 3:26pm
A good article Neil. Law and Justice are not the same thing. The "common sense justice" you refer to is what I like to think of as the "laws of natural consequences".
 
Distributive and Social Justice are simply hijackings of the term. They are both a perversion of justice under the guise of justice.
 
I liked Korwin-Mikke's statement and find nothing bombastic in it at all. In fact I would rather liken it to my refutation of the term "hate crime" ( ref. The Illogic of Hate Crime ). In either case the addition of the first word as a modifier of the second is redundant. It practically negates the meaning altogether.
 
opher goodwin Added Nov 8, 2017 - 3:40pm
In school I used restorative justice as a means of resolving issues. It took a little longer but the outcomes were better. It did not result in frustrations and recriminations resulting in further incidents. It eased tensions and all parties felt that it had worked.
I would like to see courts use it more.
Dave Volek Added Nov 8, 2017 - 4:18pm
Nice article. But I, a non-libertarian, would not be so harsh on the distributive justice. Those who have acquired wealth should be thankful for the civil society that allows them to acquire and enjoy wealth. 
Neil Lock Added Nov 9, 2017 - 5:11am
George: My take is that justice has weakened, as over the last 150 years or so Enlightenment values have been dropped by the ruling class in favour of what is actually a much older (16th century) idea of what the state should be and do. And yes, you're right that their idea of equality has changed too, and not in a good direction.
Neil Lock Added Nov 9, 2017 - 5:15am
Bill: You're right about the ideal of even enforcement, and about violating constitutions. I think my reply to George above should answer your last sentence.
Neil Lock Added Nov 9, 2017 - 5:18am
TBH: Thanks. I had the pleasure of meeting Korwin-Mikke once, and he does have more than a small tendency towards bombast. A larger than life guy.
Neil Lock Added Nov 9, 2017 - 5:20am
Opher: Yes, restorative justice, honestly dealt, is a better than average way of settling scores (and of making sure they don't re-surface later). But it has to be honest, not politicized.
Neil Lock Added Nov 9, 2017 - 5:27am
Dave: One thing I didn't mention in this article was how much individuals should be expected to pay for the service of justice. That needs a whole article in itself. Broadly, the position I incline towards is that individuals should pay in proportion to their total wealth. This on the same basis that, other risks being equal, the amount you pay to insure the contents of your home is in proportion to the amount you want to insure them for. I see this as being a matter of relating the payment for a service to the benefit received.
 
Distributive "justice," though, to me means something very different - it's where one individual claims a right to say to another, "I'll say how much you're going to get in exchange for for your work, and if you don't like it you'll have to lump it."
Scott Preston Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:50am
Your reasoning is flawed, because it relies solely on the authority of "pagan" or pre-Christian sources who philosophised about justice precisely because they were confused about it. That confusion returns, obviously, with "the death of God" (Nietzsche). So confusion about justice is understandable, as a regression to the confusions of the pagan world.
 
The "social justice warrior" descends from a concept of justice that came with the Christian revelation. " For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12).
 
Now contrast that ethic with, say, the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington,
“The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate."
 
And there you have the meaning of "endarkenment" as currently used to describe also post-Enlightenment society, so we can call it the shadow of the Enlightenment or the shadow of the "death of God".
 
You've tied your logic up in knots, because you've failed to understand justice in its true sense, not as "rational", but as proportionality, and that is largely an aesthetical concept connected with beauty. Proportionality as justice would imply that there is no one dimension to which justice can be reduced, but is multiform -- therefore all forms of justice are just -- natural, individual, social,-- and real justice is the freedom or right to circulate through all of them and preserve the balance of right between nature, the individual, the social, and the traditional. Justice is achieved, in other words, when times past and future are harmonised or synchronised and reconciled, and when inner and outer spaces are coordinated. Justice is fourfold in expression.
 
Reductionism and fundamentalism in this respect, is monomania.
 
 
 
 
opher goodwin Added Nov 9, 2017 - 10:25am
Agree with that Neil. That is true of most things.
SFC MAC Added Nov 9, 2017 - 10:32am
Excellent article. "Social justice" has become a buzz phrase for triggered liberals who view any slight--real or imagined--as an affront to their radical ideology. 
Their world centers around sophomoric narratives and SJW drivel. “Safe spaces” from  “microaggression” have become the norm.  The real world doesn't cater to their wild-assed fantasies, which drives them even deeper into insanity. 
 
Our laws and Constitution provide a pretty good set of guidelines for justice.  Trouble is, politicians and 'activists' alike regularly violate both in pursuit of their leftist agenda.
 
Dave Volek Added Nov 9, 2017 - 11:53am
Neil
Reading between the line, I sense that you like flat taxes and do not like progressive taxes.
 
I see this as being a matter of relating the payment for a service to the benefit received.
 
A rich person gets a lot of benefit from living in a civil society. He gets police protection, an educated workforce to build his wealth, roads and railroads to bring in supplies to his factory and put his products on the shelves. Rich people live in much better conditions than the working poor--even if their marginal tax rate is 50%. They are getting much more benefit than your average retail worker.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Jeffry Gilbert Added Nov 9, 2017 - 12:27pm
My observation has been there is no justice, JUST US as in the owners of every country on the planet. The rest of us pound sand.
Dino Manalis Added Nov 9, 2017 - 2:26pm
Justice should be based on laws, not emotions, we don't want extremism, we need fair justice.
John Wagner Added Nov 9, 2017 - 3:55pm
Neil,
I generally agree with all you say. People misunderstand justice.
Too many people think social injustice exists if some people have more wealth or income than others. That is, they are overly concerned with equality of results. 
 
This is a problem. Equality of results is literally unachievable. If equality of results is the definition of social justice, we will have never-ending strife, discord, and ill-will. 
The equal rights we all possess consist of things that don't take away from the equal rights of others. They are mostly intangible. When you possess a right to free speech, it does not reduce my equal right to free speech. When you possess a right to life, liberty, and property, it does not reduce my equal right to life, liberty, and property.
But for you to possess a 'right' to free housing or free medical care, that DOES require someone else to give something up. That is not a right. Society may choose to give you free housing, but you do not have a right to it. 
John Wagner Added Nov 9, 2017 - 4:08pm
Dave,
Yes, a rich person gets a lot of benefit from living in a civil society. But he already pays for all that. Even with a flat tax.
Say we have a 15% flat tax. If you have $1,000,000 income and I have $10,000, you will pay $150,000 in taxes while I will pay nothing, or at most $1,500. Your $150k in taxes dwarfs mine. You are indeed paying for roads, police, etc. 
And in real life, your $1M of income would incur about $340k of taxes, while my $10k income would incur $330. You get 100 times more income, but pay 1,030 times more taxes. i.e., the top 1% pay an avg effective tax rate of 34%, while the bottom quintile pays only 3%. And this is for ALL federal taxes, including income, payroll, corporate, and excise. 
Scott Preston Added Nov 9, 2017 - 4:47pm
@John Wagner
The revelations from the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers prove you quite wrong, particularly unscrutinised assumptions about property.
 
The austerity policies of the last few decades had two thrusts -- deregulation and privatisation. Privatisation was about privatisation of the commonwealth -- the public wealth, in whatever form it is assessed -- that is shared. The privatisation policy was, essentially, a new "enclosure of the commons", and the transfer of huge amounts of public wealth to private interests. In consequence of that, you had a shrinking middle class and a corresponding decay of public infrastructure.
 
The huge amounts of privatised wealth that was essentially transferred from the commonwealth to private hands ended up in off-shore accounts, and so much so that people now worry about an emerging transnational, global "oligarchy" or "plutocracy", although one can easily argue that it is a global kleptocracy.
 
If the assumption was that the liquidation of the commonwealth would lead to a recirculation of capital (trickle-down) that assumption was wrong. That money has been used to subvert and distort the political and economic structures of the very societies that facilitated their enrichment.
 
 
Neil Lock Added Nov 10, 2017 - 3:54am
SFC MAC: Thanks, glad you appreciated the article. The problem you bring up is, in my view, the result of laws being made according to political agendas (lex), not according to justice (ius). That needs to change.
Neil Lock Added Nov 10, 2017 - 3:59am
Dave: I don't like any kind of taxes at all! Taxes break the link between the benefit (or otherwise) people get from government, and what they have to pay for it.
 
That's why you get the three-class society I talked about in the essay. In such a society, taxes re-distribute wealth from the politically poor (the productive) to the politically rich (the rulers), with some finding its way to the recipient class (many of whom would have been much better off if their economic opportunities weren't being stomped on).
Neil Lock Added Nov 10, 2017 - 4:05am
John Wagner: Hi, John, and welcome. I pretty much agree with what you say, too. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I wrote here an article "On Equality," in a similar vein to this one. You can find it via my profile. There, I made the point that the imposition of economic equality requires an enormous inequality in political power.
 
As to rights... yes, I'm working on that subject too!
Neil Lock Added Nov 10, 2017 - 4:07am
Scott Preston: I'm not sure I understood you right. Are you saying that the Enlightenment - rational thought, science and all the rest - was a bad thing? I certainly wouldn't agree with that.
opher goodwin Added Nov 10, 2017 - 6:10am
Scott - I would agree with that. We have been taken for a ride as the elite have systematically robbed us and sent their ill-gotten gains off-shore. The inequality gap has become yawning and obscene. Austerity was a scam.
Social justice is a fair distribution of wealth. That is clearly not happening. This powerful group are operating on a global basis and using corruption, greed and threats to create conditions for them to prosper at the expense of everyone else. Even to the extent that disruption to societies, war and unrest are opportunities for profit.
It is chilling.
Scott Preston Added Nov 10, 2017 - 7:38am
@Neil -- No, not saying that the European Enlightenment was a bad thing. Nonetheless, post-modernity has arisen largely because it has exposed some of the metaphysical foundations of the Enlightenment as having been dead wrong, and based on nothing but running water (as Nietzsche once put it). The irony of the Enlightenment philosophes was that they were skeptical of everything but themselves. This isn't the place to get into a discourse about those limitations and self-contradictions that are coming back to bite us big time. If "duplicity is the currency of the day" (and it is -- our Four Riders of the Apocalypse are called Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, Double-Bind) it has a lot to do with the unexamined self-contradictions at the basis of the Enlightenment, and which is now, by a strange process of enantiodromia or "ironic reversal" becoming more and more to look like "endarkenment".
 
The Enlightenment always had a Jekyll-and-Hyde character to it, a fact to which the Romantics, at least, were quite sensitive -- William Blake, especially so. But in the main, the "post-modern condition" means, essentially, that the inspirations that launched Renaissance and Reformation 500 years ago, have now decayed into insipid reductionism and fundamentalism respectively, and has exhausted its possibilities of further development and articulation.
 
So, now we are in an age of paradox, ambiguity, and irony. These are all certain signs of crisis, and of "chaotic transition". But from what to what? Some believe were at the onset of a new Dark Age (Marty Glass, Jane Jacobs, Morris Berman, William Irwin Thompson) while others believe that the post-modern malaise is a transitional stage to a new Renaissance (Jean Gebser, Chris Kutarna, Peter Pogany), while Blake (and Nietzsche) thought that Man was in a chrysalis stage (Nietzsche's "two centuries of nihilism"). I happen to think that Blake was right.
 
 
Neil Lock Added Nov 10, 2017 - 9:54am
Dino: Sorry I left you out of my last batch of replies. My eye slipped!
 
It might sound hair-splitting, but there's a big difference between law and laws. I agree that justice should not be based on emotions or extremism. And that means it shouldn't be based on politics!
Scott Preston Added Nov 10, 2017 - 10:35am
@Bill Kamps: Yes, the real constitution of the Soviet Union wasn't the political one, but the economic "Five-Year Plans", and they were draconian. The sense of urgency in catching up with the West ("modernisation") is why the Five-Year Plans overrode the Soviet Constitution. In effect, it wasn't the politician that ran the roost, but the technocrat or "apparatchik" who was faced with the problem of how to convert a nation of 120 million serfs (and only 3 million industrial workers) into an industrial proletariat. Same in China. They weren't really, in that sense, Marxian revolutions, but "modernising" ones -- and in a big hurry and impatient to do so. It was the dissonance between industrial modernity and feudal antiquity that was the explosive contradiction that had to be resolved, and it was -- but very brutally.
John Wagner Added Nov 10, 2017 - 12:55pm
Scott,
To be clear, I was speaking of the US. The data I cited was actual income and tax data from CBO. High income Americans pay much higher taxes than the poor and middle class. 
I don't know much about the Panama etc papers. However, that is about a relative handful of people hiding cash in offshore accounts, right? If people are breaking laws to evade taxes, I am not condoning that. 
But I do question the effectiveness of focusing on a relative handful of people. The ultra-rich are so few in number. You could tax all their income, including any offshore, at 50% and still not collect much additional tax money. It makes little sense to have macroeconomic policy fixate on that 0.1% (or whatever). I prefer to focus on what provides the greatest good for the greatest number of people, regardless of what that means for a handful of rich people. I do not understand the obsession with tiny numbers of people. 
Scott Preston Added Nov 10, 2017 - 1:46pm
@John
But I do question the effectiveness of focusing on a relative handful of people. The ultra-rich are so few in number
 
But that is just the point, isn't it? Democracy is premised on the wide distribution of power, and as long as money is power and people believe in the power of money, then those that have will have more power than those who have not. It's precisely that which constitutes, not democracy, but plutocracy or oligarchy, and we can trace the influence of power through the flow of "dark money", presuming we can even detect that flow. As they say "follow the money" (or tulip bulbs, in other cases).
 
So, people have to make up their minds about this. Do they want democracy or oligarchy/plutocracy? Athens struggled with the same problems of political organisation in its day -- rotating from aristocracy to democracy, to oligarchy (rule of family dynasties) to rule of the tyrants. It just won't do to pay lip service to democratic principles while actively aiding and abetting the emergence of a plutocracy/oligarchate. But we know from the infamous leaked Citicorp "Plutonomy Memos" that these ultra-rich few are moving towards a global oligarchy, aided by "dark money", and that is one reason why democracies everywhere, today, are in trouble.
 
John Wagner Added Nov 10, 2017 - 3:32pm
Scott,
You seem to be addressing some shadowy global conspiracy that is broader than my point. What you apparently objected to was my point that high-income Americans pay significant taxes and therefore pay for roads and police. So yes, it is relevant to my point that there are few ultra rich people. Because they are few in number, and most high-income Americans DO pay significant taxes. 
Scott Preston Added Nov 10, 2017 - 4:44pm
@John
It is necessary here to make the leap from the point-of-view to the overview. I just think you're framing the issue of taxation too narrowly, and therefore we can't see the forest for the trees.
 
"Currently, the richest 1% hold about 38% of all privately held wealth in the United States. while the bottom 90% held 73% of all debt. According to The New York Times, the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent."
 
So, you have a problem. Apparently, your tax policy doesn't work at all except to benefit the already wealthy.
 
Now, by "overview" I mean we would have to look at the entire historical development of tax policy in democratic states during and after the World Wars -- a huge transformation in the political and economic structures around the world was ushered in during 1914-1945, including the 1929 Crash and Depression. Examining such structural transformations is the field of "political economy". And it doesn't matter what a tax policy actually looks like, what matters is what it achieves. It's rather pointless to talk about a legislated tax rate of 34% on wealth (or whatever the progressive rate is) if so many loopholes exist in the tax policy that the effective tax rate becomes next to nothing, which effectively means that any "tax burden" gets to be externalised -- shifted onto others. Moreover "dark money" is not taxed at all, which is one reason why it's "dark". It's unaccounted for, and that's the money that has also ended up in off-shore "tax havens", perfectly legally, because loopholes have been deliberately engineered into the tax policy, as befits the old saying about the "Golden Rule" -- "those that have the gold make the rules".
 
And that's what the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers reveal. The huge volumes of untaxed income, which is dark money, being squirreled away in tax havens via legal loopholes means that even these figures about assets and debts in the US are inevitably understated.
 
These figures, also, are similar to other jurisdictions. There is a name for this kind of extravagant growth at the expense of others who become indebted -- cancer.
Scott Preston Added Nov 10, 2017 - 4:53pm
@John
Didn't Warren Buffett admit that his effective tax rate was less than his secretary's? Didn't forty American millionaires get together to complain that they actually weren't taxed enough?
 
Why do you think that is?
John Wagner Added Nov 10, 2017 - 9:28pm
Scott,
So many issues. The 34% tax rate for top 1% of income-earners versus 3% for bottom quintile ARE effective tax rates, so you apparently misunderstood that. 
You want to bring up wealth, not income. Fine. The existence of wealth inequality does not mean tax policy has a problem. Tax policy does not make people wealthy. Buffett gets richer when people voluntarily choose to buy Geico insurance or See's candy. He gets his wealth from market activities, not tax policy. 
Now, you and Warren must think that investment income (capital gains, dividends) should be taxed at higher rates. You're both wrong. There are excellent reasons why investment income should be taxed at lower rates, which is why the US does so, and some countries don't tax it at all. Here are some reasons:
* Lower tax rates on investment encourage business investment. Investment is key to broad prosperity. It's central to the  improvement of productivity and innovation which are the very heart of prosperity. 
* Investment income at the individual level is double taxation since the income is taxed at the business level, so a lower rate is appropriate. 
* Inflationary capital gains are taxed as if real, so a lower rate is appropriate. 
To relate my earlier point, should we care if a handful of ultra-wealthy people have low tax rates because of lower tax rates on investment income? No! The benefits to all the rest of us FAR outweigh the tax revenue foregone. And remember, the tax revenue foregone is not that great because it's a veritable handful of people. 
John Wagner Added Nov 10, 2017 - 9:34pm
As for any rich person, if they want to donate extra tax money, they are free to do so. No reason to harm the broader economy to raise their taxes coercively. 
Or they can donate their wealth to charity, or build libraries and museums, as so many wealthy Americans have done. But let's not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs just because some people have envy issues or an over-developed sense of fairness. 
Neil Lock Added Nov 11, 2017 - 4:00am
Scott: I don't see much self-contradictory in the ideas of the Enlightenment. Which I've paraphrased as "ideas like human progress, reason and science, objective truth, universal natural law, tolerance of difference, and the rights and freedoms of the human individual."
 
Why the Enlightenment didn't succeed as well as it should have is an interesting question. My own view is that the French Revolution, in particular, went awry because some of its philosophical leaders were not quite what they appeared to be. I'm thinking most of all of Rousseau, who in my terms was a collectivist, not an Enlightenment person.
 
As to what comes next, I think I'm probably on the transition-to-something-new side. And part of it may be a Re-Enlightenment.
Ray Joseph Cormier Added Nov 11, 2017 - 8:21am
A lot of words to affirm what Christ taught;
 
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
 
And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
 
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
 
This World has been ruled by the Law since Moses The Lawgiver 4000 years ago. Congress and Parliaments have replaced Moses as the Lawgiver, but it is no longer thought of as a 'religious' function.
Obviously, The Law is not an Absolute for GOOD after all that Time of Trial.
If it was, Wars would have been a thing of the Past by now. The Nations would have beat their swords into plowshares and all the MONEY spent on killing People and destroying property, would be spent on the things people need to live and prosper, thereby reducing the inequalities that cause War.
 
If it was not dismissed out of mind so readily, the 10 Commandments are really 10 bits of Good Advice to ensure a Peaceful, harmonious World.
 
God does not force anyone to comply, but Humanity, at the END, will have to face all the corruption created by human Laws over the last 4000 years.
 
The Prophet saw this was happening in the people, 'Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
 
If that was recognizable 2600 years ago, how great is the Deception all these Centuries later?
Scott Preston Added Nov 11, 2017 - 9:10am
@Neil, @John
Too much to respond to in the limited format of a comment. It would require, minimally, to be essayed, and probably a book. But I will begin here by saying that all that is today, surreal, absurd, bizarre about Late Modernity or the Post-Modern Condition, has its roots in the self-contradictory metaphysical assumptions and dynamic (dialecticism) of the European Enlightenment. The Enlightenment had its dark, shadow side, already anticipated, ironically, as Descartes' and Laplace's "evil demon" of their imagination. For one thing, there is a world of difference between the reasonable and the rational, and a world of difference between the whole and the totality, but reductionism simply made them synonymous whereas they are, in fact, even antithetical. What Charles Taylor refers to as "the malaise of modernity" has its roots in the self-contradictions of the European Enlightenment.
 
These implicit contradictions of the Enlightenment and its ideas about the "infinite perfectibility of man" (Condorcet) began to irrupt in the late nineteenth century, although William Blake already perceived them a century earlier. Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was coincident with Nietzsche's insights into the self-negating dynamics of the modern mind (his anticipation of "two centuries of nihilism"), while Hardy's Return of the Native anticipated the "return of the repressed" of the early depth psychologists, who likewise now realised that the "individual" was, in fact, divided between conscious rationalisation and unconscious motivation. "Individual" was originally a term for "atom", and our political concepts of "individuals" and "masses" are derived from Newtonian physics, on the assumption merely that what was true about Nature (imagined as a machine or Clockwork) was also true, and completely applicable, to human beings in society. We call the modern mind "Newtonian-Cartesian" mainly for the reason that the metaphysical assumptions about physics -- about matter as machine, space and time as absolute -- were also applicable to mind, to living beings and societies. Cartesian "metaphysical dualism" dichotomised being into discrete and incommensurate universes of mind and body, a kind of early "division of labour" that has bedevilled mind and society ever since. Many other problems simply followed from this dichotomisation.
 
The whole of the last century up to today is characterised by two earth-shaking developments -- the return of the repressed, especially during the period 1914-1945, and the disillusionment of the intellectuals with the promises of the Enlightenment. Therewith, also, the disintegration of the unity of knowledge, so that we speak today of the "multiversity" rather than the "university".
 
But, let's fast forward to see how this dichotomisation of reality is playing itself out, and this lies especially in the attempt to revive classical liberal economics as "neo-liberalism" (Friedman, Hayek) and what a rat's nest of logical self-contradictions this dogma is!
 
So, the present economic orthodoxy begins with the assumption about the value of open markets and competition, and that the "universal market" supersedes society. But how does it conclude? That monopolies should be permitted as a reward for "efficiency"!!
 
Erp. Reminds me of something "We had to destroy the village in order to save it, sir". Here, two separate values, save and destroy, are made to occupy the same logical space, and yet meet like matter and anti-matter, becoming mutually annihilate. And that is the same self-negating logic you find in neo-liberalism. It begins by extolling "free market" and ends by praising monopoly. The conclusion negates the premise. Extended to society, it means monopolies of power are more efficient than distributed ones.
 
So, when Pope Francis says "duplicity is the currency of the day", he's right. It's implicit in this self-negating, self-devouring logic that has its roots in metaphysical assumptions of the Enlightenment, which are beginning to assert themselves as "the New Normal".
John Wagner Added Nov 11, 2017 - 9:45am
Scott,
You seem so far up in the clouds that you may not understand how the real world actually works. 
To address the only point you mentioned that comes anywhere close to anything I said, answer these two questions: One, who (in real life) have you heard actually praising monopoly? Two, what monopolies exist in the real world? 
I don't think I've ever heard anyone praise monopoly. Monopolies have too much potential to abuse consumers. 
And true monopolies are quite rare. Primarily limited to things delivered to your residence over fixed and specific infrastructure like water and electricity. As long as people are free to start up new businesses and buy goods from foreign countries, monopoly is quite unlikely. Yes, indeed, the best solution to potential monopoly is always more competition. 
Scott Preston Added Nov 11, 2017 - 10:00am
Let's bring this chicken finally home to roost.
 
On the US Great Seal, you see the symbol of the Enlightenment (of the "Illuminati" which is just a term for the Enlightenment free thinkers). This depicts the structure of the modern mind -- Newtonian-Cartesian mind as dialectical rationality. The eye at the vertex, though, is da Vinci's perspectival eye and Renaissance perspectivism. That is where the symbol comes from, and it was the invention of perspective that suggested a new method of reasoning -- dialectical, for the eye at the vertex of the cone or pyramid of perception is "synthesis", and the base of the pyramid is thesis and antithesis. And this triadic structure was believed to be the true nature of reason because it corresponded to a three-dimensional cosmos of width, length, breadth.
 
So, ironically, its from perspective illusionism that we have derived a technology of thinking, the Cartesian "cogito" is perspectival, but which pertends to be a universal way of looking at things, which it isn't. It's from perspectivism that we get ideas like "framing", "point-of-view" and "line-of-thought" and its from perspectivism, adopted as a technology of thinking, that we also get idea of "objectivity" as subjective distancing, ie, "putting things in perspective".
 
(Bear with me, here. This has relevance for how we think about justice too).
 
A little thought about the symbol, though, will reveal that the "all-seeing eye" (which is consciousness) cannot be universal or completely true, because it illuminates only a fraction of reality -- only what lies within its focus, which forms a pyramid of perception. And that, too, is ironically depicted in the Great Seal symbol as the empty lifeless wasteland outside the triangle. It's vision is only 45 degrees, and not 360 degrees. The "ratio" of rationality is only a tripartite structure -- a ratio of three dimensions or spaces conceived as length, width, depth. It omits time.
 
Now, oddly enough, when this symbol became the symbol of the Enlightenment (and it is very common around that time), so did two new words "consciousness" and "occult". Both were neo-logisms of the 16th c. So, here is another Enlightenment contradiction. Anything that lent itself to perspective representation (ie objective) meant it fell within the pyramid of perception and point-of-view (this now called "consciousness") while anything that did not fall within the conic viewpoint was consigned to the outer darkness now called "the occult", and it's easy to see that this division of reality developed into what we now call "conscious" and "unconscious".
 
Normally, we would call such an abbreviated and truncated perception of reality "myopia" or monomania. And that's why Blake raged against "single vision & Newtons sleep" and contrasted that with his own "fourfold vision", and raged against "the confinement of Truth to Mathematical Demonstration", that is, truth reduced to calculation and quantification.
 
And that's correct, "single vision" only permits into consciousness as true and real only what is mathematically demonstrable. Everything else was consigned to the outer darkness called "the occult", but which we now call "the unconscious".
 
In other words, you can only have a truly "universal way of looking at things" by re-integrating what was forced into the unconscious back into consciousness, but that means a restructuration of consciousness in terms of Blake's "fourfold vision" and a new quadrilateral (rather than dialectical) logic.
Scott Preston Added Nov 11, 2017 - 10:12am
@John
Then I would simply say that you aren't paying attention, and that you actually haven't investigated the writings of the neo-liberal economists. Therefore, you probably don't understand why the neo-liberal economists thought of Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile as the ideal laboratory for re-engineering Chilean society along neo-liberal lines, or why Maggie Thatcher, greatly impressed by Hayek, could declare, like Nietzsche "the death of God", that "there is no such thing as society", or why the neo-con Niall Ferguson could declare also that the freedom to buy and sell didn't require political freedoms at all, and therefore why Francis Fukuyama, following Thatcherism, could declare "the end of history" and "the final form of society" and that all political questions had been resolved and therefore political choice was unnecessary ("end of ideology"). In other words, with the ideological triumph of neo-liberalism (or what is much the same, neo-socialism and neo-conservatism all known as "The Washington Consensus") there was absolutely no need for politicians, only technocrats who would ensure that the Megamachine of economy would run as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The technocrat was the logical conclusion of neo-liberalism.
 
 
 
Scott Preston Added Nov 11, 2017 - 10:26am
Let me just add one last thing before I leave off, a deficiency of the mental-rational consciousness that is the Enlightenment, and that is its thrust to become not only "masters and possessors of nature" as Descartes and Bacon conceived it, but of human nature as well, and that just as much informed the Enlightenment as much as its focus on becoming masters and possessors of nature.
 
Neil Lock Added Nov 12, 2017 - 4:00am
Ray Joseph Cormier: Welcome, and thanks for your comment.
 
Though brought up in a moderate Protestant family, I lost religion (or, perhaps, it lost me) at the age of 16. But that said, I can agree with you that some of the ten statements recorded by Moses are indeed good precepts for a decent world. I think it no coincidence that the Decalogue was divided into two tablets, split four and six. Numbers 1-4 are the religious commandments, and apply only to those who subscribe to the religion. Numbers 5-10 are the secular ethical principles, and are intended to apply to everyone. Though they may need to be re-expressed or broadened in some cases.
 
In particular, "thou shalt not kill" becomes, in my mind, the libertarian non-aggression principle. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" becomes "keep your side of your contracts." "Thou shalt not steal" still does what it says on the tin, and "Thou shalt not bear false witness" is probably the most important of them all.
 
It's interesting, though - isn't it? - that today's politicians and their hangers-on like so much to start wars, steal from productive people through taxation, lie and mislead?
 
Once again, thanks for your comment.
Scott Preston Added Nov 12, 2017 - 8:54am
Recalling Santayana's remark that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it....
 
If you want a precedent for the present "chaotic transition", as this period of post-modernity is being called, the patterns in early stages of the Industrial Revolution are quite pertinent... the social diseases and disruptions introduced by the machine, resulting in a social disintegration (or tradition) and attempts at a new integration (revolution). Then too, intellectual, spiritual, ethic confusion was rampant, as was duplicity, hypocrisy, and struggles with "the new normal". The present opioid crisis is quite reminiscent, too, of the gin epidemic in the Industrial Revolution, and so, of course, was social and national violence, and it was especially a time of a crisis of the concepts of justice.  Then too, you had absolutely enormous inequalities and discrepancies of wealth.
 
Then, too, you had conspiracy theory, mass anxiety and paranoia, and big part of the Enlightenment project was learning to adjust man's thinking to the reality of the machine (Clockwork Universe theme, and how living things, if they weren't also considered machines or automata, were to live in the new context. The "panopticon" of Orwell's 1984 wasn't invented by Orwell, but by Jeremy Bentham, the first idea of mass surveillance for purposes of engineering or dominating human nature, and also in the context of social disruption brought about by the machine. What Blake called "the dark Satanic Mills" wasn't just about the wheels and gears of industry that reduced men to "cogs in the machine", it was also the Mind that could conceive of that as normal.
 
Bentham's "panopticon" of mass surveillance was implemented by the ruling classes of the day to the extent that this was possible with the technologies of the time. Schools, prisons, and factories were often designed according to its specifications, and largely as a paranoid response to the French Revolution. So, today's mass surveillance is very much for the same reasons and same purposes.
 
There was a very dark side to the Enlightenment, including confusions of liberty with mere libertinism (laissez-faire) and the sacrifice of everything to merely self-interest and point-of-view, and the absence of any kind of real social solidarity or fellow-feeling.
 
The machine introduced panic and paranoia, and no one new quite how to respond to the reality of it or to "ad-just" to it, which is also an issue of justice. Law was very slow to respond, and the "enclosures of the commons" and the Enclosures Acts, which drove people from the land and their livelihoods, are very reminiscent of the deregulation and privatisation schemes of today.
 
That's why it's quite pointless to look for resolutions to the principle of justice in pagan philosophers who never had to deal with the social reality of the machine, or today's Megamachine. You have to look to that time itself, and how men and women (like Wollstonecraft) tried to reconcile principles of justice with the reality of the machine, because in terms of the present "tech revolution" and the prospects of artificial intelligence, their struggles are being replicated again today.
 
 
Simply Jews Added Nov 12, 2017 - 10:58am
Neil,
 
Somebody already mentioned this here, but it bears repeating: justice is really an abstract, and we see some of it implemented only via the laws.
 
Law if the only social contract we are able to enforce (when we really do try to enforce all of them, which rarely happens). If we have a good enough set of laws and good enough enforcement of these, we can be said having an approximation of justice. But in the court of law justice rather takes a back bench.
 
The other problem with justice is that it leaves too much to our customs, beliefs, culture. It makes justice pretty vaguely defined in many cases and in many places. Do we send a first time thief to community service for a month or do we chop off his/her hand? Is a murderer to be hanged in any case or given a few years of jail time? Etc... Taxes... no, there was too much said about taxes already.
Neil Lock Added Nov 13, 2017 - 4:10am
Simply Jews: Yes, it was The Burghal Hidage who (quite rightly) mentioned that law and justice are not the same thing. And there's also a difference between law and laws, as I said in my reply to Dino.
 
It isn't merely a good set of laws (in my terms, a good ethical code) which is needed to bring about justice. You also need a clear idea of what justice is, and a set of procedures (such as innocence until proven guilty, and any punishment being commensurate to the crime) to maximize the likelihood of it being delivered fairly and honestly.
 
What I'm trying to do in this article is set out a view of what justice is (or should be), which is not dependent on one particular culture. That is only one piece of the puzzle, as you rightly point out. I haven't addressed what I think the ethical laws should be, for example; that's a subject for another day!
Simply Jews Added Nov 13, 2017 - 4:20am
Neil,
 
I agree. The only trouble with you approach to a universal concept of justice, which will  independent of local customs and culture, is that it might be an unattainable goal. Not to mention the fluid nature of the customs and cultures mention. But I agree that we have to strive to get there in any case. 
John Wagner Added Nov 13, 2017 - 11:42am
Scott,
Apologies for belated response. My original comment was that high-income people do pay taxes that pay for roads, etc. You want to challenge that comment, yet you seem to want to ignore the tax and economic issues that are more relevant and instead change the subject to political theories.
I will repeat that there are very few ultra-wealthy people who hide money in offshore accounts, so taxing their income will raise little money. And if Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary (that must be one high-paid secretary!!), I will repeat that there are excellent reasons why investment income should be taxed at lower rates, among them the promotion of broad societal prosperity and the minimization of double taxation.
For some reason, you then suggested that neoliberal economists praise monopolies. I asked you to name anyone who has praised monopoly, and to name any monopolies that exist in the real world. You basically ignored that as well.
I have not been responding to all your twists and turns away from my economic comment and into the political realm, but here goes.
If Thatcher meant that everything in society devolves to the individual, I agree with her.
It’s an old question of whether economic freedom can exist without political freedom. I’d say Ferguson is probably right that freedom to buy and sell doesn’t require political freedom. China seems to be making that case for him. That’s a statement of fact, not preference, as I am in favor of both economic and political freedom.
The sentiments that you attach to Fukuyama seem like gibberish to me, so I guess I agree with you on this one. How can political choice become unnecessary? I think I usually disagree with FF. Although I will quibble about technocrats coming from neoliberalism. What I understand to be a technocrat grew out of the 'scientific management' and Progressive views of government in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. i.e., the growth of the administrative state staffed by 'experts' not subject to political winds. 
Neil Lock Added Nov 13, 2017 - 1:48pm
John Wagner: Thank you very much for your contributions on this thread.
 
I’m the thread author, and I regard it as my job to let the discussion flow as it deserves, and to keep the dialogue as polite as possible. I allowed Scott Preston to continue posting until he went over the top (and, some would say, I was too slow to stop him). You, very politely, told him where he was wrong. Many thanks.
John Wagner Added Nov 13, 2017 - 6:18pm
Neil, no need to thank me, but you're quite welcome. Here's a link to my blog, if you or anyone else cares: 
https://caseforcapitalism.wordpress.com/
 
Scott Preston Added Nov 14, 2017 - 5:53am
By happy coincidence, Dani Rodrik of the John F Kennedy School has published a piece today highly relevant to this: "The Fatal Flaw of Neoliberalism", and which speaks to some of the self-contradictions of the ideology -- the discrepany between what neoliberalis merely say they do, and what they actually do (dissonance of theory and praxis). And, yes, he does mention issues of justice, taxation, and monopoly in relation to that, and which does, as far as I'm concerned, underly the Jekyll-and-Hyde problem -- modern schizophrenia.
 
Perhaps you would care to review his arguments and respond?
 
 
John Wagner Added Nov 14, 2017 - 11:22am
OK, Scott, you asked for it... Just to clarify, I don’t call myself a neoliberal. I’ve only heard that term in the past year, or maybe two. I will respond to that article, but based on my views, which may not overlap 100% with what is supposed to be neoliberal.
 
Rodrik loses me right from the beginning. He says that neoliberalism “denotes a preference for markets over government, economic incentives over cultural norms, and private entrepreneurship over collective action.” A preference for markets over government is completely true, but the other two points ring hollow.
Both economic incentives and cultural norms influence human behavior. Observing that people usually respond to economic incentives (like lower tax rates) does not imply that cultural norms disappear.
Likewise, private entrepreneurship is important and valuable, but so is collective action. Most businesses are themselves collective actions. Collaboration between customers and suppliers is collective action. So is collaboration between two suppliers to meet customer needs. So is a parent sacrificing to give their child a better life. But note one important difference. All the collectivism I just described is VOLUNTARY. Free-market advocates are not against ALL collectivism, they are against COERCED collectivism, which usually comes via government. And the difference between voluntary and coerced makes all the difference in the world when it comes to freedom, dignity, and prosperity.
 
Rodrik says there is not a 100% standardized blueprint for prosperity. OK, but so what? Different countries have different cultural norms, are at different stages of economic development, have different natural resources, and are exposed to different changing circumstances such as natural disasters or wars. Of course routes to prosperity will vary.
For example, my recipe for long-term prosperity involves three main ingredients: One, economic freedom. Two, enough government to provide stability (rule of law, property rights, stable currency), but not so much that it stifles economic freedom. Three, a culture that values and respects freedom, hard work, new ideas, entrepreneurialism, and the profit motive. Although I believe those general points are true and valid, the exact proportions and grades of ingredients may vary based on circumstances.
 
Rodrik claims that neoliberalism means “always more markets, always less government.” This is way too simplistic. It depends on the context. A country in anarchy needs more government, while Venezuela needs less government. No one but the most extreme libertarian wants zero government. Free-market advocates like me want limited government that performs necessary duties like those just mentioned. Government has an important role to play, but it must be limited.
 
He further claims that neoliberal economists in their pursuit of more trade and less government “ignore the barbarians on the other side of the issue – financiers and multinational corporations whose motives are no purer and who are all too ready to hijack these ideas for their own benefit.” That’s not how I see it. I don’t like Big Government because (a) it stifles freedom by its very nature and (b) it also gets coopted by trade associations and corporations in pursuit of their goals. Both (a) and (b) are threats to widespread prosperity. Make government smaller, and both threats are reduced.
 
He says that Mexico followed the neoliberal model after the mid-1990s, but the economy has not performed well. I think he might be focusing on only financial regulations and trade restrictions. The more comprehensive Fraser economic freedom rankings show Mexico as the 49th freest country in 1995, and dropping to 84th place by 2010, then improving slightly to 76th place by 2015. Hardly a beacon of economic freedom, and getting worse over this period. It does not prove his point.
I also don’t see how Chile proves his point. Chile substantially embraced economic freedom from maybe 1980 onward (until the past few years) and their incomes grew dramatically. Compared to most of Latin America, Chile has been a rising economic star since 1980.
 
Finally, Rodrik mentions that neoliberals are obsessed by economic growth. I do think growth is enormously important. Whether you think poor people are best helped by a growing economy that creates jobs or by government welfare programs, both depend on growth (a larger economy throws off more taxes). Growth is how we get widespread prosperity. 
He says that this emphasis on economics “debases and sacrifices other important values such as equality, social inclusion, democratic deliberation and justice.” Poppycock. First, a respect for economic results (prosperity) does not imply any disrespect for any of those other values. Second, I admit that economic freedom might generate in
Scott Preston Added Nov 14, 2017 - 3:42pm
@John
Mr Rodrik remains substantially right (in fact, I'ld say he didn't go far enough in dissecting the contradictions of the economic orthodoxy). So, let's examine the three features of neo-liberalism that he highlights, and your responses, in the preamble to his essay.

First, you concede that a "preference for markets over government is completely true", and apparently highly desirable. But to put it in that way -- markets over government -- is to assert that the market is above the law, or is itself the law making power, and government should be beholden to it rather than vice versa. That, of cousse, is an inversion of the "cultural norms" itself, since it makes government susceptible to being captured and controlled by market forces and powerful market players, otherwise called "special interests", which indeed has been the outcome of neo-liberalism. Markets over government means, ultimately, that the will of the people is expressed through the market, and not represented in government -- one dollar one vote, as it were. Markets exist by virtue of government, and not vice versa. That's the meaning of the "social contract" or "social licence". Society can, and will, withdraw its social licence if the market breaks the social contract. "Social Contract" is, I'm sure you know, a fine old liberal idea. And the fact is, today, governments have made themselves, and been made, subordinate to market forces, which is largely why people have lost faith in government at all, and you hear this: "the social contract is broken", and that has led to the populist backlash, even if it is dazed and confused.

Which brings us to the second feature: "economic incentives over cultural norms". I'm sure you've heard the phrase "New Normal", have you not? Have you interrogated the meaning of that phrase? In what contexts has arisen and is being used? Things like "post-truth", "post-rational", post-humanist, post-Everything, in fact, or why people use the term "illiberal liberalism"? If that sounds Orwellian, it's because it is. It's what Nietzsche described as "all higher values devalue themselves" -- nihilism, which is pretty much what is meant by "post-modern condition" -- debasement of values. So, if you haven't interrogated the meaning of "New Normal" (which means, essentially, not walking the talk) I suggest you do. "Cultural norms" were exactly what were disrupted during the Industrial Revolution, just as the computer and automation are doing today.

Now to the third: "private entrepreneurship over collective action", which has nothing to do with those great collectivising instutions called "corporations", but public will. It's about private and public, and the therefore private wealth versus commonwealth, commonwealth being all that which a society bequeaths is children as its legacy and their heritage, which could be collective spiritual or material assets. It was heavy investement in building up the commonwealth (Keynesian economics) that raised millions into the middle-classes after the Second World War, and which started to be reversed with neo-liberalism and privatisation -- ie, shrinking middle class, increased  indebtedness, decay of public infrastructure. That reversal happened with Keynesianism ran agound on its own self-contradiction that took the form of "stagflation" in the mid-70s, when governments, unable to resolve the contradiction, threw up their hands and passed responsibility for economic and social policy to the corporate sector -- neo-liberalism -- until it too ran aground on its own contradictions in the market meltdown of 2007-8. The result is called "diminishing expectations".

Now there are looming public demands for goverments to reverse the gutting of the commonwealth, and the deregulation and privatisation drives, and start re-investing taxes in the commonwealth rather than pass them on as "economic incentives" to private corporations, whether as tax breaks, loopholes, or credits, etc.

The classical liberal utopian ideal was the "universal civilisation of commerce" (Tom Paine's words), which is the global free trade project of neo-liberalism. But now, quite a few obviously feel that it ain't worth the cost, that a "rising tide lifts all boats" was a lie, and precisely in terms of hamstringing governments, decay of "cultural norms" or rape of the commonwealth.
John Wagner Added Nov 14, 2017 - 3:49pm
(repeat and complete my last paragraph)
He says that this emphasis on economics “debases and sacrifices other important values such as equality, social inclusion, democratic deliberation and justice.” Poppycock. First, a respect for economic results (prosperity) does not imply any disrespect for any of those other values. Second, I admit that economic freedom might generate inequality, but it does not need to harm any of the other values listed. Social inclusion? One of the virtues of free markets is they don’t care about race or gender, they care about cost, quality, and timeliness. You don’t even see most of the people in the supply chain that supplies you with goods, so how could you care? And if you are a bigot who does care, you’re only harming yourself by limiting your choice of suppliers or customers. And how do free markets harm democratic deliberations?
John Wagner Added Nov 14, 2017 - 4:04pm
"markets over government is to assert that the market is above the law, or is itself the law making power"
False. First, talking about the market as if it is an entity makes no sense. Second, who ever said that market participants are above the law? 
The outcome of neoliberalism is special interests capturing government
 I say make government small enough to fulfill properly limited duties and then special interests have less incentive to coopt govt power. It is the very magnitude and complexity of big govt that attracts special interests. Both to fend off bad ideas and to seek special favors. By the way, I hope you know that special interest are not limited to just business corporations. 
OK, I give up on all the rest. I know these topics pretty well, but I can't fight through trying to decipher any more of your vague sweeping statements that make no sense to me. The world that you describe must be some parallel universe.