Friday Roundup, April 5th

  • April’s Liberty Forum attempts to answer the question What is Social Justice? Essays from Sam Gregg, Eric Mack, and David Rose evaluate this question from various philosophical, economic, and political perspectives. Gregg’s lead essay opens as follows:

Few terms have assumed more prominence in public discourse, especially that emanating from the left, in recent decades than “social justice.” It has now become part of the rhetorical apparatus of virtually all center-left, social democratic and labor political movements as well as central to the language of modern liberalism. In Western Europe, the term has also been embraced by more-than-a-few center-right, Christian Democrat, and conservative groupings, David Cameron’s Tory Party being a prominent example. Religious groups—most notably, but not exclusively, the Catholic Church—also utilize the expression extensively in their commentary on social and economic subjects. In the case of many mainline Protestant confessions, it seems to have become their defining creed.

A common criticism from the non-left is that social justice appears to have no stable or concrete meaning. This point features prominently in the critique articulated by Friedrich Hayek in The Mirage of Social Justice, in the second volume of his Law, Legislation and Liberty. Hayek struggled, he wrote, to find a clear definition of what people mean by the term. To the extent that social justice operates as a catch-all justification for any number of programs that range from extensive income redistribution and anti-discrimination policies, there is little doubt the phrase is used in a bewildering number of often contradictory and not especially coherent ways.

The current crisis has led the European authorities and the Bank to throw away the monetary ideal of rule-bound action, independence from politics and attention to the long run. The ECB is now a lender of last resort not only to the commercial banks in its club but to governments in its area. Far from being independent of politics, it is in continuous consultation and collaboration with European and national authorities. The current president of the ECB has gone so far as to says that the Bank will “do whatever it takes” to save the euro, which markets have understood as creating all the liquidity necessary to stop speculators. Thus, the ECB is now turning itself into a traditional government banker, ready to aid and abet in counter-cyclical monetary management, protectionist exchange rate policy, and ‘controlled’ inflationism.

  • So the New York Times‘ editorial board firmly rejects Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s counsel that Roe was imprudently decided, not necessarily wrongly decided mind you, but a decision rendered before history (I mean autonomy) could supply the ground of the right. Of course, the Times‘ editorial writers, so consumed with judicial legislation supplanting, well, legislation, overlook Ginsburg’s considered judgment that the right would be more secure if the public conversation then occurring about abortion had been permitted to continue. In nationalizing the right to unconditionally terminate pregnancies, the Roe Court took away the opportunity for democratic support to more firmly entrench abortion. It’s probably Ginsburg’s steadfast belief in abortion rights that leads her to this observation, but, then again, the editorial board of the Times calculates that getting to 5 votes on the Court is easier than the democratic alternative.
  • David Friedman at his appropriately entitled blog “Ideas” compares contemporary patent litigation with feudal warfare. [Update] with all apologies to David Friedman, per his comment below, I should have said a comparison of patent litigation with a legal system whose rules are enforced by feud. In any event, I thought it was an interesting post and wanted to highlight it.