Justice Ain’t Fairness & Some Redneck Economics

Let’s start here:

I want justice to mean Pareto-only not Kaldor/Hicks. That obviously does not work, because there are all kinds of Transitional Gains Traps out there. I usually go to the extreme of slavery. If you want to end slavery, then pay to free the slave. I’m focused on the idea of doing justice, as an individual, because I’m extremely skeptical about any political process’s ability to effect reforms that don’t create new injustices.


But I’m cool with Creative Destruction.

There lies an inconsistency.

Creative Destruction allows for new ideas to displace market incumbents without compensation for capitalized assets. That is, it is Kaldor/Hicks.

So I invent a new idea: “fairness.” (I probably picked this up from David Levy’s classes in Constitutional Political Economy and History of Economic Thought at GMU. That said, any errors or instances of “redneck economics” are my own.)

I define fairness as “that which will pass muster at the fair.” How convenient. How bourgeoisie. The fair, or the marketplace, can only survive and expand if new ideas are permitted to displace old ideas.

When one enters the fair one has to set one’s Pareto intuition about justice aside, and then pick up Kaldor/Hicks Creative Destruction fairness. There are different ethics for different settings.

Rawls tried to blend fairness and justice and just muddled both. The use of compensation to achieve abolition in Great Britain is hailed as a triumph of fairness applied to a circumstance of injustice. (But large chunks of the compensation went to the MP’s that approved it.) Behind a veil of ignorance I think most of us would approve different rules for the two settings.

Utilitarians and armchair philosopher-economists like to apply fairness as justice. My main concern with fairness as justice is that it perpetuates cycles of injustices. Perhaps we don’t see the cycle spinning so much because the Kaldor/Hicks losers from this approach don’t survive.

How would I have achieved abolition? I suggest that anyone who sympathized with a slave could pay out of his own pocket to free a slave. Many did this. Many slave-owners who came to sympathize with their slaves gave them writs of manumission. Often the state prohibited this, introducing a systematic collusive injustice.

But this creates a moral hazard. Buy a slave from a slave owner, and he will just buy another slave. Probably. Unless the slave-owner, who shares some sympathy with the manumitter, catches the sympathy for the slave from the manumitter. Is sympathy contagious? Can we close social distances through acts of sacrificial altruism? What happens in immigration debates when I self-righteously tout “They can live with me!”?

2 thoughts on “Justice Ain’t Fairness & Some Redneck Economics

  1. “The fair, or the marketplace, can only survive and expand if new ideas are permitted to displace old ideas.”

    The fair is futarchy. Only ideas can be judged there, not values. Values are on another level.

  2. Pingback: Justice as Pareto Improvement, Fairness as Kaldor/Hicks « Economics Info

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