What is social justice? Social Justice can mean something different depending on who you are talking to. The most common definition of social justice is a policy-making theory that tries to ensure that all members of society are treated fairly and that all have the same opportunities to partake of and share in the benefits of society. This could mean the end of discrimination based on sex, race, creed, ethnicity, or income. Another form of social justice could be equality through fair taxation and the distribution of wealth, resources, and property. It could also mean equal access to education and job placement for everybody. I believe that social justice is all of these things. In this paper I will explore the idea of social justice as it pertains to people not only in the United States, but on a global scale and whether or not true “social justice” is an attainable goal. The concept of Social Justice did not arise from utopian views of the world as it should be, but rather from people who see the disparities in a world that has a global economy divided into the haves and have-nots.
Examples of this are various pro-environment, pro- equality political organizations that band together under the name the Green Party who base their thoughts on a credo called the four pillars. One of the pillars is social justice. The American Green Party states, “We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, barriers such as racism and class oppression, sexism and homophobia, ageism and disability, which act to deny fair treatment and equal justice under the law,” while the Irish Green Party avers that it is against “control of industry by large national and multinational companies” as well as “the exploitation of the third world.” (Green Party)Both of these groups view social justice as a policy that is needed if there is to be equity in the world today. Social Justice relies on the assumption that the disparity between rich and poor, the advantaged and disadvantaged, needs to be rectified or overcome if a truly just society (whether global, national, or local) is to emerge. Supporters of social justice look to the unequal distribution of wealth when arguing their case.
According to research done in 2007 by New York University economist Edward N. Wolff, the richest 1 percent of the U.S. population owned 34.3 percent of the nation’s privately held wealth (stocks, bonds, property, and other marketable assets), while the top 10 percent held 71 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, the poorest 40 percent owned only 1 percent of the nation’s wealth, according to Wolff. In comparison, a study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research concluded that the top 10 percent of the world’s population held 85 percent of global wealth (including all assets). University of California psychology and sociology professor G. William Domhoff explains that the gap between the richest and poorest has been growing over time—chiefly due to tax breaks and the decline of organized labor. Domhoff also contends that with wealth comes power, power to maintain the status quo so that the concentration of wealth will remain in the hands of the few. Social justice advocates also insist that a global disparity exists between those who do and do not have access to natural resources as well as those who do and do not share the benefits of education and technological innovation.
The Environmental News Service claims that 880 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, and in March 2009, the agency reported that twenty countries banded together to protest the World Water Forum’s classification of water as a human need not a human right. United Nations General Assembly president Miguel D’Escoto said, “Water is a public trust, a common heritage of people and nature, and a fundamental human right…. We must challenge the notion that water is a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. Those who are committed to the privatization of water … are denying people a human right as basic as the air we breathe.” Such protests exemplify the confrontations that come up when governments debate the unequal distribution of resources such as water, food, oil, and wood”.(Social Justice) These debates are exacerbated by the fact that most natural resources are held by industrialized nations in the Northern Hemisphere, while developing countries of the Third World are lacking. Karl Marx thought along this line as well. In the opening chapter of the communist manifesto Marx says, “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”. Marx is talking about the struggle between what he calls the bourgeoisie and the proletarians. Marx argues that the bourgeoisie are the haves in the society, owning and controlling the means of production. The proletarians are the working class who represent the have-nots, “…who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital”.(Marx Communist Manifesto) Marx argues that it is capitalists who create this disparity between the two classes of society. The capitalist entrepreneurs begin to create factories in which they mass produce large quantities of goods.
These factories soon begin to create so many products so quickly that they begin to take business away from the craftsmen who build the same products, but cannot make them on the same scale. The craftsmen cannot compete with the factories output and so they have to go out of business becoming part of the proletariat, forced to work in the factories that put them out of business. Soon the proletariat begins to concentrate in cities where the factories are built. The number of proletariat increases and the number of bourgeoisie decreases as free competition weeds out the weakest factory owners. In the end all of the means of production are owned by a few elite, while the rest of the population works in their factories. This is where Marx says that the only way to fix this disparity between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is revolution. Marx argues that the proletariats now know how to create everything that they need for themselves in factories and the proletariat group has grown so large that the next logical step is to revolt and overthrow the bourgeoisie.
With the bourgeoisie out of power the proletariat can control the factories and produce everything that is needed for society. Marx saw modern industry creating a gap between the rich and poor. This view fits in with the idea of social justice when it comes to the distribution of wealth, resources, and property. Capitalism is what the American economy is run on. A free market economy is essential to the way that American companies do business. Marx believed that capitalism would lead to a large disparity of wealth creating a small elite group of individuals and a large working class group who owned very little of the wealth. This is what champions of social justice are arguing. Based on this information the next question is if revolution is necessary to fix this wealth disparity or if there are other means available. The United States was formed out of a revolution and so it is not impossible to imagine the population of the United States rising up to topple the government.
So if a revolution is needed the first obstacle that would need to be dealt with is the United States military. When Marx was writing the communist manifesto I believe that he thought that the military would also be part of the proletariat. This would mean that when the proletariat revolted the bourgeoisie would not have a standing army to protect them and their factories because they would be fighting with the proletariat. In the case of the Unites States I don’t believe that this would be necessarily true. Members of the United States military enjoy very good benefits and often times a generous salary, plus they have taken an oath to protect the government. If it came down to it I have doubts that military personnel would support a revolution by the lower class, because this would destroy their benefits and status. Let us say that the military does support the revolution however and the government is overthrown. The next question is what to replace it with so that the wealth of the country is redistributed between all people. Communism could be an answer to this problem. Under a communist government there would be no private property. People would still live and work, but they would do it to provide for the nation as a whole. Products would still be produced, but people would not but things, everybody would be entitled to their basic needs and so everybody would have the same amount of wealth and property.
This would be social justice in its purest form. There would not be discrimination and the wealth of the nation would be spread evenly amongst its citizens. On a global scale all nations would have to accept this government. This way the resources of the world could be evenly distributed between the nations. Each nation would get its share of the resources such as oil, wood, and fresh water. This vision however is implausible because of the nature of man. Man is greedy and will always covet what they do not have. In the countries where communism was put into effect, it was not true communism. In Soviet Russia the government owned all of the means of production and soon government officials held all of the wealth while the people were being oppressed again. The revolution to stop the oppression of the poor had only changed out one set of corrupt government officials for another and the working class suffered all the same. This same thing is happening now in China and they also have a Communist government. The idea of Communism in its purest form would be the answer to social justice, but when Communism is put into practice it leads to corrupt governments that oppress the people of their nation.
Perhaps revolution is not needed at all. Throwing out the entire government is not necessary, but changing the economic policy is. Switching from a capitalist economy to a socialist economy could be the answer. In a socialist economy the means of production are owned by the government, but are controlled by the workers. There are two kinds of property, personal property, such as houses and clothing owned by the individual and public property which are the factories owned by the state but run by the workers. A main difference between socialism and communism is that communist believe that capitalism needs to be cut out as soon as possible, while socialists see capitalism as a means to reach the ideal state. Socialists believe that everyone in society can benefit from capitalism as long as it is controlled by a centralized planning system. This also means that by implementing socialism into the economy, capitalism wouldn’t even need to be gotten rid of completely as long as it was controlled. I think that of these two suggestions for ways to obtain social justice socialism would be the best choice.
This is because socialism is not political but economical. Socialism can work with many different types of political systems and so the United States would not have to completely overhaul its political system. The idea that the means of production are owned by the state and run by workers means that the returns from these industries benefit society as a whole. The class system goes away because everybody has the same ownership of the means of production taking the wealth away from the small group of elite and giving it to everybody equally. Not everyone agrees with the “have and have-not” division or sees it as a problem. According to a 2007 Pew Research poll, Americans were divided on the issue of class division. Approximately 48 percent of those polled agreed that the nation was split between haves and have-nots, and another 48 percent disagreed with this assessment. Still, the number of dissenters was much higher, around 71percent, in 1988. (Pew) In addition, most critics of an economic justice strategy that seeks to spread the wealth among rich and poor alike argue that it would be unfair to those who worked hard to make their fortunes.
Disagreeing with President Barack Obama’s campaign remark about intending to “spread the wealth” in America, radio personality and political pundit Lowell Ponte stated, “This can only be done by first expropriating, i.e., stealing, what others have earned; in effect, stealing a large part of their life, energy, and talent and robbing opportunities from their children.” Critics of this vein further their arguments by claiming that the only people who will benefit from spreading the wealth are those who do not work hard and are willing to sponge off others. Taking this argument to a global perspective, opponents of “international welfare” advocate that work and trade are still the keys to bettering the lot of the world’s poor—especially if these assets are not fettered by protectionist policies or undemocratic governments.
For example, many free trade proponents believe that economic opportunities, prosperity, and even equitable justice within poor countries will come with globalization, the opening of markets and the integrating of trade around the world. Tom G. Palmer, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, states, “Within countries that have opened their economies to trade and investment, middle classes have grown, which means less income inequality.” Palmer also stipulates that opening markets in developing nations also tends to reduce child labor and brings about better governments, which in turn promotes justice through the rule of law. Palmer even claims that “free trade is not a privilege; it is a human right,” reinforcing the notion that social justice on a global scale would be improved if this “right” were respected. (Social Justice)
Karl Marx. Friedrich Engels. Communist Manifesto
“Social Justice.” Social Justice. Ed. William Dudley. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2010.
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