24 October 2018

Justice and Legitimacy

Just is the label used for the acts and conditions which increase the perceived legitimacy of government.  (The only legitimacy a government may have.)

Democratic forms of government presuppose agreement on the nature of justice.  (Justice the word "displaced Middle English rightwished", a term which might be easier to think about having fewer statues.)

If instead you have a party which constructs their notion of justice as "does not levy taxes" and another party which constructs their notion of justice as "provides for the common needs" (defense, transport, education, environment...), you get a situation in which the legislative priority becomes damaging the legitimacy of the government in the view of the other, opposed party.

This happens even if it is not intended; a legislature in control of the first party prefers the homeless to die in doorways to raising taxes. The dead diminish the legitimacy of government in the view of the second party, whether or not this was the first party's intent.  Should it become the first party's intent -- if they recognize that the way to secure their power involves creating a belief that the second party's ideals of justice are materially impossible -- you get the first party adopting a legislative agenda which, to the second party, amounts to "maximize injustice".

It's not accidental and it's not incidental to economic goals.  It's in pursuit of a sincerely held ideal, an ideal which insists that being concerned with the count of the dead in the doorways is not just.

(Remember that bit about how any moral system can give arbitrary results if you can pick the context?  That's what this is.)


Moz from Oztraya said...

Worth noting that there are no parties who believe "does not levy taxes" is the only or even primary goal of governing. They all joyfully tax for "important things". It's really a contest over what's important.

Ask the UK Conservatives to disband the house of lords as an expensive anachronism and see how far their "no tax" beliefs get you.

One of the benefits of a bit of anarchist politics is that it has a more direct analysis of this type of politics than the more usual socialist framing as class war. It's less a class war and more a boot stamping on a human face, forever. So when people misname it as a "justice system" remind them it's a legal system, just as the Ministry of Truth doesn't and the Ministry of Health isn't.

A reminder that Chumbawamba are more than a one hit wonder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJbOpfawMDI (from their more easily accessible catalogue, if you like old punk music "Just Us" is a song about the Hungarian Revolution with a similar theme). Chumbawamba are also the people who gave us the unforgettable song intro " It is a great thing that we have an unarmed police force in this country. It is perhaps an even greater thing that a force that is unarmed is able to shoot so many people."

Graydon said...

+Moz no, really, at least in Anglo NorAm, there really are parties whose sincere platform is that taxes should never go up, which is equivalent (in a fiat currency) to "taxes should always go down". It's a massive problem at the municipal level.

They do think there are important things, but to quote Piper, "the government supports itself by counterfeiting".

Moz from Oztraya said...

There's a difference between "taxes should go down" and "tax should not exist". Reduced taxes but a bigger military budget and higher pay for politicians is doable. No tax and printing money is Weimar Republic territory... and taxation through inflation is still taxation, but we're well into Libertarian territory by the time that gets important.

At the slightly less wingnut end you have the US Republicans who apparently think that they can deal with the poor through military force rather than the freedom/equality/democracy approach, because apparently they've got no idea about history, economics or rational thought. It says something about the effectiveness of the schools that they can get even the 20% or so of the population who vote for them to do so (viz, in 2016 63,649,978 voted for the Republican candidate from a population of 322,762,018 ... a whopping 19% of the population. Mind you, total turnout of 40% is nothing to boast about either "democracy"{cough}). In a way, though, bribing 20% at the expense of the other 80% makes sense, provided you can convince the 80% to accept it. The failure mode of that approach tends to be brutal, though, as arguably we're seeing now. Want to bet that Trump's replacement is a peace, love, and freedom type or someone more on the Duterte-Bolsonaro axis?

Peter T said...

Would not the program be more like "no taxes on us" (but plenty on them)?

re "the government supports itself by counterfeiting", the medieval French monarchy largely supported itself by devaluing the currency, which is much the same thing (they would declare a lower value for the denier, recall coins and re-mint them at the new value). According to one very good historian (Jonathan Sumption - splendid history of the 100 Years War), this was not objected to by the populace, as preferable to direct taxation.

Graydon said...

+Peter_T one might think so (because that's certainly an oligarch position of long standing) but no, there's really a municipal-scale "no taxes" position. EVERYTHING should be fees.

I think this is driven by a combination of innumeracy and insecurity; "middle class" basically means "owns a house, which is your sole significant asset" and all the houses are basically worthless, having been designed for another time than this. The market will notice this sooner or later; it's taking increasingly coercive legislation to keep insurance companies from noticing it now. So there's this massively insecure voting block who sees all taxation, but especially property taxation, as an unjust taking of money they don't have enough of. (Which, if you were planning to sell your house at the top of the (say) Toronto market and retire on the proceeds, is a factual statement; you have to sell before "the housing stock is worthless" gets noticed, and if you're, say, 58, this is making you very insecure indeed.)