“Social” Justice?

It’s amazing to me that there are so many people who still think that the problems of today’s poor are the result of insufficient taxation of the rich or insufficient regulation of busines leading to an insufficient diversion of material wealth to the poor.

The threats to the poor from economic want are largely solved, and they were solved by the very capitalists that past “reformers” kept denouncing as they pushed their own disastrously wrong-headed schemes. In a capitalist society, the rich get richer, and the poor also get richer.

The poor won’t all rise in status, of course, because that would be logically impossible. Status isn’t a quantity, it’s a comparison – you can’t be high-status except with respect to other people who are lower-status. So when some people object to “poverty”, what they’re really objecting to is status, and the tendency of human beings to observe and respect status, and to organize themselves into pecking orders. As far as I can tell, however, this tendency is hardwired into the brain of the human animal, just as it is in the brains of lots of other types of animals, and we’re stuck with it for as long as humanity as we know it continues to exist; all we can do is keep low status from removing people’s rights or allowing higher-status people to use or threaten violence against them with impunity.

The reformers of the past were wrong to think that the poor could be given the same material wealth as the rich without impoverishing everyone. However, society can, and should, offer equal protection of the laws.

The crime rate in cheap neighborhoods has long been outrageously high, and it’s unfortunate that people who profess such concern for the poor are less likely than average to object to this and more likely than average to suggest “solutions” to poverty that completely ignore the worst aspect of being poor in modern-day America.

So in the interests of real social justice, which now largely boils down to regular justice, I’d like to suggest a few changes to address this problem:

1. End prohibition. Ending prohibition did wonders for the murder rate in the 1930’s and it’s time we gave it another shot. It’s not right to get people killed for the cause of stopping idiots from hurting themselves; I don’t give a damn how many idiots we’re talking about.

2. To improve the accuracy of trials, I would ensure that there were competent attorneys on both sides. Pay public defenders as much as prosecutors, and get the same high caliber of attorney on each side.

I thought you wanted to reduce the incidence of crime!

Yes, I do. Once we have more confidence that we’re convicting the right people, we can put the screws to them with less second-guessing and a clearer conscience. Besides that, every time we convict the wrong person of a crime, the right person gets away with it and remains a threat to the public.

By the way, I wonder how much the recent improvement in our murder rate resulted from the introduction of DNA testing and the resulting improvement in the accuracy of murder trials?

While we’re at it, I’d like to make it harder to exclude genuine evidence of a crime from trial and allow the police greater latitude for investigating crimes – while significantly reducing the number of things that are crimes in the first place. This exchange would, in my opinion, make us freer and safer overall.

3. We need better prisons. The current practice of allowing stronger and more aggressive prisoners to rape weaker and less agressive prisoners is ludicrous – the most aggressive guy isn’t being properly punished, since he’s getting to lord it over the others and enjoy experiences that are supposed to be denied him as part of the punishment, while his victims are usually being punished far out of proportion to their offenses. Even worse, murder is all too common in our prisons as well.

The easiest way to straighten this out is for everyone to spend their entire sentences in solitary confinement. Maybe let them talk to each other and even see each other part of the time (or maybe not), but no prisoner should ever be within reach of another prisoner. Stop filling the prisons with drug “offenders” and we’ll have more space to do this with.

4. Law-abiding citizens should be able to carry weapons wherever they want, especially in high-crime areas where guns are currently generally outlawed. Jacking up sentences for criminals carrying guns is a good idea and should be continued.

5. Those of us not interested in leftist “solutions” to problems should insist, over and over again, that proper concern for the poor means stopping criminals from preying on them, and that a lack of concern for proper criminal justice is a lack of concern for the poor and could be motivated by pure racism. Hell, they called us racists for years for advocating more effective deterrence against the thugs that kept preying predominantly on the poor and minority populations from coast to coast, so it’s not like we’d be coming out of left field with this.

14 thoughts on ““Social” Justice?”

  1. I like the thrust of this, Ken, very much, though I quibble on some details. For a good piece on making prisons work better, see City Journal article about how Kerik ran the New York city jail system. I think learning from relative success stories like this make more sense than trying to do universal solitary confinement.

  2. I once got a lot of traction on a similar line of argument regarding illegal alien laborers, while engaging a devout Christian GOP’er whose first reflex was to “deport ’em all.”

    We need to reform how we handle these people on the basis of simple human dignity, while at the same time fostering among them a respect for US laws. Without some dignity, there will be no respect, and no more compliance than we have today.

  3. As a libertarian I think there should be very few laws regulating very few things. But the laws we do have should be enforced vigorously. Ideally, by eliminating victem-less crimes like drugs, prositiution and pornography from the list of things the police have to deal with on a day to day basis, they can do a much better job of doing what they are really there for: To protect law abiding citizens from violent predators.

    The war on drugs has been an un-mitigated disaster and its many unintended consequences have resulted in infinitely more deaths than the drugs themselves (especially marijuana).

    As far as prisons go, prison should be unpleasant enough that nobody wants to visit again. Do I care what happens to criminals and anuses in prison? Not really. I can’t work up much sympathy for one predator being victemized by another predator. In fact there is a sort of poetic justice to the whole system, especially the un-written rules about child molestors.

    But, solitary confinement has a great side-effect: It keeps prison from being a social gathering where criminals recruit and plan their next criminal endeavor, a place where they can find like-minded individuals who will reinforce and justify their existing criminal tendencies.

    There is an old saying: If you’re not a criminal when you go to jail you’ll be one when you get out. It’s human nature. People befriend and identify with those in closest physical proximity to them day to day. If the only suitable human contact you have for 5 years are criminals, your best friends will be criminals. Even if you were wrongly convicted or you only stole some bread so you could eat, your best friends will be criminals. You will start to act and think like them because they are your friends. If you are already a criminal, befriending a group of criminals will do absolutely nothing to reform your ways, even if you sincerely want to go straight. I believe the reason so few criminals are reformed is because when convicted, they are sent to go hang out with a bunch of criminals. On the outside that alone is enough to get the police watching you, and is a parole violation for most parolees. On the inside, its perfectly accetable. What kind of standard is that? It’s crazy.

    As far as public defenders go, I have a different take: If the outcome of trial is based on the relative competence of the lawyers involved instead of the weight of the evidence, then what we have is a broken system. Severly broken.

    I don’t know how to fix it, but I know how it got this way. The legal system in this country was created by lawyers, is run by lawyers, is regulated by lawyers and is practiced by lawyers. The people who make the laws by and large are lawyers. Its no accident that in any legal dispute the only group that benefits no matter the outcome are lawyers. There is every incentive to make the legal system more complicated and more dependent on lawyers, so that their profession can expand and grow. You should not need to hire a lawyer to buy a house, and you should not have to depend on the skill of your lawyer to get you acquitted if you are innocent, and your lawyer, by his sheer brilliance, should not be able to get you out of prison if you are guilty.

    As a free-market libertarian I am not inclined to believe in government regulation or oversight of private enterprise in general. But the legal system is hardly a free market or a private enterprise, so I am willing to make an exception.

    The foxes are most definitely watching the hen house.

    That was a slight diversion from topic, but its all related.

  4. A note on the coarsening of our lives: at least 2 radio commercials on our local quite family and civic-oriented country radio station include “jokes” about prison rape. I do find this offensive and don’t see how treating this lightly is all that appropriate. (One sponsor is the local bailbondsman aiming at college boys who spend too much time in the local hotspot that claims more beer sold per square foot than any other place in the world.)

    I taught college classes at the local minimum security prison; the recidivism rate for such students is well below the average; you can say that if drugs were legalized they wouldn’t be there. This is complex and you are right. I’m not going to argue about legalization. But it is also true if they had not been exposed to drugs, they might have gotten more education outside of those three locked doors I had to go through to reach them.

  5. The main argument for drug legalization is that it is “victimless”….and while the actual use of the drug might be…the ensuing child abandonement, huge property crime problems, and things of this nature means we can’t legalize things like say crystal meth. Hawaii has become the crystal meth capital of the world, and we have topped the FBI’s national property crimes list now thanks to that. I have been on grand jury for the past year, and 99% of the cases of theft/burglary/robbery we have seen have involved the usage of ice/crystal meth as well. So to argue that the usage of these kinds of drugs doesn’t hurt anyone but the user is just wrong. While the usage itself may be so…if usage of that drug causes the problems it has caused here in Hawaii, then making those types of drugs illegal is perfectly logical…

  6. But, Chris, a lot, (Though not all.) of the harmful effects of drug use are actually because they’re illegal. I mean, how many people are out there committing robberies to support a nicotine habit? How many drive by shootings do bartenders commit? During Prohibition they committed quite a few.

    On universal solitary confinement, it doesn’t drive people crazy because they can’t touch other inmates, but because they can’t socially interact with them. An inch of lexan and a microphone and speaker would be enough to keep the inmates sane AND unraped. While giving them practice at social interaction which rules out the threat of physical violence, AND doing a darned good job of bugging the entire prison as a bonus…

  7. Good article Lex, thanks for the link. Kerik is a government employee who treated his job like a real business. The government should get rid of civil servant status. It’s basically a license to be lazy, like a college professor with tenure. Government should conduct massive layoffs when they’re losing money hand over fist, just like the real world.

  8. Muslims will solve all these problems with Sharia law. Amputations, beheadings, enucleations of eyeballs, cutting off ears and genitals, etc. will be punishments administered liberally and unsparingly. Submit.

  9. “..But, Chris, a lot, (Though not all.) of the harmful effects of drug use are actually because they’re illegal. ..”

    Yes…I am not saying all drugs…but meth is definately a candidate for illegality. Those users will get the money to do it when they don’t make enough no matter what….so even if it is legal…once they can’t support their habit on their own dime, they will still turn to crime…

  10. “…a lot, (Though not all.) of the harmful effects of drug use are actually because they’re illegal.” Let’s be conservative about our libertarianism. Baby steps. Where a policy has been strongly supported by majorities for decades, even if you don’t see the rationale, you should be hesitant about making wholesale revisions. Unintended consequences, dear boy. And it is never true that it can’t be worse. I’d say, decriminalize marijuana, make it illegal to use it in public places, but only impose fines on people who do. Let that change percolate for a few years and see what happens. Anthony Daniels had an article I cannot seem to find vigorously arguing against drug legalization. If anyone can find that, please put a link in the comments here. It is very much worth reading, especially if you are disposed to disagree with it.

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