Monday, January 25, 2010

Justice

They say "Justice is blind". She's blind-folded carrying a scale and sword, because she enforces the rule of law consistently to all. Justice, equality, and liberty are the three pinnacles of a moral society. None of these can exist without the others. Without justice, there cannot be liberty since one's rights and property can be violated. Without equality, there cannot be justice since there is no consistent rule of law. Without liberty, there cannot be equality since some have the right to use force upon others.

The problem is, these concepts are loosely understood and weakly appreciated in our culture today. People will quickly redefine "equality" to mean "the poor can steal from the rich, because they don't deserve so much money". They'll redefine "justice" to mean "a careless lady spills hot coffee on herself, and gets millions because it's McDonald's coffee". They'll redefine "liberty" to mean "I want to be free from drug users, so we need to lock them up". I have no respect for the bastardization of these principles. Inventing such exceptions and wavering definitions is as good as having no principles or integrity at all. This is the thinking of "moderates" and "centrists". In the words of Ayn Rand, "There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil." We need to do better.

So, to properly know what justice should look like in a society... one must first properly define the concept of justice. The everyday simpleton associates justice with cops, courts, and jail...lazily concluding that justice is about punishment, rehabilitation, revenge, protection, or deterrence. It is none of these. Justice fits into the framework of "natural rights" described by enlightenment philosophers. This framework influenced our founders to design the first moral government in history... to ensure and protect individual liberty, equality, and justice. This framework is logical, simple, and balanced with reason. We are all born with rights, which can only be taken away and not granted to us. If I steal from someone or force them to do something, I am violating someone else's natural rights. Justice is the act of restitution to correct the balance when rights are violated. This is reminiscent of the"Golden Rule", which has been around for ages in every culture, stating "do to others as you'd have done to you". If I decide to steal $100 from you, then I have intentionally violated your right to keep your $100. Therefore, by reciprocity and equality, I have sacrificed my right to not have $100 stolen from me. What does justice then prescribe? I should not only pay you back your $100, but I should give up an additional $100 of my own. In this way, justice approximates the concept of "punishment"... but for a logical, rational, and moral reason - not an emotional and subjective one.

What would the implications be if we more perfectly applied justice? Firstly, there would be tort reform. Today's lawsuit landscape is kept imbalanced by lobbying lawyer landsharks looting for liabilities. There should be 'double damage' limits set (as described above) and 'loser pays' rules, so plaintiffs bear a cost for frivolous claims. The courts should also be accessible and justice not hindered by legalese and limits of licensed attorneys. What about the prison system? I recently read that it costs an average of $47,000/year to incarcerate a prisoner in California. Something is really wasteful there needing a free-market solution to reduce costs. Still, prisoners should not only work off their own room/board but work off their debt to see that restitution for double-damage justice is paid. Yes, that means self-funded labor camps. Sentencing is simple: forced labor until restitution is paid or you die. If you did little damage or are rich, you may not have to serve labor/prison time. Sure, murderers can never repay the price of a life... so perhaps families of victims should get to choose between death penalty versus forced labor for life (paid to them). What if you have been drunk driving? There should be a rough formula for the threat to life based on B.A.C, and restitution should be directed to local residents. The point is, our prisons today are focused on incarceration, punishment, and rehabilitation (all at taxpayer expense)... which is not morally aligned with the concept of justice.

When justice is viewed this way, it is a beautifully simple and straightforward concept. TV court-dramas may have less fodder if American culture digested this. If there is any area of government that deserves more funding, justice (courts and police) would probably be the only one. A fair and accessible justice system is at the heart of any free and prosperous society.