Monday, August 20, 2007

Reclamation Project

When we act on charity out of our own pockets we call it compassion. When we act in charity using the government as an instrument of aid we call it social justice. Richard Ely and co-founders of the American Economics Association understood that the greatest jewels in the entire world are people. We should use our economics to benefit others, not only to write about poverty, but also to imagine solutions to cut back suffering.

In the fall of 1999 Bateman and Kapstein published, in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, a paper titled “Retrospectives: Between God and the Market: The Religious Roots of the American Economic Association”. The founders had a practical reason to study economics, believing that they could help people and act out the gospels. (As an aside, you won’t be able to find language about God on their website now)

So, when they lobbied to enact policy to help the poor they called it the “Social Gospel” and the term “Social Justice” became more widespread and often used in conjunction with that movement. I have no qualms about their desire to help the poor; we need to be more concerned about poverty. What rubs me the wrong way is that the term has been annexed by people of one mindset that aren’t open to the submission of fresh ideas.

Apparently it has rubbed some other people the wrong way too. Ian Duncan Smith of the Centre for Social Justice in the United Kingdom (Why do the British have strange spellings or words with more letters than necessary?) feels the same way. The work that interests many others and me is a new world where charity is further integrated into our system, not through the incentive of tax credits but because it’s encouraged by our institutional constructs.

If you’re telling me I can’t have the term social justice then I’ll just call it “Effective Social Justice”.

With a look to the future: The Fluidity of Consumption Ethics, Fair Tax, The Art and Grind of Developing a Country, and the Void of Income for Families with Incarcerated Members.

No comments: