Social Justice Is a Fraud That Hurts Charity

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Byline: Dr Mark Dooley MORAL MATTERS

YESTERDAY, this newspaper reported on the unconscionable waste of taxpayers' money revealed in the Comptroller and Auditor General's annual report. We learned that 'welfare officials wrongly handed out benefits worth [euro]83.4million last year - [euro]26million of this in dishonest claims'. This was not merely a bad case of bureaucratic bungling: It was a grotesque moral failure.

The Left assumes the State must be responsible for the redistribution of resources. It claims 'social justice' is not best served when left to individuals.

For isn't it the case that individuals are naturally greedy, hoarding what they have irrespective of the plight of the most powerless? People like me follow the great Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek, in believing that the word 'social' is 'probably the most confusing and misleading term of our whole political vocabulary' - one which 'appears as an essential part of the rhetorical substitute for traditional morals'. It is, he adds, a 'weasel word' that draws the 'teeth from a concept'.

Take the word 'justice', which was traditionally defined as a procedure for settling disputes and rectifying wrongs. Tag 'social' on to it and it becomes something very different. Now, it is defined as a process whereby the State forcibly redistributes the wealth of some for the upkeep of others.

You might respond that the moral health of a society can only be judged by the way it cares for, as the Bible says, the least among us. You might also say that without social justice, the most vulnerable would slip through the cracks. Consequently, if this society is to retain its moral credibility, 'social protection' is a necessity.

I would say you are right, except for the fact our system of 'social protection' is so compromised by fraud that it has lost all moral legitimacy. It is not that society should cease to protect the poor and disadvantaged but that it should do so by means of a process which engenders personal responsibility.

But that can only be achieved when words such as 'justice', 'welfare' and 'protection' are emancipated from the meaningless adjective 'social'.

How is this possible? We could begin by remembering that what we call 'welfare' was once known as 'charity'.

Unlike 'social protection', charity relies on personal responsibility. For example, I see someone who has fallen upon hard times and, thanks to a conscience formed by the edicts of Judeo-Christianity, I respond by sharing my spoils.

No one forces me to give in this way.

mark.dooley@ I do so because of concern for those whose lives are less fortunate than my own. …