Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Doing Justice to Entrepreneurial (and Other) Responsibilities

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Doing Justice to Entrepreneurial (and Other) Responsibilities

Article excerpt

Few if any economists would argue that anarchy is the only way to make freedom for enterprising possible. Some argument for justice lies behind the idea of protecting life, liberty, and property. The questions are how should justice be done, who is responsible for doing it, and how should "protecting" be related to "free enterprising." One of the chief difficulties in answering these questions in the United States and other liberal societies is that government--recognized as the protector--is thought of largely as a reflex of individual and market freedom. Consequently, the issue of "doing justice," is approached rather narrowly as protecting what is not governmental. In this article, I will argue that what is missing in the liberal picture is the original setting and purpose of government. Government exists within, and to do justice to, a political community, and, to properly exercise the responsibilities of its office it must, among other things, do justice to that which does not originate with the political community, including individual and entrepreneurial responsibilities. Key to the last sentence and to the argument that follows are the words political community and among other things.

The responsibility to do justice does not belong only to governments in political communities. A family should do right by all its members in order to sustain its bond of love. A business, which exists for economic purposes, should do justice to all who have a role in it as investors, managers, and employees, as well as to those who sell to it and buy from it. The obligation to do justice, to be fair and equitable, is one of the norms or standards that holds us accountable in all that we do. It calls us to account in our families, businesses, schools, churches, and science laboratories, as well as in the political community. What distinguishes government in a political community from other kinds of human relationships is that the former exists for the very purpose of doing justice; the political community is qualified or distinguished by the obligation to do justice. This is something quite different from parents treating their children equitably within the home, or businesses doing right by all who are connected with their companies. Justice for all, in a comprehensive sense, has to do with the way an entire society is constituted. Our question, then, is about constitutional justice; the way a society is constituted is a matter of public justice, fairness, and equity. By way of introduction, let me first say something more about liberalism.

Liberalism and Justice

A liberally constituted society, as proposed by John Locke and practiced to a significant degree in the United States, is one that accepts government for the purpose of protecting the lives and properties of free individuals. Individuals come first, not an imaginary social body. Government, consequently, is a reflex of the individuals who choose freely to establish it. From a liberal point of view, justice for all means making room for each individual to go about his or her life as each chooses, entailing a laissez-faire attitude on the part of government toward the market. Given its liberal purpose, government should have only limited authority and should protect private property and free-market exchanges. Therefore, a liberal society is a capitalist society in which capital is privately owned.

From a liberal perspective, there is no such thing as an innate propensity in individuals to build political communities. We are not by nature political animals (homo politicus) in the way we are naturally economic animals (homo economicus). (1) As Christopher Caldwell said, referring to those who stand in the liberal tradition, "In general we are bad at thinking about 'the commons.'" (2) Each of us thinks instead about realizing one's own interests and protecting one's own life and property. When and where government is necessary it is created to serve as a means to all those private ends. …

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