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Part Six: The Hampered Market Economy > Chapter XXXV. The Welfare Principle Versus the...

5. Social Justice

In one respect at least present-day welfare propagandists are superior to most of the older schools of socialists and reformers. They no longer stress a concept of social justice with whose arbitrary precepts men should comply however disastrous the consequences may be. They endorse the utilitarian point of view. They do not oppose the principle that the only standard for appreciating social systems is judging them with regard to their ability to realize the ends sought by acting men.

However, as soon as they embark upon an examination of the operation of the market economy, they forget their sound intentions. They invoke a set of metaphysical principles and condemn the market economy beforehand because it does not conform to them. They smuggle in through a back door the idea of an absolute standard of morality which they had barred from the main entrance. In searching for remedies against poverty, inequality, and insecurity, they come step by step to endorse all the fallacies of the older schools of socialism and interventionism. They become more and more entangled in contradictions and absurdities. Finally they cannot help catching at the straw at which all earlier "unorthodox" reformers tried to grasp--the superior wisdom of perfect rulers. Their last word is always state, government, society, or other cleverly designed synonyms for the superhuman dictator.

The welfare school, foremost among them the German Kathedersozialisten and their adepts, the American Institutionalists, have published many thousands of volumes stuffed with punctiliously documented information about unsatisfactory conditions. In their opinion the collected materials clearly illustrate the shortcomings of capitalism. In truth they merely illustrate the fact that human wants are practically unlimited and that there is an immense field open for further improvements. They certainly do not prove any of the statements of the welfare doctrine.

There is no need to tell us that an ampler supply of various commodities would be welcome to all people. The question is whether there is any means of achieving a greater supply other than by increasing the productivity of human effort by the investment of additional [p. 854] capital. All the babble of the welfare propagandists aims only at one end, namely, obscuring this point, the point that alone matters. While the accumulation of additional capital is the indispensable means for any further economic progress, these people speak of "oversaving" and "overinvestment," of the necessity of spending more and of restricting output. Thus they are the harbingers of economic retrogression, preaching a philosophy of decay and social disintegration. A society arranged according to their precepts may appear to some people as fair from the point of view of an arbitrary standard of social justice. But it will certainly be a society of progressing poverty for all its members.

For more than a century public opinion in Western countries has been deluded by the idea that there is such a thing as "the social question" or "the labor problem." The meaning implied was that the very existence of capitalism hurts the vital interests of the masses, especially those of the wage earners and the small farmers. The preservation of this manifestly unfair system cannot be tolerated; radical reforms are indispensable.

The truth is that capitalism has not only multiplied population figures but at the same time improved the people's standard of living in an unprecedented way. Neither economic thinking nor historical experience suggest that any other social system could be as beneficial to the masses as capitalism. The results speak for themselves. The market economy needs no apologists and propagandists. It can apply to itself the words of Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph in St. Paul's: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.12 [p. 855]

  • 12. If you seek his monument, look around.