Protestors demand “social justice.” I hate their chant. If I oppose their cause, then I’m for social “injustice”? Nonsense. The protesters usually want to punish capitalism. “Spread those resources,” says Hillary Clinton.
Even capitalists often make the mistake of talking about “social justice” as if it’s the opposite of free markets or a reason to rein in markets with more regulations or redistribution of wealth. But there’s nothing “just” about the leftist protesters’ claimed solution: more big government.
Oliver Stone, Sean Penn and Harry Belafonte praised Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez for his socialist revolution. Chavez then proceeded to destroy much of his country.
Even after his death, his portrait remains on walls everywhere and his policies live on. They haven’t produced social justice, unless your idea of “justice” is privileges for government officials and shortages of basics like food and toilet paper for ordinary people. Only socialism could take an oil-rich nation and turn it into one where people wait in line for hours for survival rations.
The left-wing Guardian newspaper quotes a Venezuelan farmer saying that Chavez’s policies left Venezuela with “no one to explain why a rich country has no food.”
Not many people in Venezuela give such explanations — the government censors its critics — but free-market economists can explain.
Goods don’t get matched to consumer needs by anyone’s burning desire for justice. The amazing coordination of the marketplace happens because sellers and buyers are free. Sellers can sell whatever they choose at prices they choose. Buyers decide whether to pay. That flexibility — and chance to make a profit — is what persuades people to create what customers want and risk their own money and safety to stock it in a store.
Without the free market setting prices and allocating resources, all the cries of “justice” in the world don’t help anyone. You can’t eat justice. You can’t use it as toilet paper.
Intellectuals, activists and government alike love it when politicians take “tough,” decisive action — usually meaning sudden interference in the marketplace. A year and a half ago, Venezuelan government used the military to seize control of Daka, one of the country’s largest retailers, in order to force the chain to charge “fair” prices. Punish those rich, greedy store-owners!
Surprise! That didn’t work. The chain is now collapsing as looters take what they want.
Socialists say capitalists just want to make a quick buck, but it’s government that can’t plan for the long haul.
Instead of thinking in terms of returns on investment and sustainable business models, socialists think only of today: They see people who need stuff and stores full of stuff. Take the stuff and give it to people, and then tomorrow — well, those capitalists will always bring in more stuff, I guess.
Calling it “social justice” doesn’t make it work.
Sometimes activists admit they aren’t very interested in economics. What they really want is a more “tolerant” world with less sexism and racism. They act as if capitalism is an obstacle to that. But it isn’t. Capitalist societies are less racist and less sexist than non-capitalist ones.
In America, white people often take for granted the advantages that being white sometimes provides. But compare America to China, where one ethnic group, the Han, dominates politics and openly looks down on minorities — and where even scientists have tried to show that the Han are a distinctive race that does not trace its ancestry to Africa like the rest of us.
The autocratic nation of Saudi Arabia doesn’t let women drive cars or open their own bank accounts.
Markets, in which individuals, not just rulers, have property rights, give people options. Businesses have an incentive to serve as many people as possible, regardless of gender or ethnic group. They also have an incentive to be nice — customers are more likely to trade with people who treat them fairly. Everyone gets to choose his own path. That’s what I call justice.
Injustice is telling people that they must wait to see what their rulers decide is fair.
John Stossel is host of “Stossel” on Fox News and author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed.”