Tag Archives: Social Justice

No Social Justice without Democracy

Social justice is generally defined as the need to address social inequities, although the proposed means of doing so are quite diverse and have ranged from progressive taxation to state communism. The concept of economic justice has more to do with the equality of opportunity rather than outcome: whether societies offer all their members an enabling environment to engage freely in productive activities of their choice and to be rewarded according to their initiative, talents, and efforts. Has the world made much progress in either?

The report of the UN’s International Forum for Social Development notes that in recent decades “economic justice has unquestionably grown as the basic principles and practices of the market economy have become more prevalent and pervasive” and “few dispute the fact that economic freedom represents a basic human right.” However, economic inequalities among people are also on the rise. This begs the question to what extent the principles of market economy have truly been implemented and, more broadly, what conditions are necessary for both social and economic justice to advance. Obviously, unequal access to information, education, or health care has a lot to do with inequality. But unequal opportunities for participation in civic and political life, i.e. the lack of liberal democracy, is another prime reason.

In the long term, social justice and economic justice are only possible in the context of democracy.

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A social justice evolution

It is a rallying call for many around the world. People of all ages, races, creeds, and economic backgrounds have all joined together and marched on its behalf, sat in on its behalf, fasted and feasted on its behalf. Many have devoted, dedicated or consecrated their lives to it. Some have lost their lives for it, while others cry folly about it. Social justice, like love, is hard to define but seemingly everyone has an opinion about it – and as time goes by, opinions are subject to change.

At the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, member states declared February 20th to be World Day of Social Justice. This year will be the first in which it is officially celebrated, and as part of the proceedings the UN’s International Forum for Social Development released a report titled Social Justice in an Open World: The Role of the United Nations.

The report’s final chapter poses a question that perhaps should come first: Are international justice and social justice politically obsolete concepts? The chapter opens with a vision of what these concepts mean for its context:

There have been increases in various types of inequality, changes in the orientations of United Nations pronouncements on matters of justice and development, and a shift in the international language. Words such as “equity”, “equality” and “redistribution” have largely disappeared from mainstream United Nations documents, as have the words “compassion” and “solidarity”. The term “social justice” appears only once in the Millennium Declaration.

But perhaps the problem isn’t that equity, equaility, and redistribution are no longer on the international radar. Perhaps compassion and solidarity can be linked with other words as well. Perhaps social justice can change or evolve, not just the opinions held about it.

What kind of justice is it that women should have the same rights to property and capital as men? What kind of justice is it that youth should have some type of input into the political process of their country? What kind of justice would it be to formalize the $9.3 trillion in capital held informally by the poorest people in the world? If these cannot be folded into a dynamic and evolving vision of social justice, then perhaps it should be irrelevant.