Distributive justice is the subject of social, and therefore political, debate, but like 'sustainability' no one really knows what it means so it can mean anything to anyone. And therefore be used by everyone for their agendas. Socialists in New York City are against the mayor's plan to take people who are clearly mental ill in the homeless population and hospitalize them, for example, they say it is distributive injustice, while proponents say it is a way to decriminalize mental illness among the homeless and therefore compassionate and just for the most vulnerable.

It is not just elites who can't figure it out. Everyone on surveys claims they want less 'inequality' - at least until they find out that distributive justice will mean harming those who are not part of the In Group.

There is no free lunch, as get-richer-quick schemers who gave money to Bernie Madoff and Sam Bankman-Fried have learned, and that is the problem. You can't create distributive justice without selecting an In Group who will get money and an Out Group who must pay - even if they did nothing wrong. California Governor Newsom has a new In Group scheme to pay people of color reparations for slavery. Slavery was never legal in California but anecdotal evidence says it basically existed, much like it did in Manchester, England and China.(1) 

Yet if quasi-slavery - indentured servitude - counts, as Governor Newsom now says it does, then half of white America should also get reparations because up to 70 percent of immigrants prior to the Revolutionary War who were not slaves were indentured servants. My first ancestor in the U.S in 1736 was one of them.(2)

Nearly everyone acknowledges that there is resource inequality but nearly everyone also acknowledges that the counterpoint of inequality, communism, has failed every single time.(3) That may be why people embrace fixing inequality - they feel like they should embrace it so they can self-identify as being awesome - but then hesitate when they see that they will be harming someone else.

'I am not suing you, I am suing your insurance company' and 'the government is going to pay for it' are great examples of people removed from recognizing that other human beings are penalized when trial lawyers suing over a handicapped ramp being off by a quarter-inch or because a river has too much water win a settlement. Everyone pays.

Yet few seem to mind it. However, if it is someone you know paying - a family member, a friend - most will hesitate to penalize them. Like demonizing Republicans in nearly every university, it is easy because you don't have to see them in your neighborhood. 

A new analysis examining the effects of conflicting realities around distributive justice uses fMRI, so it is in the exploratory section rather than the science section, and it found that sympathy for harm and sympathy for redistribution were in different regions - striatum and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, respectively. And that participants brains lit up in ways that made it seem like they were willing to harm others if the inequality was great. 

So taxing the super-rich should be easier than taxing the middle class. Except in actual behavior that may not be the case. The Governor of California has banned conventional cars and is forcing all ride-share drivers to switch early. But lobbied against a proposal to tax the super-rich to subsidize his mandate, even though it would only have affected people with a whopping $2 million in annual earnings and up. Despite the benefit being great and the harm being small, his brain apparently does not light up at all, because he hates Uber more than he loves helping the poor.


(1) You don't need official slavery if you can force people to work for little money anyway. That is why England was among the first in Europe to ban slavery. They didn't need it because they had poor people trapped on an island. Spain, on the other hand, was last to ban it because they had a lot of control and investment in South America, where 96% of slaves sent to America went. Good luck finding an Out Group to penalize when virtually everyone in South American countries whose ancestors lived there during that time can claim slavery or native status in their family history.

In California, the Governor has deflected the 'no slaves' problem by stating it is about racism. and everyone has experienced racism in California. There is no clear persecutor but it is politically safe in one of America's most politically non-diverse states. What are white voters whose taxes go up again going to do in retaliation, vote Republican? No, he got 60% of the vote during his releection despite having to survive a recall election a year earlier.

(2) There is no rational metric for his plan, which makes it arbitrary and capricious and therefore illegal from a state official. Individuals without a political axe to grind see it as simply unfair because some are harmed, including some who are victims.

(3) The reason there was just a Thanksgiving in the U.S. is because of mass starvation and almost total extinction among early European settlers because they tried communism. Only when they gave each family their own land to work was there enough food they could have a harvest to be thankful about.