Will Wilkinson has been reading Bleeding Heart Libertarians, where Kevin Vallier has dug up some enlightening words from Hayek about the Universal Basic Income.
On Hayek’s view, the UBI is required as a condition of democratic legitimacy within the framework of a social contract. I’m not saying Hayek is a social contract theorist, but he sounds like one in this passage. In order for a democratic government to be legitimate it must treat people as equals by imposing only abstract rules on them. Government gives no one special privilege, and this requirement is compatible with providing them with means to secure basic goods and services.
Hayek has a lot of sophisticated reasons for rejecting the idea of social justice in particularist cases. Vallier talks about coal miners: how can you set a floor on their wages in a just way when no one knows what a coal miner’s wage ought to be? They are set by the market, and thus there is no criteria to judge what is distributionally just other than by the outcome of procedurally fair market processes.
On a more abstract level, Hayek had a sophisticated grasp of the complexity of the market, which he termed the catallaxy (a specific incarnation of kosmos, or spontaneous order), and it’s fundamental difference from simpler forms of man-made order, which he called taxis. These are under-appreciated insights, the implication of which is that it is neither just nor prudential to try to interfere in distributional schemes. Because there is no decider is not grounds to appoint one, because it will lead to bad practical outcomes. And it’s philosophically incoherent. According to Hayek.
Again, this is with respect to particular cases. Most people who understand Hayek on a cursory level understate his emphasis on the need for universal abstract rules to govern the complex orders. Here’s a relevant passage that dovetails nicely with Vallier’s post which comes from Chapter 10 of Law, Legislation and Liberty:
The need to rely on abstract rules in maintaining a spontaneous order is a consequence of that ignorance and uncertainty; and the enforcement of rules of conduct will achieve its purpose only if we adhere to them consistently and do not treat them merely as a substitute for knowledge which in the particular case we do not possess. It is therefore not the effect of their application in the particular cases but only in the effects of their universal application that will lead tot he improvement of everybody’s chances and will therefore be accepted as just. [emphasis mine]
This thinking need resurgence (if it was ever more prominent, which I doubt), by both right and left thinkers. However, it won’t happen, because this thinking relegates politics to the pursuit of instituting and maintaining general principles of justice in a system that runs off of particular handouts and the arbitrary appointment of spurious decision makers. That’s a shame: this thinking is an excellent basis for squaring support for the UBI and a wariness of “social justice” as traditionally understood by reconceptualizing it in general, rather than particularist, terms. But that kind of fusionism is also something that institutional political interests have a vested interest in preventing.