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The Journal Jurisprudence





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The West is in a tumult about money. In the United States, the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement captured the public's attention, sounding themes of fiscal irresponsibility and material inequality, respectively. Political negotiations over the so-called "fiscal cliff," the debt ceiling, taxes, and entitlement spending, have kept these themes before the public eye. In Europe, the protests have been more dramatic, and the declarations of national leaders that the European Union is in no danger of disintegrating have sounded at times suspiciously forceful.

Despite all of the exhortations that lawmakers should do something, the public debates do not reflect much understanding of the role that law can play in addressing these problems. This results in part from disagreement about the source of the problems. Critics of the status quo agree that something has gone wrong, and that those in power have much to answer for. But they focus their criticisms on different culprits. One side sees finance and corporate executives earning salaries that appear to be wildly incommensurate with the modest successes, and occasional disastrous failures, of the institutions that they lead. They see taxpayers, laborers, and the poor bearing the risks and costs of corporate bailouts, oil spills, and outright fraud. The other side criticizes government, observing that lawmakers spend far too much money on the wrong things and punish the wrong people. Governments rescue badly-run companies that they deem too big to fail, then create new regulatory schemes which increase burdens on small business owners and conscientious citizens and do little to curb abuses by the rich and well-lawyered.

Strikingly, though reformists are often faulted for harboring nefarious motivations, it is difficult to find anyone who claims that their substantive complaints lack merit. But the merits of their criticisms are often obscured by the controversies attending their proposals. By focusing almost exclusively on taxation, entitlements, and the efficacy of economic regulations, reformists reduce the controversies to the question how much coercive power the state should exercise to address economic injustices. That is of course an important question, but it ignores more fundamental jurisprudential questions, which promise to be more illuminating, and less provocative.

The law sometimes promotes economic well-being most effectively not by using coercion to bring about external consequences but rather by supporting the internal attitudes that will make economic well-being more likely. The apparatus for achieving this has long been hiding in plain sight, though it has fallen into disrepair for lack of use and attention.

Recommended Citation

Adam J. MacLeod, Economic Justice and the Internal Point of View, 17 J. Juris 11 (2013).



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