Equality versus Justice?

Equality vs Justice

You may have seen this picture floating around Facebook or Twitter. Every time I’ve seen it posted it receives a bevy of positive comments and “likes.” But is it an accurate representation of justice? Most attempts to boil down complex issues to a bumper sticker or a meme fall short and this is no exception. There’s too much we don’t know about the scenario. I think by answering a couple of questions, we can show this is not a good example of injustice being rectified:

Where did the boys get the boxes?

How did the box redistribution happen?

First of all, where did the boys get the boxes? This matters. Resources don’t just appear out of thin air. Did they earn them (or buy them with their earnings)? Did someone give them to them? Were they already there? If the boys worked to earn the boxes, how is it unjust for them each to have what they worked for? Say they earn the equivalent of a box an hour at some job and each boy worked an hour – then each boy has received justice, what he was owed. If someone gave them the boxes how is it unjust for each of them to have what their benefactor provided at no charge? If the box fairy wanted one or more of them to have an extra box he could have provided that but he was under no obligation to do so since the boys did nothing to earn them in the first place. Finally, if the boxes were already there, again, the boys did nothing to earn them. None of them had a claim on any of the boxes, much less more than one of them. The boxes belong to someone else so they, in fact, have no rights to them at all.

Secondly, how did the box redistribution happen? Did the boys decide among themselves to share the boxes? Did someone force them to redistribute them? If the boys decided among themselves to share the boxes that’s great, but that’s not justice, that’s charity. Justice is giving what is owed, generosity is not. Forced generosity is an oxymoron. I pay taxes every year not because I have compassion for the federal government or am generous towards a bloated bureaucracy but because if I don’t they’ll put me in jail. Which brings us to the other possibility. If the boys were forced by someone bigger or stronger than themselves to redistribute the boxes that’s not only not justice, it is injustice. And depending on how the boys got the boxes, it might also be theft or extortion.

Bottom line, all the boys wanted to see the game but they did not all have the resources to do so. That’s not injustice. That’s just life. Not having enough boxes to see the game is no different than not having enough money to buy a ticket to see it. Is it unjust if one of the boys has enough money for more than one ticket but chooses not to give the extra money to his friend who is short of funds? Of course not. He may be ungenerous or stingy for not buying his friend a ticket (or he may just need that money for something else) but he’s not being unjust.

It’s great when we do things for our fellow man, sharing with them out of the abundance of the blessings God gives us. We should do that. However, let’s not confuse that with justice. Justice is getting what is owed me. If I work 40 hours for an employer who promised to pay me for those 40 hours, justice is getting what I earned at the end of the week. If I rob a liquor store at gunpoint, justice is the judge meting out the sentence I’m owed for that crime. However, in the normal course of life, I’m never entitled to the fruit of someone else’s labor. Again, I’m not saying it’s not right and good to share our resources with one another. But if we insist that equality of outcome be the measurement of a just society (which is what this meme is suggesting), we need to realize the only way that can be achieved is through forced redistribution, usually at the hands of government. And history has shown us that never works as promised unless the promise is that most people will be equally poor.

One final thought:

How is it just for three kids to see the game for free when everyone on the other side of the fence had to buy a ticket? These boys have cheated the players (if they’re being paid), cheated the owners of the ballpark and cheated their fellow citizens who spent hard-earned money to buy a ticket.