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Thanks again for weighing in, James. Since you seem to be open to it, I’ll describe what I’d call an instance of ‘systemic injustice’, and maybe you could tell me and whether you think it matters. I’ll start with a couple of quick preliminaries. (RT’d for thread.)
First, given the potential confusions you note, I should define my terms. *Justice* is achieved when we get what we deserve—when we pay what we owe, receive what we are due, etc. And injustice occurs when people take more than they are due or receive less than they deserve.
(The substantive content of what constitutes justice or injustice depends on the field of application; but at the highest level of abstraction, justice always involves giving people what they deserve, for better or for worse; and injustice involves withholding what’s deserved.)
An injustice is *systemic* if the existence or persistence of that injustice derives from the standing features of a given social system—most notably, its institutions. An institution is a set of rules, norms, standing practices, laws, conventions or what have you.
Institutions guide our understanding of who deserves what in a given sphere. And an institution is unjust if, by virtue of that institution, people are deprived of something that they are due. What follows is an example of institutional injustice.
Second, it’s important to be clear on the scope of my endeavor. My only aim in what follows is to describe a clear instance of systemic injustice in the present day U.S.; I make no effort to address distinct but related matters like assigning blame or prescribing solutions.
So here’s the example. Suppose @thomaslhorrocks steals $15K from you. (Sorry, Thomas.) So Thomas is $15K in your debt, plus let's say that the penalty for stealing = X. (X could be prison time or fines or what have you.)
Suppose further that the police never catch Thomas and you never recover the $15K that he owes you. Now imagine that Thomas dies, leaving his entire estate--including *your* $15K--to his children. (Sorry again, Thomas.)
I deny that Thomas's children must pay penalty X, whatever that may be. But I believe that Thomas's children owe you $15K.
OK, now imagine that you die, leaving your entire estate to your children. (Sorry, James.) I'd say that Thomas's children owe your children $15K. Wouldn't you agree? (Even Robert Nozick, Rawls's prodigious libertarian interlocutor, would agree to this much.)
Notice that the penalty of X dies with Thomas. But the $15K debt transfers from one generation to the next. Why? Because it's a tangible benefit that rightfully belongs to your children, not Thomas's children. Agreed?
Now, here's a more salient example. Imagine that my grandparents had access to a federally subsidized mortgage in 1960. (The subsidy comes in the form of insurance cover for the lender in case of default.) This subsidy is bankrolled by taxpayers, including *your* grandparents.
But suppose that *your* grandparents weren't eligible for the same government-backed mortgage. The reason? Their skin color. So my grandparents get a mortgage and your grandparents don't.
Since this mortgage insurance is funded by *all* taxpayers, including your grandparents, this means that my grandparents received a subsidy from your grandparents (via the U.S. government), without even the possibility of being required to compensate your grandparents in return.
Consequently, my grandparents accumulated and transferred wealth to my parents via home equity, backed by U.S. taxpayers like your grandparents. But your grandparents didn’t accumulate wealth in this way, because they weren't allowed.
As a result, your grandparents didn’t have the resources to co-sign or contribute a down payment on a home for your parents (who had to compete with my parents in the market for housing). This, in turn, impacts the quality of school district you can access, etc. (but I digress).
So you have no inheritance—or, at any rate, far less of an inheritance than I do. Importantly, the point isn't that I’m bad because laws in the 1960s were bad and I’ve benefitted while you’ve been harmed. It’s not about individual responsibility at this point.
Rather, the point is that bad laws reverberate into the future, in the form of tangible benefits that people either do or don't have in the present day.
Bracketing important questions like who owes what to whom and how much, perhaps we can agree that these consequences are a form of injustice, the existence and persistence of which derives from standing features of our social system.
If we do agree on that, then you have an example of systemic injustice.
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