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Political Discrimination is Socially Harmful

Justice as Individual Fairness

Any conception of justice is about the relationship between the members of a society living in cooperative arrangements for the benefit of all members. For any society that is presumed to consist of free and equal persons, the necessary conditions for ensuring justice are equal personal and political liberties, and equal opportunities. Equality before the law is fair. That is, justice is about fairness, as the great political theorist John Rawls argued. He conceives of society “as a fair system of cooperation over time, from one generation to the next.”

Fairness is a concept that operates at the level of the individual and can only be meaningfully applied to the interaction between a particular individual and other individuals or groups. When applied to a group (rather than an individual), it is merely a shorthand for saying “this applies to each and every member of the group.” In other words, the individual is the proper object of attention in any notion of fairness. Therefore, a person’s group affiliation is irrelevant for determining if the proposed action is fair to him or her.

Identity-based Discrimination

Historically, the group identity of a person has been accorded great relevance in India. For example, the kinship group known as caste is held to be relevant in political, social and economic contexts. The individual is not accorded an independent standing and instead is considered a part of the collective.

This has two very pernicious effects. First, it fragments society into groups. This leads to conflicts between groups, sometimes to violent conflict. Second, it devalues the individual and makes individual freedom impossible. The identity of the individual is lost and the group identity is forced on him or her. Willing or not, he or she is saddled with the burden of whatever the group is accused of and made guilty by association.

Individuals belong to certain groups have been discriminated by people of other groups merely because of their group identity. The “untouchables” of India is an example of this among many others. Unfortunately, identity-based discrimination is not just a historical oddity but is a present-day reality. The government of India discriminates among individuals based on which caste an Indian is born into or which religion the person professes.

The Constitution of India encodes this discrimination and helps perpetuate it to the detriment of all individuals, regardless of whether they are discriminated against or not. This often takes the form of “reverse discrimination” which essentially holds that individuals of certain groups will be penalized for deeds that the group they belong to by birth had done in the past, and for which deeds the individual had no control over. The individual is being punished for the sins of the ancestors. This is patently unfair and therefore unjust.

Historical discrimination of groups is an undeniable wrong. But that wrong was done in the past by people who are no longer living. Attempting to correct for the historical wrongs by discriminating against individuals based on their identity is futile at best and morally reprehensible.

Political Discrimination

When discrimination is used as a political lever, it leads to social harm. The task of a government is primarily to maintain peace (often through the threat of violence), prevent harms to individual and enforce property rights. Add to that basic responsibility the task of providing collective goods. These are goods that cannot be efficiently provided by the private parties voluntarily cooperating in a free market.

When discrimination is based on group identity, then it politicizes the provision and distribution of collective goods. This leads to rent-seeking and fracturing of the polity. Groups are pitted against each other and conflict
arises in the allocation of scarce collective goods. As mentioned above, this hurts all members of society, not just those who are directly discriminated against.

The Solution

The solution at its basis requires that the government treat all persons as equal and not discriminate on the basis of identity, religious or otherwise. Inequality and inequity need to be addressed, of course, but that can be done by reference to the individual — regardless of the identity. An individual should be given whatever assistance is needed and possible based solely on the circumstances of the person and not based on his or her group identity.

Atanu Dey on India's Development

Atanu Dey
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PJ O’Rourke: Every government is a parliament of whores
The Amazing Power of Technology
Swami Vivekanand: To the 4th of July
No True Islamic State
Herbert Simon — Information consumes attention
Yoga has no Religion
Hayek on “The Mirage of Social Justice”
An Open Letter to PM Shri Modi
Prefer a Functioning Economy
Political Discrimination is Socially Harmful
Markets & Competition
Ministry of Power, Coal, and New and Renewable Energy
John Stuart Mill on the Liberty of Thought and Discussion
Reading Ronald Coase
Universal Literacy
Man versus the State
What Comes Before
An ad from 1947: “The Uphill Task Ahead”
Pohela Boishakh, Vishu, and Puthandu Greetings
Rich People Spend More
Goodbye, Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Friday the 13th, Pi Day the 14th & Beware the Ides of March
Money is the root of all Evil
Warren Buffet’s Letter to the Shareholders
The Man Lee Kuan Yew Admires the Most
An Informed Citizenry is the Bulwark of a Democracy
Problems and Solutions
People I Admire – Part Doh
Nelson Mandela on Education
Criticizing Modern Indian Holy Cows Considered Dangerous
Richard Dawkins on the Monotheistic God
List of Pages on Teresa the Merciless
People I Admire
Lee Kuan Yew is under Intensive Care
On Monkeys, Cats & the Generality Principle
The Great Indian Bamboozle has to Stop
2400 hours of electricity for Delhi — every year?
Make India first to “Make in India”
Republic Day Thoughts on Reading the Constitution
A Day of Shame and National Mourning for India
The most dangerous man to any government
Socialism, Competition and Politicians
Open Thread: Ask me anything
Aakash, the “iPad Killer”, Vaporware has Evaporated
The Dreamer and the Dream
Circular Firing Squad of Flying Attack Monkeys Target Rajiv Malhotra
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Constitutions Matter in our Daily Lives
The Only Home We’ve Ever Known
Adam Smith on the Division of Labor
The Passing of Former President Mr APJ Abdul Kalam
Socialism Works its Wonders in Venezuela - also in West Bengal
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Islam Poses an Existential Threat
The Wisdom of the Crowd
On Knowing Enough to Know that You Don’t Know
NITI — New Initiatives for Transforming India
Will India Recover?
The Unbearable Stupidity of Controlling Prices
Nov 14th as the “Day of Shame and Lamentations for India.”
The Indian Constitution — Part 2
Hayek on Valuing Individuals
Mr Modi goes to Washington