The president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, has a long article in the February Issue of Commentary laying out what Mr. Brooks calls "a positive social-justice agenda for the right." He writes:
Most academic research on poverty is eerily divorced from contact with the actual people it references. One of my colleagues tells an instructive story. One afternoon, as he beavered away at his Ph.D. dissertation in a top university's poverty-research center, an actual poor person walked in. He had seen the signs and was simply looking for help. The expert researchers had no idea what to do. Their instinct was to call security.
Mr. Brooks, as usual, has some fine ideas and, as usual, they are well put. But he might be better off avoiding the term "social justice." For one thing, he runs afoul of Hayek, who elsewhere in his essay he cites as an authority. Here is Mr. Brooks:
here is a pop quiz. Which unrepentant statist wrote the following words?
"There is no reason why, in a society that has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision."
Was it Franklin Roosevelt, John Rawls, Ralph Nader? Not by a longshot. It was Friedrich Hayek. That passage is featured in his seminal free-market text The Road to Serfdom.
Hayek, along with most Americans, easily distinguishes between "some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing"—a core safety net for the truly indigent—and the sprawling, rent-seeking tangle that is today's welfare state. Hayek recognized that it is the right that champions a true, sustainable safety net; progressives prefer an ever-expanding system for redistributing income more broadly and establishing greater state control over the economy.
Here is Hayek, in "The Fatal Conceit," Chapter Seven:
Much the worse use of 'social,' one that wholly destroys the meaning of any word it qualifies, is in the most universally used phrase 'social justice.' Though I have dealt with this particular matter already at some length, particularly in the second volume on The Mirage of Social Justice in my Law, Legislation, and Liberty, I must at least briefly state the point again here, since it plays such an important part in arguments for and against socialism. The phrase 'social justice' is, as a distinguished man more courageous than I bluntly expressed it long ago, simply 'a semantic fraud from the same stable as People's Democracy.'
Mr. Brooks uses the phrase throughout his Commentary essay: "Conservatives need a social-justice agenda of their own....The American conservative's reluctance to articulate a social-justice agenda of his own only feeds the perception that the right simply doesn't care about the less fortunate. ...Conservative leaders owe it to their followers and the vulnerable to articulate a positive social-justice agenda for the right....On these three pillars, conservatives and advocates for free enterprise can build the basics of the social-justice agenda that America deserves....Genuine moral aspiration, not patronizing political correctness, will be the tip of the spear in a true social-justice agenda....How can a conservative social-justice agenda reverse these trends and expand opportunity for all?...This is a classic public-choice problem, and only a crusade for social justice will stand a chance at winning this fight....The social-justice agenda outlined above can reorient us toward our best selves and toward our obligation to help the vulnerable."