"...there can be no distributive justice where no one distributes. Justice has meaning only as a rule of human conduct, and no conceivable rules for the conduct of individuals supplying each other with goods and services in a market economy would produce a distribution which could be meaningfully described as just or unjust. Individuals might conduct themselves as justly as possible, but as the results for separate individuals would be neither intended nor foreseeable by others, the resulting state of affairs could neither be called just nor unjust" (58).
I've been arguing basically that point of view for a while, and this is far from the first time I've heard it articulated by someone else, but I really like the way Hayek put it here. But it also got me thinking. Hayek does use as support for his argument the fact that the results of the market process are not foreseeable. And it does seem to me that a great many people see certain regrettable outcomes of the market process as quite foreseeable enough to dodge this argument.
"Perhaps the precise outcomes of the process are not foreseeable," someone might argue, "but we can easily foresee that certain things will likely occur, like the occasional occurrence of instances of extreme need. Even if, as a society, we think ourselves justified in 'playing the game' of catallaxy (as Hayek puts it on page 60 and later throughout the essay), we nevertheless might be able to point to certain predictable and regrettable outcomes of that game and demand that they be 'cleaned up.' It's on those grounds that I claim that we have some sort of obligation to ensure that no one is left behind 'by' our playing the game of catallaxy. I cannot articulate, necessarily, exactly what that obligation entails, or what is its nature, but to deny the existence of any such obligation seems simply wrong."
I think that would be a pretty fair line of attack, and I think it deserves an answer. I'm not sure what I'll find, but the question seems to become one which is perfectly tractable within my notion of rights and duties. So I pose for myself the following questions: Do we have a duty to help those in desperate need, either collective or individual? How might we understand such a duty, and what would it entail?
I'll be working on an answer to those questions over the coming months.