13.5.11

New speak: "the Public Interest", "the Social Justice" or "the Change"

In the Soviet Neo-Collonial Empire or as Great President Reagan put it the Empire of Evil words had no meaning. The Communist Party leaders of different levels and by extension the Government used new-speak. A language that was not meant to be a means of communication but an instrument of  the Empire's policy. The Communist propaganda in more or less subtle form twisted meaning of the words every day. For instance the propaganda posters shouted: "peaceful war for better tomorrow". Not many people dared to comment it and even less to protest. Some did. But for the courageous reaction they paid with the reprimand, fine or sometimes even the arrest. Nevertheless majority of people had their opinions. Communist became a foolish or evil characters in the jokes or other stories. It is probably that's why people were able to make their own choices. It was hard to do it but it was possible.

One can comment that it was communism. However in todays so-called information age when information travels with speed that mind have difficulty to grasp it such methods are being used in the free society. Multitude of news very often deprive people from their reflection. I met people who complain that they do not have their opinions. Television or the Internet websites distract them from their own thinking. Most often not much is being left for the contemplation and reflection on what and why happened during the day. There are no room for questions.

It maybe also a reason why politicians or other speakers are not demanded to explain the phrases, the slogans they use. The most famous is "a social justice". Why? Because the definition of the justice is to return something to the one what one deserves. But what "society" deserves? Can it be somehow defined?
The other example of such a new-speak is "a public interest".


Is the "Public Interest" in the Publics Interest?
by Anthony de Jasay
Dinner Speech at the opening dinner, 4th International Gottfried von Haberler Conference, Vaduz, Sep. 25, 2008.

Your Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, you may have remarked – I find it remarkable – that when a significant change is brought about by higher authority in the circumstances of a significant number of people, the change is usually justified by invoking the "Public Interest". It is striking that this practice employs the term "Public Interest" as if it were a wholly unambiguous, clear concept, as If It were a forgone conclusion that we understand perfectly what it is and need not worry about what it signifies or how it is recognised. Invoking the public interest, then, operates like a strong opening gambit: all that needs to be done to justify a projected change is to show that it fits into our well-understood concept of the public interest, whole arguing against the project seems tantamount to arguing against the "Public Interest" itself. A similar gambit operates in favour of measures that claim to pursue social justice: though in reality no objective meaning can be given to social justice (it is simply a rhetorical appeal to sentiments), claiming that a measure is in fact required for satisfying social justice is as good as winning the battle for it.
On the present occasion, I will argue that the concept of the "Public Interest" has no compelling meaning on which all bona fide people must eventually agree, but rather an expression of a speakers subjective judgment with which another speaker may be perfectly justified to disagree. It is also an appeal to people of good will for support of a particular proposal or project.
Many dividing lines can be discerned that cut humanity into two halves. One separates a half – I think the major part – of mankind that consciously or unconsciously is leaning Left from the other, I think the minor, half that leans Right. much the same line makes a division that coincides with the former, i.e. the Left and Right, halves. In this division, one part of humanity, mostly the left-leaning one, uses the words People, Society or the Public as if these metaphysical constructs were actually persons: “the people want”, “society has decided or “the public interest demands”. On the other side of the divide, mostly right-leaning people do not simply 2 assume that the public can have an interest. They sense that the word “the public” is just a convenient fiction, a sort of linguistic shorthand. When forced to think about it, they recognise that only individuals can have interests and if the idea of the "Public Interest" is to be given a meaning, it must get it by way of the interests of the individuals who compose it.
The problem, then, reduces to this: Is it possible to add up individual interests so as to get to some definition of the "Public Interest"? As you have no doubt understood this without my having to labour the point, the difficulty arises when, as is usually the case, a proposed change is not uniformly welcomed by all individuals concerned.
The great Italian social philosopher Vilfredo Pareto gave a very severe definition to a good change in the status quo: If it was desired by at least one person and opposed by none, it was what we now call a Pareto-improvement. Changes supported by some and opposed by others were Pareto-noncomparable: In good logic, we could not rate them better or worse in some objective sense. (As you have noticed, he did not suggest that what a majority wanted was better than what only a minority wanted).
In the field of public policy, there are few projects that are pure Paretoimprovements. Public works, changes in public services, income redistribution, even measures to retard climate change, all produce gainers and losers in society, if only because most of them cost money that the losers have to pay. On strictly logical Paretian ground, we should remain agnostic about all such changes.
This, of course, is very difficult to accept both for politicians and for all who hope to end up on the winning side when government is actively blowing up the status quo. They badly want objective justification that certain changes are good not only for them, but also for the public interest. They will explicitly or at least implicitly have recourse to the utilitarian doctrine that Bentham so successfully implanted in the public mind and that held unrivalled sway over educated opinion for nearly a century and a half. (It is ironical that John Stuart Mill, Bentham’s top pupil, is also held to be one of the Founding Fathers of liberalism). Utilitarianism taught that it was legitimate to conduct arithmetic operations with the “utilities” enjoyed by different individuals; if a projected change would produce both gainers and losers, one could simply deduct 3 the losers’ utility loss from the gainers’ utility gain and declare the difference to be society’s net gain.
By the late 1930s, it came to be understood that this was like subtracting four apricots from five peaches and declaring that the net result was one peach. Modern post-war economics dismissed this as gibberish. Nevertheless, there remained an unmet demand for objective justification of government action “in the public interest”. The famous Kaldor-Hicks theorem enunciated in 1939 and 1940 sought to demonstrate that a change was a good change if the gainers could “bribe” the losers to accept it and still have some of their gain left over. This theorem proved to be technically quite tricky and controversial. I am not going to enter into that debate. Instead, I will confront it with a childishly simple question: If the prospective gain is large enough to compensate the losers and still have something left over, why is government action necessary? Why don’t the gainers contract with the losers to carry out the project to mutual benefit, - or why does an entrepreneur not come in and arrange the deal? The answer is “Market failure”. In the words of the police chief in the great post-war film “Casablanca”, there are the “usual suspects” who obstruct a market solution: Transactions costs, incomplete and imperfect information, large numbers etc. prevent it. However, one must respectfully object that the very same “usual suspects” are present and apt to obstruct the government solution as well; and if the “usual suspects" were not powerful enough against a government, there would be two extra ones who were mighty enough, namely corruption and waste that are never very far when some people have the power to spend other people’s money.
I am for all these reasons submitting, in summary, that the public interest is a treacherous notion that should either be dismissed or treated with the greatest caution. Having concluded that, I will now declare that it is not in the "Public Interest" that I should keep you from enjoying the rest of this evening, and will accordingly sit down.






Ronald Reagan Quotes