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Ana Marta Gonzalez Gonzalez, Professor of Ethics and scientific coordinator of the Institute for Culture and Society

What idea of justice?

Mon, 25 Jan 2016 14:08:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The emergence and extraordinary boom in the 1990s of solidarity movements in general, and of NGOs dedicated to cooperation and development in particular, reminded us of two fundamental ideas that we had perhaps forgotten: firstly, that the State does not have a monopoly on benevolence, and secondly, that private initiative is at the origin of many goods of public importance.

Despite this, there are still ways of understanding justice that threaten to dry up the spontaneous sources of solidarity, because they tacitly assume that any private initiative responds to sectarian interests, and that only public ownership guarantees the transparency and quality of a service.
While there is no shortage of examples of corruption in both the public and private spheres, no one doubts that it is the State's duty to guarantee the transparency and quality of a service.
skill of the State to guarantee the rights of all citizens and ensure compliance with the law. No one doubts, either, that the State has a special role in the exercise of distributive justice and in facilitating equitable access to services that can in no way be considered consumer goods, such as Education or health care.

But there are reductively materialistic ways of understanding distributive justice that, with their abstract universalism, tend to erode the most local social ties, forged over short distances over time, and thus endanger the very roots of solidarity. However, if society is built primarily from the people, the exercise of distributive justice by the State should be careful not to violate the family and labor ties that give consistency to social life. Social bonds born in labor contexts are violated when de facto the law considers the work as any merchandise, and the worker as a simple labor force. This is unjust because, in reality, no work is simply a consumer good; the worker leaves his life in his work, and his life has no price. That is why any work is worth more than the fair wage with which we remunerate it. The common internship of thanking the person who has just sold us a product reveals that, beyond the cost price, there is a person who performs a service that is not paid for with money. Not everything that circulates in the market is pure and simple merchandise.

This is the underlying reason why companies and institutions, when guided by a human and non-materialistic sense of justice, feel that they have debts to their workers that cannot be settled simply with money, because they are due to the emotional and moral dimensions of work, which are not strictly monetary. Such debts acquire a public dimension when the workers in question contribute with their work to the creation of educational and health environments of evident social projection and transcendence.

To deprive educational and health centers of the possibility of recognizing and thanking the work of their employees in the way that is most available to them is to prevent them from fulfilling the most elementary duty of gratitude and recognition, and thus to weaken the moral nature of this social bond. Equity cannot consist in overlooking this class of gratitude and justice: to claim that we owe equally to those closest to us and to those far away is to overlook the primary solidarities, from which the energies for more far-reaching solidarity initiatives are born. On the contrary, to facilitate, by means of the appropriate legal mechanisms, that the workers of a health center or educational can benefit from the Education or the health given or dispensed in that center, is to allow the institution to recognize that the work performed by its people is always more than an economic good compensable with another economic good: it is a service that can only be recognized with another service, by virtue of an unwritten law, on which the consistency and human density of the institutions and the social fabric in general depend.

If we want strong and supportive societies, we must review our concept of justice: there are simplistic and abstract ways of understanding justice that indirectly tend to discourage the spirit of gratuitousness with which people, individually or in association with others, launch initiatives that benefit all, without being detrimental to anyone, and to which each people owes its particular physiognomy. Indeed, if the natural and cultural landscape of a country is to reflect the character and personality of its people, and not become a gray territory, tailored to bureaucratic planning, however well-intentioned it may be, initiatives that arise spontaneously from the citizenry should not be hindered, especially if such initiatives stimulate grassroots solidarity, are of obvious social benefit and constitute a stimulus for general growth.