Social Justice

Social Justice -- although this little phrase glibly slips off the tongue of many an individual, its ambiguity and explosive political nature can often cause profound confusion about the concept’s true meaning. Indeed, as one commentator put it, the concept of social justice "is allowed to float in the air as if everyone will recognize an instance of it when it appears." 

While the wide use of the term social justice is fairly new, philosophical exploration of the meaning of justice goes far back into the ancient world. Early philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle wrestled with the concept of justice, the former describing it as "having and doing what is a man's own, and belongs to him," the latter defining it as "the distribution of the right thing to the right person."

Additionally, early biblical writings pressed for "do[ing] justice to the afflicted and needy." Premised on the idea of a just God whose law and standards rightly give what is deserved to each individual, the biblical theme of justice naturally led Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas to expound on how justice should be practiced in the daily lives of human beings as they related to God and one another.  

The concept of justice further took hold during the Enlightenment as thinkers began to encourage liberty and individualism. To them, justice meant properly rendering what was due to each individual based upon his or her "just deserts." But more importantly, it entailed a commitment to upholding the basic natural rights of all individuals, rather than an equality which sought to equally distribute property and wealth. As Adam Smith succinctly put it, “the end of justice is to secure from injury." 

In the mid-1800s, the phrase "social and justice" first emerged in the work of a Catholic Jesuit, Luigi D’Azeglio, who, building on long-standing Christian tradition, "prefaced ‘justice’ with ‘social’ to emphasize the social nature of human beings and, flowing from this, the importance of various social spheres outside civic government."

Strongly influenced by D’Azeglio’s ideas, Pope Leo XIII picked up the phrase. Leo’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, formed the cornerstone of modern Catholic social teaching, a body of official documents setting forth principles for a moral social, economic, and political order achieved through both "public and private institutions." The encyclical, although severely criticizing socialism, encouraged the fair treatment of the working class, and declared that "[a]mong the many and grave duties of rulers who would do their best for the people, the first and chief is to act with strict justice - with that justice which is called distributive - toward each and every class alike." Later popes, such as Pius XI, followed Leo’s lead by condemning "the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless" and suggesting that social justice demanded remedying this disparity.

Paralleling the evolution of Catholic social teaching, the secular idea of social justice began to veer away from the traditional, historical meaning of justice, and instead began to focus on a philosophy which encouraged equality through the redistribution of wealth. This idea became especially prevalent during the Depression era through the efforts of several leading figures. Running a popular but controversial radio program during the 1920s and 30s, Father Coughlin sought to remedy what he saw as the deleterious effects of capitalism, considering social justice to be, among other things, a living wage and the ability to unionize. Additionally, FDR promoted his New Deal programs as advancing the welfare of the laboring man. 

Perhaps the most influential contribution to the modern discourse about social justice was made by John Rawls. Aimed as an alternative to utilitarianism, Rawls’ seminal work, A Theory of Justice, argued that "[a]ll social values—liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect— are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any, or all, of these values is to everyone's advantage." According to Rawls, "[i]njustice, then, is simply inequalities that are not to the benefit of all.”

In his view of "justice as fairness" the ideal political system would be based on rules hypothetically chosen in an "original position" in which "no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like." This so-called "veil of ignorance," Rawls argued, would lead to the establishment of two foundational principles of justice:

"(a) Each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all; and 

(b) Social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: first, they are to be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and second, they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society (the difference principle)."
 

Rawls' theory received major criticisms, most prominently from Robert Nozick. In Anarchy, State and Utopia, he points out that

"no end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice can be continuously realized without continuous interference with people's lives. Any favored pattern would be transformed into one unfavored by the principle, by people choosing to act in various ways... To maintain a pattern one must either continually interfere to stop people from transferring resources as they wish to, or continually (or periodically) interfere to take from some persons resources that others for some reason chose to transfer to them."

Another prominent critic, Friedrich Hayek, attacked the concept of social justice as meaningless in his work The Mirage of Social Justice: 

"It is not pleasant to have to argue against a superstition which is held most strongly by men and women who are often regarded as the best in our society, and against a belief that has become almost the new religion of our time (and in which many of the ministers of old religion have found their refuge), and which has become the recognized mark of the good man. But the present universality of that belief proves no more the reality of its object than did the universal belief in witches or the philosopher's stone. Nor does the long history of the conception of distributive justice understood as an attribute of individual conduct (and now often treated as synonymous with 'social justice') prove that it has any relevance to the positions arising from the market process." 

Hayek’s strong support for individualism and a free society led him to further argue that Rawls’ conception of social justice – or controlled fairness - actually led to injustice because it picked the "winners and losers" in society. Hayek believed that justice was better achieved by allowing individuals to pursue their own ambitions and talents while letting market forces play out as they would.

Today, social justice is often viewed as a type of compassion and aid exercised toward those who are oppressed and disadvantaged. Since compassion through personal charity and private aid as in times past is commonly deemed insufficient, governmental policies such as progressive taxation and a host of welfare programs, attempt to help the "little man" by redistributing from the wealthy in order to give to the poor. Of course, the merits and demerits of these measures continuously elicit debate across the political spectrum.

In an age when the idea of "spread the wealth around" has become a prominent catch phrase, this library topic delves into the idea of social justice, its meaning, philosophical and historical background, and the implications it holds for a free society.

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Schalin discusses the philosophical roots of the teaching for social justice. Analyzing the the writings of William Ayers and Paolo Freire, he shows how this method of teaching "is not intended to provide useful skills, or open young eyes to appreciate culture or the mysteries of the physical universe. It is to convert and to prepare a new generation for the coming...

"While the practice and institutional forms vary from country to country, the idea that the State must protect and promote social justice and progress has become the paramount modern ideology around the globe. Following the footsteps of Bismarck, the construction of social policy systems has emerged as the distinctive feature of the modern State."

"When a word is used in a certain context often enough, it can take on a whole new meaning. One such casualty of the English language is the word 'justice.' By planting it within the phrase 'economic justice,' we begin to equate justice with the equal distribution of wealth. Would economic equality through the transfer of wealth by the state be the realization of economic justice?"

In this article Novak discusses the concept of social justice utilizing Hayek's critique of it. "'[S]ocial justice' would have its natural end in a command economy in which individuals are told what to do, so that it would always be possible to identify those in charge and to hold them responsible. This notion presupposes that people are guided by...

"It's time to expose the pretense of morality that is inherent in progressive taxation and to end the system of tax socialism that has eroded economic and personal liberties in the United States. Progressive income taxation should be abolished and replaced with a flat-rate tax on income or consumption -- not just to enhance efficiency but to protect our rights to life, liberty and property....

"I’d like to introduce you to a ship of the BHL Line that I call 'Free Market Fairness.' As an institutional matter, Free Market Fairness proudly shows the colors of the classical liberal camp. As such, she affirms the powerful set of personal liberties long championed by liberals of every type: freedom of thought, expression, association and more. Against the left liberals, though, she also...

"During this week's Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said putting together the right kind of stimulus package is 'a part of economic justice.' The remark reflected a major campaign theme for the New York senator, who has declared she would pursue 'a new vision of economic fairness' as president. ...

Clinton's aim is economic equality, not legal equality, and you really...

"Governments created by men, and composed of men, cannot miraculously legislate justice or equality due to the contradiction involved in allowing governments to steal from some men to enrich others, but calling such action by private individuals criminal. Attempting to create equality through such injustice will lead to both economic collapse and to despotism. Ultimately, greed and envy may be...

"Friedrich Hayek is one of the greatest political thinkers of the twentieth century. He is also, alas, one of the most misunderstood. I’d like to talk about two ideas that make Hayek great but that have also caused him to be misunderstood: Hayek’s idea of spontaneous order; and his attack on 'social justice.'"

This article gives a concise overview of Friedrich Hayek's work, The Mirage of Social Justice. According to Amaqi, "Hayek begins his argument by contrasting the difference between a general rule (as in the Rule of Law) and the...

"An Atlanta conference for teachers reveals, once again, that it is more important to lead children to particular views of social justice than to educate them." Grabar describes how "At such workshops, taxpayers are helping teachers learn new techniques for advancing the cause of 'social justice' in classrooms from kindergarten to college. They do this through...

"The parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that speak to economic and social justice are almost completely ignored today; even by the major human rights organizations. It seems to me that the most pressing task for friends of human rights today is to re-unite the two halves of the divided soul of the human rights project — its commitment to personal freedom and its sense of one...

"Well, there they go again. The Economist has a piece asserting, as a critique of Conscience of a Liberal, that rising income inequality hasn’t translated into a big rise in social inequality. It’s actually an argument I take on explicitly in Chapter 12 . But The Economist nonetheless rounds up the usual suspects.

Inequality denial generally involves four dodges — all four of...

"As health care reform nears the finish line, there is much wailing and rending of garments among conservatives. And I’m not just talking about the tea partiers. Even calmer conservatives have been issuing dire warnings that Obamacare will turn America into a European-style social democracy. And everyone knows that Europe has lost all its economic dynamism."

"Few if any in American politics will openly avow total opposition to liberty and property, but the mainstream approach toward these values differs entirely from Paul's. As conventional politicians see matters, liberty and property, whatever their importance, must be balanced against other values, such as social justice and security. Is it not reasonable, they say, that the rich should...

"Whatever one thinks of President Obama's speech to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce on February 7, 2011, there is no denying that the presentation included policy (paths to goals) and politics (getting votes). Time will tell which aspect will be more lasting, but Obama's policy statements deserve attention for the way they resonate with basic Catholic teaching on social justice. Specifically,...

In this piece, Ryan Messmore introduces readers to the originator of the social justice phrase: Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio. According to Messmore, Taparelli's definition of social justice was exactly opposite of today's typical meaning, for Taperelli advocated for  "freedom and respect for human beings" through traditional institutions rather than government...

"I’ve been noticing a game lately played in the bookish corners of the left side of American politics. We’ll call it 'We Know Hayek Better Than You.' It’s a game not without some attendant dangers. But it’s nothing if not fun. ...

One ought to be suspicious when your author writes an entire book entitled The Mirage of Social Justice. Perhaps he’s not really too enthused about...

"GERMANY'S federal statistics office is expected to announce on Wednesday January 12th that its economy grew by 3.7% in 2010. The country's position in a ranking of countries by social justice, an umbrella term that includes everything from poverty to access to education, is less shiny. According to a new study (currently available only in German) published by the Bertelsmann Foundation,...

"The essence of the argument for 'social' justice is that the same rules that apply to everyone else need not be applied to one minority—the 'rich.' The rich, because they are rich, ought to be called upon to pay differential rates of taxa­tion—both on income and on wealth. Where compensation for some state activity is involved, it is generally agreed that full market prices need not be paid,...

"The pursuit of social justice probably accounts for most human misery. What’s more, throughout history, one form of injustice has usually been replaced by another that is far worse. Russia’s 1917 revolution expelling the Czars and their injustices ushered in Lenin, Stalin, and a succession of brutal dictators who murdered tens of millions in the name of the proletarian revolution. The...

"The advocates of what is called social justice conceive of it as relating primarily to the economic status of the individual. It is un­just, in their view, for some to have great wealth while others have only the bare essentials. It is unjust for the price, rent, or in­terest rate to be 'too high.' Profits are often accepted as necessary though it is unjust for them to be 'excessive.' Private...

"On many university campuses, there is a push on to promote Social Justice. There are two ways to define 'Social Justice.'

First, this concept may be defined substantively. Here, it is typically associated with left wing or socialist analyses, policies and prescriptions. For example, poverty is caused by unbridled capitalism; the solution is to heavily regulate markets, or ban them...

"A column by Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, a Catholic writer for the Washington Post, makes the claim that 'Catholic social justice demands a redistribution of wealth.'

What Stevens-Arroyo is promoting is an attenuated and truncated vision of 'social justice' that has fostered a great deal of injustice throughout the world. This path, he should know, has been decisively repudiated by the...

In this piece, Walter Block defines the differences between the liberal and conservative definitions of social justice. According to Block, the liberal definition of social justice "is not just justice as applied to social issues, but in addition, or instead, a particular world view with regard to them." Block suggests that conservatives "take the stance that we,...

In this commentary, Messmore points out that social justice advocates too often focus on economic disparities and material poverty and consider the government as the sole means of effecting change. He proposes that the true goal of social justice is human flourishing, and the way to achieve it is by restoring the kinds of relationships derived from ...

"Last weekend Derek Jeter made baseball history when he became only the 28th MLB player to reach 3,000 hits. He's the only player to do it wearing the Yankees uniform.

For diehard Yankees fans, Jeter may be worth all the money on Earth. But many less ardent enthusiasts probably wonder whether even someone as good as Jeter should be raking in his kind of dough: $51 million for the...

"When it is applied to American education, social justice pedagogy (the method of teaching social justice) has come to mean a way of thinking and teaching intended to undermine both authority and objective reasoning and bring about an underclass-inspired political upheaval. The movement’s philosophical foundations are derived from the writings of the Brazilian...

Commenting on a video made by social justice advocates, Ben O'Neill points out their emphasis on "rights" and the fallacious arguments they present to the public. O'Neill notes that the rights these advocates claim are actually more in line with desires. The author then proceeds to explain the details of a true right.

"The expression 'social justice' has been particularly well marketed. Everyone, it seems, is a champion of social justice. Groups may disagree with each other on nearly every moral issue but, when it comes to social justice, they all stand up and salute."

In this short essay, Novak traces the historical meaning of the term "social justice," and provides his own definition extrapolated from the historical context of the 19th century. 

"In this context the term social justice ... names a new virtue in the panoply of historical virtues: a set of new habits and...

"In a few of my early posts on this blog, I claimed that libertarianism is compatible with a commitment to some kind of social justice. But I was deliberately vague about just what a commitment to 'social justice' entails.

In this post, I want to survey a few ways in which the idea of social justice could be made clearer. I'm not going to defend these approaches, and my presentation...

"Talk-show host Glenn Beck recently struck a nerve – and ratings gold – when he urged his audience to abandon any church that espouses social justice."

Chart or Graph

This chart advances a political and economic system based on social justice. As the title implies, the chart identifies the differences between capitalism, socialism, and "the just third way."

These charts show a breakdown by age group of ownership rates according to the type of asset.

Households in all age groups have made gains compared with their predecessors over the course of many decades, but the incomes of the oldest households have risen four times as sharply as those of the youngest ones. As a result, incomes of the oldest households, which have been lower than those of younger households, are catching up.

Although the economic well-being gap between young and old has been widening for decades, the economic turbulence of recent years has accelerated these trends.

Figure 2 decomposes the top decile into the top percentile (families with income above $368,000 in 2008) and the next 4 percent (families with income between $153,000 and $368,000 in 2008), and the bottom half of the top decile (families with income between $109,000 and $153,000 in 2008).

In 2009, households headed by adults ages 65 and older possessed 42% more median net worth (assets minus debt) than households headed by their same-aged counterparts had in 1984. During this same period, the wealth of households headed by younger adults moved in the opposite direction.

These charts show a breakdown of assets factoring into the net worth of different age groups.

The 'Nolan Chart' portrays the political spectrum with personal freedom on one axis and economic freedom on the other. The ideal is in the upper right with full personal and economic freedom. We need a 'Social Justice Chart' that includes economic wealth on one axis and ethical responsibility on the other.

"GERMANY'S federal statistics office is expected to announce on Wednesday January 12th that its economy grew by 3.7% in 2010. The country's position in a ranking of countries by social justice, an umbrella term that includes everything from poverty to access to education, is less shiny. According to a new study (currently available only in German) published by the Bertelsmann Foundation,...

Among households headed by adults younger than 35, the share with income below the poverty line has jumped since 1967. Among households headed by adults ages 65 and older, the share living below the poverty line declined.

Figure V shows a gradual secular decline of the share of capital income (again excluding capital gains realizations) and dividends in the top 0.5 percent fractile from the 1920s to the 1990s: capital income was about 55 percent of total income in the 1920s, 35 percent in the 1950s–1960s, and 15 percent in the 1990s.

"The decline in top incomes during the first part of the century is even more pronounced for higher fractiles within the top percentile, groups that could be expected to rely more heavily on capital income. As depicted in Figure III, the income share of the top 0.01 percent underwent huge fluctuations during the century. In 1915 the top 0.01 percent earned 400 times more than the average; in...

Figure 1 presents the income share of the top decile from 1917 to 2008 in the United States. In 2008, the top decile includes all families with market income above $109,000. The overall pattern of the top decile share over the century is U-shaped. The share of the top decile is around 45 percent from the mid-1920s to 1940.

[I]t is interesting to compare the U. S. top income share series with comparable series recently constructed for France by Piketty [2001a, 2001b] and for the United Kingdom by Atkinson [2001]. There are important similarities between the American, French, and British pattern of the top 0.1 percent income share displayed in Figure XII.

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"[Bertrand de Jouvenel’s] analysis is worth being investigated: It includes a prefiguration of spontaneous order theory and precedes Hayek’s response to the achievability of social justice. It pays careful attention to the definition of justice by classical philosophers and accounts for the distributive scope of commutative justice."

United States has relatively less to lose from climate change. In these circumstances, what does justice require the United States to do?

"A possible reconciliation between libertarianism and Catholic social teaching is broached: as long as social justice applies only to members of this faith, it is not incompatible with the ethic of free enterprise and private property rights."

"Principles of distributive justice are normative principles designed to guide the allocation of the benefits and burdens of economic activity."

"The problem of economic inequality has attracted much attention in recent years. International income differentials were the central concern of the Brandt Report on the so-called North-South Dialogue. The report conveyed a conviction that such differentials are unacceptable and immoral."

"Hayek argued that to talk of 'social justice' is absurd, and to try and promote a just distribution of economic rewards is utterly misguided. The reason is that economic rewards are part of a vast unplanned system. No person or entity distributes awards."

"Top wage shares were flat before World War II, dropped precipitously during the war, and did not start to recover before the late 1960s but are now higher than before World War II. As a result, the working rich have replaced the rentiers at the top of the income distribution."

Although many view Christian principles and the doctrines of Jesus as socialistic and communal in nature, Alberto Salceda argues that Jesus was actually a strong advocate for individualism and capitalistic principles.

This article gives an overview of Rawls' life and work, and focuses specifically on his most important book A Theory of Justice. Therein, Rawls defines two principles of "Justice as Fairness."

"Jasay analyzes the concepts of fault and personal responsibility as they relate to justice, and he assesses the rival schools of thought about justice that have grown up around this issue."

"But Rawls and others regard justice as 'the first virtue of social institutions' ..., so 'justice as a virtue' is actually ambiguous as between individual and social applications. This essay will reflect and explore that ambiguity, though the principal focus will understandably be on the justice of individuals."

An excellent discussion by philosopher John Hospers of justice and its relation to various other concepts such as mercy, collectivism, utility, equality, discrimination and rights.

"This reputation marginalized interest in Taparelli and obscured the relevance of his theoretical works to the development of the Catholic liberal tradition. Among other things, Taparelli elaborated the concepts of social justice and subsidiarity but with implications at times quite different from how these terms have been used historically."

"But in low-enforcement regimes, such as the international system, little more than the perceived legitimacy of the demand motivates compliance. The operation of low-enforcement regimes is therefore most likely to illuminate peoples’ underlying conceptions of fairness and unfairness."

"In its formulation of plans to reform the economy of the USSR, the Soviet communist leadership has faced a major dilemma: how to reconcile economic efficiency with social justice."

"Social justice is a controversial notion that emerged in political debates in the nineteenth century. It subsequently began to interest and be used by economists, but its meaning crucially depends on the theory of law that supports it. This concept has been particularly developed by social Catholicism based on Aquinas’ natural law."

"First, social justice is viewed primarily as a matter of redistributing goods and resources to improve the situations of the disadvantaged. Second, this redistribution is not presented as a matter of compassion or national interest, but as a matter of the rights of the relatively disadvantaged to make claims on the rest of the society."

"My goal today is to begin restoring the term 'Social Justice' to its rightful place. My hope - to promote advocacy of true 'Social Justice.' My dream - to see a large-scale social movement for true 'Social Justice.'"

"The new Progressive Tradition Series from the Center for American Progress traces the development of progressivism as a social and political tradition stretching from the late 19th century reform efforts to the current day."

"From 2007 to 2008, average real income per family declined dramatically by 9.9% (Table 1), 1 the largest single year drop since the Great Depression. Average real income for the top percentile fell even faster (19.7 percent decline, Table 1), which lead to a decrease in the top percentile income share from 23.5 to 20.9 percent (Figure 2)."

Stern describes the rise, influence and effects of former Left radical turned education professor William Ayers' social justice philosophy in colleges of education around the country.

In this excerpt from his book of the same title, Sowell dissects the concept of social justice and distinguishes it from traditional justice. Social justice, he says, seeks to eliminate the disadvantages of certain group, without regard for the origins of those disadvantages and the costs that remedying them would impose on society.

"Households headed by older adults have made dramatic gains relative to those headed by younger adults in their economic well-being over the past quarter of a century, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of a wide array of government data."

"Wilhelm Röpke named his philosophy of a free society that avoided the extremes of laissez-faire capitalism and collectivism as 'The Third Way.'"

"In the past few years, though, as the federal minimum wage has remained fixed at $5.15 and the cost of living (specifically housing) has risen drastically in many regions, similar campaigns have produced so many victories (currently, 134) that Kern speaks collectively of 'a widespread living-wage movement.'"

"The first thesis is that many traditional and current notions of philosophy, in general and ethics in particular, cannot help us either to understand or constructively critique the norms of business practice in contemporary commercial societies. The second thesis is that there is a form of philosophical endeavor that is capable of doing so."

"[D]istributivism was, and is in its newer manifestations, more a movement in ethics than in economics per se.... Distributivism’s animating principle was that social justice demands widespread distribution of property."

"[The] principles of distributive justice, principles, that is, about the just distribution of benefits and burdens in society, apply, wherever else they do, to people's legally unconstrained choices."

Video/Podcast/Media

"The term social justice has been used to describe everything from a Judeo-Christian duty to help the poor to a moral virtue that includes government redistribution of wealth. The term is generally used loosely, with the expectation that everyone will know what it means and support its goals whatever they may be. This lack of clarity has allowed the use of social justice as an instrument of...

"Critics of capitalism often argue that this economic system is irretrievably tainted by the sin of greed. They claim that by empowering government to 'spread the wealth around' we can free ourselves from the tyranny of greed, purging the influence of sin. But are they right? At this event, Victor Claar, associate professor of economics at Henderson State...

In this lecture, Feser defends a Catholic natural law view of social justice: "The organizing theme of my talk will be the idea of social justice, and the Austrian thinkers I will focus on will be Hayek and Rothbard. Both these thinkers rejected the very idea of social justice as incoherent – Hayek explicitly, Rothbard implicitly. I want to argue that they were wrong to do so, and wrong even...

"Marvin Olasky will discuss the false dichotomy between freedom and justice and offer his ideas on reconciling these aims.

What is the best way to help Americans in need? How we approach this question cuts to our core beliefs about how society should be rightly ordered. For some, the free market is the most natural tool to use in the fight against poverty because it fosters innovation...

In this famous clip, Barack Obama explains a common view of social justice to "Joe the Plumber." The clip ends with Obama's claim that "we need to spread the wealth around."

"American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten believes unions and public schools serve as agents for social justice. The AFT's theory behind 'community schools' is that schools can serve as the hub of the community, thereby ensuring their importance and funding. Thus, Weingarten's membership numbers can stablize and grow.

But, if Weingarten's...

In this short clip, Reverend Al Sharpton claims that despite the fact that an African American is now president, true social justice and equality will not be achieved until "everything is equal in everybody's house."

As the new Chair of the Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank claims that America is becoming more and more unequal with too much wealth concentrating in the hands of a few. To combat this trend, Frank says he will focus on reforming CEO compensation and increasing home ownership among the low and moderate income brackets.

"This lecture addresses two questions: why has American democracy done so little to improve the condition of the poor and near poor, and what can be done about it? These questions are motivated by a practical concern and a theoretical conundrum. The practical concern is the persistence of comparatively high proportions of the population living in or close to poverty, and the widening income...

"Anderson and Schmidtz begin with a critical assessment of Amartya Sen’s influential view that every theory of justice must strive for equality of something. Then they discuss Anderson’s form of egalitarianism, which privileges social relations over mere distributive equality (although it also allows that distributive components of justice are important). Finally, they consider various...

"Professor Hayek expresses the subtle and sophisticated understanding that the pursuit of social justice inevitably leads to increased inefficiency and poverty."

"The Declaration of Independence says, 'all men are created equal.' Friedman explains that this did not mean all persons should or will have equal talents or income. Equal opportunity to better one's self, and the right to personally benefit from the gains realized, are consistent with freedom. Equality of results requires force. Taking from some to give to others destroys freedom and removes...

"The main focus of today's discussion is Rawls's third and most problematic principle, the difference principle, which states that income and wealth is to be distributed 'to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged individual.' This stems from the logic that what is good for the least advantaged individual will be good for the second-least advantaged, and the third, and so on. But what if...

Novak discusses how people commonly think about social justice, how the term arose and what it actually is. He notes that the today's definition of social justice as "distribution of advantages and disadvantages in society" introduces the element of distribution, which was not part of the original concept. Tied to it became the notion of equality a uniformity rather than fairness or...

"'Social justice' is one of the terms used most often in ethical and political discourse. It is also a term used with the least care. Michael Novak, the George Frederick Jewett Chair Emeritus at AEI, will discuss the origin, early development, and contemporary misuses of 'social justice,' and propose a return to its original meaning as a new virtue of association."

This old movie clip offers an interesting support of American capitalism. Citing a variety of facts and statistics, the instructor addresses the concept of wealth redistribution and the effectiveness of American entrepreneurship.

This video creates a pictorial journal of students' responses to the question of what everyone has a right to. Commenting on this video, Ben O'Neill notes that "the video perfectly demonstrates the attitude towards rights that pervades modern political discussions,...

Primary Document

This satirical piece mocks Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal by creating a "New Constitution" consistent with FDR's policies.

"John Rawls, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, had published a number of articles on the concept of justice as fairness before the appearance of his magnum opus, A Theory of Justice (1971). While the articles had won for Rawls considerable prestige, the reception of his book thrust him into the front ranks of contemporary moral philosophy. Presenting a Kantian alternative to...

"Since it appeared in 1971, John Rawls's A Theory of Justice has become a classic. The author has now revised the original edition to clear up a number of difficulties he and others have found in the original book.

Rawls aims to express an essential part of the common core of the democratic tradition--justice as fairness--and to provide an alternative to utilitarianism, which had...

"Written in the early years of the French Revolution before the Terror had begun, Godwin provides a devastating critique of unjust government institutions and optimistically proposes that individuals not the state can best provide for their needs. He believed that political change could best be brought about gradually and as a result of free discussion in small communities. This work has...

"Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do. How much room do individual rights leave for the state? The nature of the state, its legitimate functions and its justifications, if any, is the...

Washington delivered the following speech ­sometimes called the Atlanta Compromise ­before a white audience at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895.

Augustine's response argued that the "City of God" was not an earthly kingdom to be achieved through Roman power. While Christians have a responsibility to the City of Man, he argued, it cannot achieve perfection. Consequently, he argued for a strongly Christian culture, but full realization of the limits of what can be accomplished with temporal power.

"This document intends to present in a complete and systematic manner, even if by means of an overview, the Church's social teaching, which is the fruit of careful Magisterial reflection and an expression of the Church's constant commitment in fidelity to the grace of salvation wrought in Christ and in loving concern for humanity's destiny. Herein the most relevant theological, philosophical,...

In this work, Karl Marx explains his idea of "fair distribution" in society. Marx supports this theory by uttering his famous phrase, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

Rousseau wrote this essay to answer the question "What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?" He begins by envisioning a state of nature.

"It follows from this survey that, as there is hardly any inequality in the state of nature, all the inequality which now prevails owes its strength and growth to the development of our faculties and the advance of the human mind, and becomes at last permanent and legitimate by the establishment of property and laws. Secondly, it follows that moral...

Like its predecessor, Quadragesimo Anno, this piece by Pope Pius XI also discusses the issue of social justice. This particular piece, however, primarily focuses on Communism, which Pius declares "strips man of his liberty, robs human...

"This evening we present an address by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. His topic tonight will be 'Social Justice.' Dr. King's address this evening will be the first in a series of three lectures on the topic 'Conscience of America.'"

"Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

1. We are believers called to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim his Gospel in the midst of a complex and powerful economy. This reality poses both opportunities and responsibilities for Catholics in the United States. Our faith calls us to measure this economy, not by what it produces but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects...

"In the modern world, the protean ideal of equality—in our legal, social, political, and economic institutions—has inspired many heterogenous movements including the French Revolution, the American Revolution ..., classical liberalism's reforms, and the contemporary, proliferating 'liberation' movement. Robert M. Hutchins and Mortimer Adler in their analysis of 'The Idea of Equality' ... have...

"Discussions in moral philosophy have offered us a wide menu in answer to the question: equality of what? In this lecture I shall concentrate on three particular types of equality, viz., (i) utilitarian equality, (ii) total utility equality, and (iii) Rawlsian equality. I shall argue that all three have serious limitations, and that while they fail in rather different and contrasting ways, an...

“One of the surest signs of degeneration is the growth of sentimental as distinguished from practical morality, especially when it is combined with an ingrowing conscience. Sentimental morality is the sort which evaluates character and conduct by their ability to satisfy an inner sense of propriety, or to create within us the sensation of approval. Both character...

"Father Coughlin first took to the airwaves in 1926, broadcasting weekly sermons over the radio. By the early 1930s the content of his broadcasts had shifted from theology to economics and politics. Just as the rest of the nation was obsessed by matters economic and political in the aftermath of the Depression, so too was Father Coughlin.

He began as an early Roosevelt supporter,...

This document provides the transcript of a radio address President Roosevelt delivered shortly before an election. In the speech, Roosevelt advocated for the election of individuals "who truly and sincerely join the struggle for social justice."

"I appreciate you giving me a chance to come and for me to outline the steps that America and our partners are taking and are going to take to overcome this financial crisis.

And I thank the Manhattan Institute for all you have done. I appreciate the fact that I am here in a fabulous city to give this speech. People say, 'Are you confident about our future?' And the answer is,...

"The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed is a solid structure upon which we can build a better world. History will honor you for it. Between the victory in Europe and the final victory in Japan, in this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself.

It was the hope of such a Charter that helped sustain the courage of stricken peoples...

Today the minimum wage is 40 cents an hour. Tomorrow the new 75-cent minimum rate goes into effect for the 22 million workers who are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, our Federal wage-hour law.

Mises explained economic phenomena as the outcomes of countless conscious, purposive actions, choices, and preferences of individuals, each of whom was trying as best as he or she could ... to attain ... wants and ... avoid ... consequences.

"The most important thing to note about this pamphlet is that it is only an introduction to the subject which it treats. As an introduction, one of its functions is to attract attention to a subject not too widely studied or understood. To do this, it will deliberately emphasize only new and neglected aspects of the truth.

This deliberate emphasis on the unusual, however, should not...

In a campaign speech shortly before the 1980 presidential election, President Jimmy Carter extolled the virtues of his party to a young men's Jewish club. Among other things, Carter declared that his party was a prominent advocate for social justice.

"I think it is appropriate that this meeting should take place just as the annual review of the Alliance for Progress at Sao Paulo has ended. That congress and conference has reviewed our progress, examined our defects, on occasion applauded our achievement. It has been a forum for discussion and critical analysis, and if one fact emerges from that meeting, it is, despite differences on...

Part of Bastiat's Selected Essays on Political Economy, this work focuses on the issue of justice and its compatibility with the idea of fraternity. Bastiat declares the following about the balance between these two concepts:

"When a great number of families, all of whom, whether in isolation or in association, need to work in order to live, to prosper, and to better themselves...

"Smith’s Lectures on Jurisprudence, originally delivered at the University of Glasgow in 1762-1763, present his ‘theory of the rules by which civil government ought to be directed.’ The chief purpose of government, according to Smith, is to preserve justice; and ‘the object of justice is security from injury.’ The state must protect the individual’s right to his person, property, reputation,...

"While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities 'unwise and untimely.' Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for...

Hobbes argued that a state of nature (an environment without a government imposing order) would be "the war of all against all" and life in such an environment would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

"Whether there be any such moral principles, wherein all men do agree, I appeal to any, who have been but moderately conversant in the history of mankind, and looked abroad beyond the smoke of their own chimneys. Where is that practical truth, that is universally received without doubt or question, as it must be, if innate? Justice, and keeping of contracts, is that which most men seem to...

"I have already hinted, that our sense of every kind of virtue is not natural; but that there are some virtues, that produce pleasure and approbation by means of an artifice or contrivance, which arises from the circumstances and necessity of mankind. Of this kind I assert justice to be; and shall endeavour to defend this opinion by a short, and, I hope, convincing argument, before I examine...

"I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. -- I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer."

In the article Anatomy of an Evil Agenda, Jay Schalin describes Paulo Freire's book as "[t]he sacred scroll of the social-justice-in-education movement." Schalin's description of Freire's book continues in the following paragraphs:

...

"John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) originally wrote the Principles of Political Economy, with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy very quickly, having studied economics under the rigorous tutelage of his father, James, since his youth." Book II specifically speaks about the issues involved with the distribution of wealth and property.

Father Coughlin was a Catholic priest with a very popular but controversial radio show during the 1920s and 30s. Initially a supporter of Roosevelt and the New Deal, he quickly denounced both as moving to slowly and not going far enough. He relentlessly argued against both capitalism and socialism and communism. But, outlining the principles of the National Union...

"The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., challenged our Nation to recognize that our individual liberty relies upon our common equality. In communities marred by division and injustice, the movement he built from the ground up forced open doors to negotiation. The strength of his leadership was matched only by the power of his words, which still call on us to perfect those sacred ideals...

According to the Rev. William J. Ferree, "The long-missing specific and direct act of Social Justice is used as the title of the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno: 'On the Reconstruction of Social Order.' This title occurs in the heading of the Letter; the words 'Quadragesimo anno,'...

An attack against the revolution in France by Edmund Burke. Burke argues that the French Revolution will end disastrously because its abstract foundations, purportedly rational, ignore the complexities of human nature and society.

Pope Leo XIII critiques socialism and capitalism, defends property rights, and lays out guidelines for justice in society within the Catholic traditions of human nature and Western Civilization. He places responsibilities upon how labor and employers behave toward each other. Additionally, he outlines the roles of the individual, the family, fathers, the church, society, etc. 

Full...

"The rise in inequality in the distribution of income among people is well-documented and displays the characteristics of a trend, having affected large numbers of countries, from the poorest to the most affluent, during the past two decades. Up to the 1980s, at least since the Second World War and in some cases since the beginning of the twentieth century, there had been a general narrowing...

This document contains a message from President Johnson to Congress on the fight against crime in America. Johnson declared, "Our commitment to insuring social justice and personal dignity for all Americans does not flow from a desire to fight crime. We are committed to those goals because they are right."

This portion of the Summa Theologica contains the "Treatise on Prudence and Justice."

"Following is a transcript of the presidential debate last night in Boston between Gov. George W. Bush of Texas and Vice President Al Gore, as recorded by The New York Times. The moderator was Jim Lehrer of PBS."

"The Charter of the United Nations was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on 24 October 1945. The Statute of the International Court of Justice is an integral part of the Charter."

This essay discusses economic justice, declaring that "[t]he concept is clearly a central concern for those who believe that the salvation and the righteousness of which the Bible speaks are social and not merely individual." Heyne goes on to discuss the varying levels of inequity present in society, while also examining how an individual's personal rights play...

“Social and political institutions are not ends in themselves. They are organs of social life, good or bad, according to the spirit which they embody. The social ideal is to be sought not in the faultless unchanging system of an institutional Utopia, but in the love of a spiritual life with its unfailing spring of harmonious growth unconfined. But growth has its...

"The Ethics of Redistribution was originally delivered as a Boutwood Lecture at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in the autumn of 1949. The Baron Bertrand de Jouvenel was then an already internationally regarded philosopher whose learned style was a calculated blend of moral, historical, and political considerations. In this essay, split between discussions of...

In this speech, Russell Kirk argues that we are better to follow the philosophy of Aristotle, who finds virtue in natural inequality, rather than Marx, who uses inequality as the impetus for revolution.

The Law, written by Frédéric Bastiat in 1850, was famously influenced by John Locke's Second Treatise of Government and went on to inspire Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson.

In this lecture, Russell Kirk explains the underpinnings of the classical and Christian meanings of justice. Kirk opens by declaring the following:

"The word 'justice' is on everyone's lips nowadays, and may signify almost anything. We hear the cry 'Peace and Justice!' from folk who would destroy existing societies with fire and sword. Other folk fancy...

In this work, Immanuel Kant discusses the archaic term for social justice, namely, distributive justice. Focusing largely on human rights and the role they play in society, Kant describes distributive justice as a "mode of justice" in which the Law "declares what is right, and what is just, and to what extent, by the Judgment of a Court in any particular...

Aristotle, one of the best known Western philosophers, concluded his work on ethics with the statement that he intended to look into "the whole question of the management of a state." The Politics was his effort to do so. He examines the origin and purpose of government, and then discusses Plato's The Republic and other proposed and existing forms of government.

This volume, written in dialogue format, is the original work of political idealism by one of the best-known Western philosophers.

"In The Road to Serfdom F. A. Hayek set out the danger posed to freedom by attempts to apply the principles of wartime economic and social planning to the problems of peacetime. Hayek argued that the rise of Nazism was not due to any character failure on the part of the German people, but was a consequence of the socialist ideas that had gained common currency in Germany in the decades...

"The subject of this book is written to maintain and prove the following truth: That our free modern society in which the means of production are owned by a few being necessarily in unstable equilibrium, it is tending to reach a condition of stable equilibrium by the establishment of compulsory labour legally enforcible upon those who do not own the means of production for the advantage of...

Rousseau is noted for advancing the idea of popular sovereignty. He opens with the question of whether any government authority can be legitimate, and concludes that the only legitimate government is one where "the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot act save when the people is assembled."

Montesquieu was a significant advocate of separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and his discussion of law contributed significantly to the concept of rule of law.

"The State is a brilliant analysis of modern political arrangements that views the state as acting in its own interest contrary to the interests of individuals and even of an entire society."

Also known as Cicero's Republic, this is the second part of his political writings (see explanation here). Cicero's work has been noted to have influenced thinkers from St. Augustine to American Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Marshall.

"Upon the answers to the question of the permissible limits of coercion opposed views are held in the world today, each claiming the allegiance of very large numbers of men. It seems to me, therefore, that any aspect of this issue is worthy of examination.

To coerce a man is to deprive him of freedom - freedom from what? Almost every moralist in human history has praised freedom. Like...

Douglass delivered the following speech on the subject: The Equality of all men before the law; Note that this was given within days of the close of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln.

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We all know Facebook is awesome for keeping up with friends, sharing about your life, and even distributing ideas. One great new way to get people thinking is to take advantage of the new banner profile with the help of Intellectual Takeout. Here's what one of our banners looks like loaded up on a Facebook profile: If you haven't changed your banner profile, than Facebook is likely ...
Tired of business getting a bum rap? We are, too. Here's your chance to share on Facebook the good news that business is good, beautiful, and makes life better.
At Intellectual Takeout, we think it's about time freedom went viral. Before our generation is the opportunity to embrace freedom, to unleash each individual's potential, and to have a prosperous future. And yet it seems that almost everyone running our cities, states, and federal government is intent on destroying freedom and burying us in debt to pay for it. If you, like us, believe that...
In the genre of documentaries revealing the problems with public education, "Kids Aren't Cars" focuses on helping us understand how schools are modeled after a factory system and what we need to do to change them. Understandably, treating kids as if they are a product to be manufactured has had detrimental effects on children going through the system and the overall level of education in America...
"Many parents and taxpayers feel helpless because the problems can seem so monumental. 'Kids Aren't Cars' director Kyle Olson reviews what he learned in the filmmaking process and the small things individuals can do that will add up to make a big difference." Here's Kyle being interviewed on a few things you can do and share with friends, family, and educators: Part 1Part 2
While many documentaries on the education system focus on various examples of failure, "Flunked" takes a bit different tack. While certainly acknowledging and exposing the failures of the system, "Flunked" also seeks out individuals and approaches that ARE working in education. The hope is that these points of hope may serve as examples for others working in education.  Here's the trailer:...
Okay, so your friends and family keep telling you to jump on the social media bandwagon, but you have no idea what the fuzz is about. Here’s the deal: The Internet gives liberty-loving folk like us an opportunity we have never had before: to make the case for individual liberty, limited government and free market economics instantly and globally. But with the vast amounts of information...
Education history in America is important to know. ITO traces how education has changed from the colonial period to present day America.

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Know your rights with Flex Your Rights guide to the "10 Rules for Dealing with Police."
In a highly regulated society such as ours, it's very easy to get yourself in trouble with the law. Learn more about how to protect yourself with the 5th Amendment and how to interact with the police.
Looking for an internship? If so, Intellectual Takeout has an opportunity for you. We have plenty of work to do as well as ideas to spread, and we need your help to get it done. If you're interested in an internship with Intellectual Takeout, you likely share our passion and you're excited about the possibility of working for a great cause. That said, you might have a few questions about what "...
Let's face it, most of us love to watch TV and movies. A wonderful way to spread ideas is to embrace our love of the cinema by hosting a movie night with friends and family.  There are numerous documentaries that do a fantastic job of sharing the ideas of liberty. You can pull a small group of friends together at your house or even consider asking a local restaurant or tavern to let you...
Watch "Waiting for Superman" to learn about the problems with the public education system.
Another movie that tells the story of the failing public school model in the United States is “The Lottery”. It takes its own unique look at the systems by focusing on the use of lotteries to choose which children will be plucked from failing public schools and put into more successful public charter schools. Here’s the trailer:  You can watch the whole movie right now with the help of Hulu...
While there are a variety of really good documentaries about the failing public school systems in America, "The Cartel" stands alone in its frontal assault on the teacher unions, particularly those in New Jersey. If you'd like to get an inside look into how some teacher unions operate and the effects they have on education, you'll want to watch "The Cartel."From the movie's website: "This movie...
Are you concerned your child isn't getting the education necessary to compete in the global economy or even, perhaps, to carry on the lessons and learning of Western Civilization? If so, you have a number of choices. You could, of course, consider changing schools to a charter school, private school, or even homeschooling. If that's overwhelming for you right now, you can always supplement your...
Sure, the idea of homeschooling is likely overwhelming. Indeed, homeschooling is a big commitment and a lot of work. That said, there's a reason why more and more parents are turning to homeschooling as the best option for their child(ren)'s education(s). Perhaps you are starting to realize that the public school system has changed a lot since you last attended it. Maybe you can't afford private...
Curiously, not a few individuals are realizing that their education (K-12 and even college) neglected to provide them with as much understanding of the world as they would like. At Intellectual Takeout, we believe that however you feel about your education, there is still much to be learned. To that end, we'd like to refer you to one book and a collection of "study guides" that serve as...
How often do you hear conservatives being called a bunch of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals? Here's the reality: Conservatism, classical liberalism, and libertarianism have a rich, intellectual heritage reaching back many millennia. Our ideas are not just some historical relics from bygone eras; they are the very foundation of Western Civilization in general, amd the United States in particular....
Sadly (or happily for some), life goes on after college. So does the fight for freedom. Building friendships, networking, and growing the movement is critical after college. If our ideas are to be preserved and promoted, you need to stay involved. Plus, in a time when the individual seems to be ever more isolated and adrift, these groups can help plug you into social networks you can use....
Okay, so we don't expect you to drive a wooden stake into your flat screen. Plus, we're total hypocrites since we watch some TV. But here's the point: People waste a ton of time watching TV. If you're cool with government taking over your future, than keep watching Dancing with the Stars. If you consider yourself to be a free man or woman and want to live in a free society, then watch what you...
A great way to make a difference on your campus by spreading the ideas of individual rights, limited government, and free markets is to tutor. Plus, you can occasionally make a little bit of money. Depending on the subject matter, you will be discussing a variety of ideas, key thinkers, and theories. As anyone who has tutored knows, there are almost always opportunities to expand upon a topic....
The Association of American Educators (AAE) advances the teaching profession through personal growth, professional development, teacher advocacy and protection, as well as promoting excellence in education so that our members receive the respect, recognition and reward they deserve.

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We've built Intellectual Takeout to provide you with quick, easy access to information. In time, we hope to become your one-stop-shop for the ideas of freedom. If your professor allows you to bring your laptop to class (if not, you can use an iPhone), we recommend keeping a tab open to Intellectual Takeout. As we continue to generate new content on the site, you will be able to fact check the...
When it comes to campus life injustices, student fees rank high on any list. On most campuses across the country a mandatory student fee is assessed to each student at the beginning of the year. A portion of this fee, which may be several hundred dollars, will go toward funding various political, religious, and interest groups.  A college requiring you to support groups espousing ideas which...
If you're not happy with the direction of the country and you want to take back your future, at some point you will have to do something. It's not enough to just know that we're going in the wrong direction. You actually have to step out and get involved. Most college campuses have conservative and libertarian student groups. Find one of them to join. Below is a list of some of the larger non-...
Now that you're at college and the initial excitement has worn off, maybe you're thinking that the course selection is a bit biased and you'd like some options. So how do you (the consumer) get the college (the business) to change up its offerings? It certainly won't be easy. Nevertheless it's something that should be done--particularly since you're footing the bill. A good, education in a free...
Whatever activism you choose to do on campus, you need to get your story out. A popular tactic used by the Left is to isolate and intimidate freedom-loving students. You're not alone and there are a lot of people in your city, state, and country that can probably support your efforts. They just need to know what is happening. Whenever you can, record in-class bias, discrimination against...
The reality is that most students (and people for that matter) won't speak out. It's called human nature and it was recognized in the Declaration of Independence: "...all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." While you might feel alone when debating a teacher,...
In the land of the free and the home of the brave, speech codes are a particularly odious example of politically correct repression on many a college campus. In some ways, college campuses are the least free places for thinking and speech in America. Your best friend for fighting your school's repressive speech codes is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Here's a short clip...
Running for office isn't easy, even in college. Not everyone is cut out for it, either. For those of you who are, this completely non-partisan section is for you. If you are inclined to pursue student government, we're not going to spend time on telling you how to get elected. A good place to go for ideas and training is CampusReform.org. Rather, we want to help you in office, as a believer in...

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