EspañolNot even 15 days into Michelle Bachelet’s second term as Chile’s president, and she was already at work on her campaign promise of launching education reform, to “improve quality and access.” Her objective has been the one chanted for by students during their protests a couple of years ago: it must be “free” and government-administered university education.
However, neither during the campaign nor since becoming president has she unveiled the precise details for her education reform. Nothing is known about it. There are no plans or even guidelines to hint to the community as to what will guide her actions — only pretty words, the kind of words that sound good but have little meaning.
Bachelet may not be saying what she intends to do, but she is sure that it will cost a lot of money. It is for this reason that on Monday, March 31, she presented a draft tax reform to parliament. Its core objective is to raise corporate taxes and collect an additional 3 percent of economic activity (GDP). In monetary terms, that is around US$8.2 billion per year.
Of course, behind every governmental action there is an ideology that inspires it. The justification given by the Chilean president is that “Improving the quality of education is not only the responsibility of government, it is the responsibility of the whole of society … That is the deeper meaning of the tax reform: that all, and especially those who earn the most, understand that they have a duty and a responsibility for improving education.”
In addition, she believes — along with the political parties, social sectors, and pressure groups that support her — that raising taxes is an effective tool to reduce inequality in the country. Among her supporters, we can mention Senator Carlos Montes, who declared that a major tax reform is necessary “to tackle the inequality” of Chilean society. In his opinion, this measure should be complemented by a “change in labor regulations that would strengthen unions and collective bargaining, as a way to improve working conditions and wages.”
Consequently, we see that behind these reforms promoted by the Chilean government, there is a particular concept of “justice”: it is “unfair” that some people have more money than others; it is “fair” for us to use the law to forcefully take away resources from some and give them to others, according to the criteria of those who hold power at the moment.
Given that Senator Montes declared the government plans to strengthen particular pressure groups, specifically the unions — along with the students — we have a relatively complete picture of the ideology that supports the reforms he and Bachelet promote.
What is happening in Chile is similar to what happened with Obamacare — the health care reform implemented by President Barack Obama in 2010 — and lends itself to a discussion of justice. It also plays into the relationship between “social inequality” and “justice.”
In some cases, social inequality may be the consequence of grave injustices. Income differences alone, however, do not tell us anything about whether injustice is present. The key point is the origin of the inequality. If the wealth accumulated by a given group is the result of privileges, compulsory income transfers, and monopolies; if legal rules are designed to prevent or hinder the entry of new market players; or if the taxes that burden society are ultimately used for some to live at the expense of others, then there is no doubt that social inequality is the result of unjust social relations.
But if you live in a country where wealth is the result of effort, creativity, honest work, and personal savings, then what is deeply unfair is to take away from the industrious to give to the lazy or wasteful. In moral terms, this would mean that virtue is being punished, and vice rewarded.
When we live in a society of the latter type and we begin to prioritize the concept of justice we described, then that society is doomed. And history is the proof.
Those who crave for imposed “equality” under the banner of “social justice” do not appear to understand that what they aspire to is slavery. Obviously, two slaves are perfectly equal to each other. Widespread social equality, in practice, means that a large proportion of the population is sinking into poverty. All … except the ruling elite (as is the case in Cuba).
In the past, and to this day, a sound concept of justice is the one proposed by Ulpian: “The constant and perpetual will to render to each his own.”
The rest is an exercise in looting in which certain privileged groups ally with the ruler. It is an exchange of favors: political support in exchange for perks (clientelism). The fact that predation is legal does not diminish at all its brutal reality. Nor do the “nice words” that many use to justify it.
If the idea is to build a society where equality is the rule — understanding this term as justice, as defined by Ulpian — then the measures proposed by Bachelet go in the opposite direction. The “government responsibility,” to which she refers, should be aimed at removing legal barriers and burdens that hinder people in their efforts to prosper by themselves. Strengthening the foundations of a society of autonomous, responsible, and accountable people, is the only morally justifiable path.