Whenever a promoter of the notion starts talking about “social justice”, the subject eventually comes around to markets, and the social-justice promoter always considers them evil, cruel, and generally unsatisfactory. They should be replaced, according to that ethic, with a system that allocates things according to need.

It’s helpful, in such situations, to define what is being discussed. In this case, it’s pretty simple: A has something (at this point in the analysis it doesn’t matter who “A” is, or what the “something” actually is) and B wants it. B then needs to find something A wants badly enough to induce A to swap. That’s all there is to a market.

As with anything, there’s a pathological version. Perhaps B has a gun, and asks A if he wants to keep his kneecaps (or his life) in return for handing the thing over. We define that as robbery, but it’s really just a special case of a market — B gets what he wants in return for something A wants.

Now consider the case where distribution is made on the basis of need. Somebody has to determine that the need exists — in the example, that B needs whatever it is. From B’s point of view, there isn’t much difference. The allocator has the something, B wants it, and must do what the allocator wants in order to get it. But that’s a new market!

Now, it may be (and often is, for the promoters of “social justice”) that what the allocator wants isn’t anything material. The warm feeling of having done good for B may be sufficient. In ‘way too many cases, though, what the allocator wants is one or another form of truckling — B must beg prettily and tug his forelock in order to get what he wants. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a market, though.

What it does do is render the market illiquid, because there’s no currency involved. What the allocator wants is non-material and poorly defined, and it isn’t available for trading with the next participant. That makes the market hard to manage — impossible, in fact — and the dream of fair allocation goes out the window. There’s no way of making the market “fair” if all the participants have to come up with something different.

And what about A? From A’s point of view, he started with something and ended with nothing — the allocator got it, and gave nothing (that A wanted) back. If A agreed with that at all, it has to be something similar to the perverse version. The allocator had to threaten A with loss of something else in order to achieve A’s disgorgement of what B wants, and what the allocator thinks B should have. In the worst and most perverse case, that’s part of what the allocator wanted in order to do the deal in the first place.

So in their zeal to eliminate the market, the “social justice” promoters have done no such thing. What they have done is create two markets, one illiquid and impossible to manage under any terms, the other perverse and damaging to at least one of the participants’ interests. It’s hard to see how that’s an increase in “social justice”.

What if B doesn’t want to do what the Bureau of Socially Just Distribution wants? Well, he can always go back to A, who has what he wants, and offer something in trade; or A can seek out B, and specify something A wants that B might have. That’s the original market, isn’t it? The BSJD will call it a “black market”, but really it’s just the haves and have-nots trying to get together without interference from the bureaucrats — which is what “black market” means.

So now, instead of a market, we have three of them. From A’s point of view, the BSJD is just another B, although one that wants to engage in perversity; that’s one. From B’s point of view, the Bureau is just another A, wanting something in exchange. And the two can always get together, which is the third market. Dayum, Joe Bob! Them markets is multiplyin’ like cockroaches!

Real markets in the real world are more complex than that, of course: Rule #1 is It ain’t that simple! But the fundamentals continue to apply, they just get more subtle and obfuscated. When you try to stamp them out, Markets Happen Anyway.