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The Theory of Justice and the creation of public policies

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One of our most pressing civilizational challenges is to move from a state of rights to a state of possibilities. A state can legislate in favor of certain universal rights yet never move from potentiality to action.

Why does this happen?

Firstly, being a subject of a right is not the same as (actually) exercising a right. In many cases, the goods to which people have rights are also considered consumer goods and are assigned a market value accordingly. This complicates the situation considerably because while it is true that every production process has a cost that must be internalized by someone when it becomes a service, it is also true that, in practice, this excludes all those individuals who do not have the resources to cover these costs. In simpler terms, someone may have a right to electricity but can't access it still because, although the electricity network is available, they do not have the money to hire and pay for the service.

This is a common problem in the architecture of a state based on individual freedoms. In principle, this is a good value to protect. However, the problem arises from a contradiction between the assumption of the individual as naturally free and the state as the ruler of these individuals, resulting in the state being a limiting entity of the inherent freedom of the individual and, therefore, an illegitimate structure (this is why systems much closer to the free market advocate a minimal state and as few regulations as possible). The result of this contradiction is a state whose sole function is to protect the freedoms of individuals from the perspective of private property.


Why is private property important?

According to the American philosopher Robert Nozick, private property is a sine qua none of freedom because freedom presupposes the ownership of the "self" being of each individual to be able to do anything in "free will" (Robert Nozick: Anarchy, State & Utopia). The argument is that this ownership allows people to be self-determining. Consequently, it gives them complete freedom. In other words:

"I am free because I own and determine myself first and foremost. This is my first and most fundamental private property".

In this context, the design and construction of an ideal state must factor in individual freedoms based on private property as the foundation of its existence. In this structure, the primary function of a state is to guarantee freedom and private property for all. All the while seeking to prevent conflicts and collisions between the freedoms of some and the freedoms of others.

This sounds quite reasonable so far.


But what does all this have to do with access to electricity?

Quite a lot. What is described above means that if a state limits itself to regulating relations between the individual in such a way that the exercise of their freedoms does not collapse among themselves, then the state cannot intervene in this dynamic by imposing any form of organization; for example, by granting special benefits to any group, such as free or preferential access to electricity. According to this logic, if part of the effort of some individuals is compulsory to improve the fate of others, the principle of self-ownership is violated and, therefore, becomes an injustice (Nozick Robert: Anarchy, State, and Utopia).

Nozick argues that compensation schemes are fundamentally wrong and should be considered illegal because of their coercive nature. If something like this is allowed, for example, a compensation program to benefit a target group, there would be a legal framework to transfer absurd benefits as compensation. Say, organs from healthy people going to sick people.


So how can this problem be solved?

The contradiction between the assumption of individual freedoms as the foundation of the state and the moral dilemma of people in a situation of backwardness has not been easy to resolve. For the philosopher and economist John Rawls, one of the most important elements to consider in this equation is justice.

Faced with this dilemma, the element of "justice" helps to rethink the idea of individual freedom as the only good to be sought. All the more so because while exercising the right of freedom, individuals start from very different situations. Meaning that the social relations between them are influenced by ethnic, cultural, religious, and gender origins. For example, a woman from an indigenous community in Guatemala with no academic education is structurally unable to exercise her freedom in the same way as a white man with a university degree in Stockholm.

In response to this problem, Rawls suggests that the function of an "ideal state" is not so much to guarantee almost absolute freedom to individuals but to provide the appropriate basis for a better understanding of the various problems of justice. Only when we have formulated the principles that characterize a just society can we conscientiously ask ourselves how to deal with the inevitable limits and contingencies of human life and its injustices (Gargarella Roberto: Political Theories after John Rawls).

In short, the first principle of justice in a society should not be granting private property to individuals but rather the conditions under which individuals have access to freedom and private property. Of course, bearing in mind that no one can control the context in which they are born (intelligence, social class, ethnicity, gender, historical and socio-cultural context, etc.). Therefore, if a state wants to guarantee the free exercise of the private property that people have over themselves, it is necessary to structure a series of compensations that help each individual to start from a minimum base to develop all these potentials. In simple terms, this can be described as; "development of a life plan."

These outline the basis of a just society, which, for Rawls, is none other than one that tends to equalize people in their circumstances so that the choices they make in a situation of freedom would be their absolute responsibility.


But again, what does this have to do with access to electricity?

It has everything to do with it. Think about making a fair society where everyone has the same chances to do well. That's what philosopher Rawls talks about—everyone should have equal freedoms. But making things fair isn't just about sharing money. Money alone doesn't guarantee everyone gets the same opportunities. Instead, it's like a tool that needs to be turned into things people need to grow and achieve their goals.

These things, like rights and freedoms, are super important. Among them is access to electricity. Why? Because without electricity, learning becomes tough. No lights mean no tools for education, which keeps many from getting into good schools. Also, it makes it hard to work well, leading to money problems. Not having electricity also means missing out on important information, making people more vulnerable to changes in the world.

So, having electricity isn't just about having a right; it's about having the freedom to shape your life. It's a really important part of being truly "free" and reaching your dreams.


What now?

Indeed, the idea of making the advantages of some work in favor of the disadvantages of others sounds controversial. The ethical foundation of leaving no one behind deserves to be vindicated and adopted as a true “philosophy of social development." In turn, this helps the less fortunate in the free edification of their personality and life plan, not through the imposition of tax money transfer directly, but through the transfer of opportunities as an emancipatory tool and as a self-poietic foundation, that is, of self-construction.

And in all this journey, at least from the perspective of energy applied to electrification in rural contexts, private, public, national, and international financing for projects that help close the energy poverty gap through clean, economically, and environmentally sustainable sources is not only desirable but necessary in the consolidation of a global society that can call itself free and, above all, fair.


Written by: Roberto Vivero Miranda

Edited by: Lama Ibrahim


*About the Author: Roberto serves as a Business Developer at Fosera, bringing a distinctive blend of expertise in Philosophy and Environmental Sciences to the table. With a particular focus on sustainable mobility, he adeptly delves into discussions surrounding sustainability, the theory of justice, and the equitable distribution of opportunities.