On C-SPAN last night, I was watching “Prime Minister’s Questions”—the wonderful British institution in which the Prime Minister answers questions, both from his sometimes supporters and from the opposition. One question dealt with the adequacy of housing in Britain—the questioner arguing that far more money must be spent to provide housing for the poor. Prime Minister Blair responded by arguing that a balance was needed between private housing and “social housing.”
Frederick Hayek once noted that the growing use of “social” as an adjective had lowered the quality of communication. “Social,” he argued, was a weasel word—it connoted some element of morality while conveying no substantive meaning at all. Ah, but in the political world connotations may well be more meaningful than substance. Consider “social justice,” “social security,” “social costs,” “welfare state,” and the host of other terms that are now so domiant in today’s world. Hayek listed many terms of this sort. Our challenge is to show that the underlying value that is implied by this term—the egalitarian value of justice, of fairness—is rarely advanced by such “social” programs, that only the institutions of freedom can advance fairness.