Under the auspices of justice

Dr. Obid Khakimov, Director of the Center for Economic Research and Reforms under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan

The political history of mankind was the endeavor for building a just society. Yet everyone understands justice in their own way, which concerns not only the individual level, but also the level of various social groups connected by common economic and political interests. For this reason, the approaches to the definition of justice and its basic principles are different. The following basic concepts are distinguished.

The first and the oldest is power. «Justice is the advantage of the stronger», the ancient Greek sophist Frasimach formulated. The second is the contractual concept of justice, in which the principles of justice are determined by real or hypothetical agreement between people, has been formed for a long time from Aristotle to Kant and has become dominant in modern conditions. However, in the framework of this model, disputes continue on the basis of principles that are necessary to agree on justice.

George Moore proposed an intuitive model where justice is established in an intuitive way or in an intuitive agreement between all actors in the society. However, since the “intuition” of people is different, it is hardly possible to build a coherent and logically sound system of rules on this model.

Much more popular is the utilitarian concept of justice proposed by Jeremiah Bentham. According to this model, the state of justice is established by calculating the most favorable balance of interests simultaneously for all members of society. Critics argue that this model replaces the principle of justice with the principle of efficiency, minimizing costs and maximizing benefits, and does not answer the question: how to combine the benefit maximization of one individual and the benefit maximization of the society? Within this framework, it is possible that an increase in justice for one person may be associated with a decrease in justice for the whole society.

Rawls’ justice as fairness

An alternative approach that casts doubt on the principles of intuitionism and utilitarianism was the “Theory of Justice” published in 1971 by American philosopher and political scientist John Rawls. This theory also lies in the plane of the contractual model of justice.

Rawls believes that “justice is the first virtue of social institutions.” Herewith, he mainly emphasizes the social justice. “For us, the primary subject of justice is the basic structure of society, or more precisely the ways in which basic social institutions assign fundamental rights and duties and shape the division of advantages that arise through social cooperation”, – states Rawls.

A characteristic feature of this approach is that it considers “justice as fairness”, implying that people should evaluate issues of justice in relation to other people, just as they assess them in relation to themselves. An important point here is that the assessment should be based on a hypothetical “initial situation”, when a person does not know at what social level he will be and what material and social success he can achieve.

“I shall maintain instead that the persons in the initial situation would choose two rather different principles: the first requires equality in the assignment of basic rights and duties, while the second holds that social and economic inequalities, for example inequalities of wealth and authority, are just only if they result in compensating benefits for everyone, and in particular for the least advantaged members of society”, – says Rawls.

Based on these preconditions, it can be stated that people will agree to build a just society on the following two principles:

– each person should have equal rights in relation to the most extensive system of equal fundamental freedoms compatible with similar schemes of freedom for other people;

– social and economic inequalities should be designed in such a way that they simultaneously lead, in accordance with the principle of fair savings, to the greatest benefit of the least successful and unfold for all positions and provisions in the context of fair equality of opportunity.

Justifying the choice of these principles, Rawls wrote: “These principles rule out justifying institutions on the grounds that the hardships of some are offset by a greater good in the aggregate. It may be expedient but it is not just that some should have less in order that others may prosper. But there is no injustice in the greater benefits earned by a few provided that the situation of persons not so fortunate is thereby improved.”

Based on these principles, the rights and obligations of the basic institutions of society should be determined, which hereinafter would distribute the shares of the benefits received as a result of cooperation between people according to an acceptable principle for all. It is on the basis of these principles that the rights and obligations in society and the distribution of social benefits should be determined.

Public institutions, formed on the basis of such an agreement between people, will unquestioningly comply with these principles of justice, and people employed in them will build their relationships on fairness, that is, on those conditions that they would agree to be equal in the initial position.

The most cardinal difference between Rawls’ concept of justice and other concepts lies in the processes of redistributive functions of state institutions, implying that the least successful social groups should receive the greatest benefit. In other words, the summary of his concept is that it is just the state that provides effective social protection for those groups of people who are in the least favorable social and economic conditions, that is, for the most vulnerable segments of the population.

In connection with the foregoing, it seems important to analyze the social policy of Uzbekistan in the context of the main approaches to determining the justice of the social system.

Social policy in Uzbekistan

Almost immediately after independence in Uzbekistan, a system of strong social policy was formulated amid the transition to a market economy, providing for effective measures in the field of social protection. The state provides free secondary education, guarantees a basic package of medical services, and social support for particularly vulnerable groups of the population and provides benefits for low-income families.

With a new President of Uzbekistan, the social direction in the ongoing reforms has significantly been enhanced. In the Strategy of Action on five priority areas for the development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021, approved on February 7, 2017, the development of the social sphere is one of the key priorities. In this direction, the Strategy provides: a consistent increase in real incomes and employment; improving the system of social protection and health protection; implementation of targeted programs for the construction of affordable housing, the development of social infrastructure, providing improved living conditions; development of education and science; improvement of state youth policy.

And in all these areas a lot has been done in recent years. The amount of benefits to vulnerable and low-income categories of the population has been doubled. Pensions to working pensioners began to be paid in full. Since February 1, 2020, the salaries of employees of budgetary institutions and organizations, pensions, scholarships, allowances, as well as material assistance to low-income families were increased by 7%.

Specialized state programs “Prosperous village” and “Prosperous Mahallya” were launched, for the implementation of which 6.1 trillion soums were sent last year. That is 1.5 trillion soums more than in 2018. As part of these programs, in 2019, construction and improvement work were carried out in 479 villages and auls, and in 116 city mahallas. More than 116 billion soums were allocated to five thousand low-income families and families in need of better housing conditions, including women with disabilities, to pay down payments for the purchase of housing on mortgages.

Large-scale tasks for the development of the social sphere this year were set in the Message of the President to the Parliament on January 14 of this year. “We will accelerate the continuation of large-scale social reforms to radically improve the lives of people, which over the past three years have been carried out on the basis of the principle “Human interests are above all”, the President noted in the Message.

Among the tasks set were the development of the State Poverty Reduction Program, the formation of modern entrepreneurial skills among the population, on which it was supposed to spend $700 million. As part of current year’s state program, aim of the government was to create 500 thousand new job places. It was planned to create an effective system of work with elderly, especially with those who are alone, increasing the amount of social benefits allocated to them, and development of social adaption program for children from orphanages providing them with jobs and later with apartments. It was envisaged to increase wages, pensions, scholarships and allowances ahead of inflation and to expand the coverage of benefits to low- income families.

Social measures during pandemic

However, the solution of the tasks was significantly complicated by force majeure- the COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine restrictions associated with it. Production volumes decreased in 196 thousand enterprises, about 95 thousand individual entrepreneurs suspended their activities. 13 thousand food enterprises, 45 thousand trade enterprises, 19 thousand service enterprises, 7 thousand transport enterprises were especially hard hit. As a result, the number of unemployed has grown significantly. The number of calls to employment centers increased to 150 thousand, which is three times more in comparison with January and February months of the current year. So now much more people require government social support because of the coronavirus pandemic. And this support was immediately provided, for which almost immediately the anti-crisis fund was created amounting 10 trillion sums.

During the quarantine period, the elderly without anyone looking after and individuals with disabilities are provided with basic 18 kinds of foodstuff and hygiene products free of charge. Parents placed in quarantine and persons caring for their child are paid temporary disability benefits in the amount of 100 percent of the average salary. From 1st April 2020, the number of benefit-receiving individuals, namely, families with children under the age of 14 years, individuals caring for a child up to the age of two years, increased by 10 percent. Thereby, coverage of low-income families has increased by more than 120 thousand.

The government has also strengthened social guarantees for workers. Wages were paid to 1040 employees of institutions funded from the budget and who suspended their activities. During the period of quarantine measures, with the consent of workers, employers were allowed to transfer their employees to the remote types of working such as working from home.

For the sake of provision of social support to the population, a number of fiscal measures were adopted. In order to keep prices of essential goods affordable, no customs duty and excise tax will be levied on the import of goods of this category by the end of this year. The provision of a tax return to individuals is extended until August 1, and the deadline for payment of property tax and land tax is extended until October 15. From April 1,2020 incomes of individuals received in the form of material benefits from charitable organizations are exempted from taxation. A procedure has been introduced according to which the amount of material assistance not subject to personal income tax paid to an employee increases from 4.22 to 7.5 times the minimum wage. At the same time, the terms of loan payments of the population and enterprises amounting to more than 24 trillion sums were extended.

In Uzbekistan, there is an existence of informal sector in the economy and labor migration. Part of population engaged in these sectors also found themselves in a very tough situation due to the COVID-19. However, it is very difficult for the government to provide direct support to them due to the lack of transparency in their income. Nevertheless, in the direction of supporting this group of individuals, which are essentially self-employed, the state is making significant efforts. Self-employed were allowed all types of entrepreneurial activities not prohibited by law, and a mechanism for their registration notification was introduced. Representatives of more than 60 self-employed professions are exempted from income tax.

In addition, another option was investigated to support those whom it is difficult to provide direct assistance. The state began to stimulate businesses to provide appropriate support to citizens, compensating for its costs in this direction through various benefits and preferences for taxes, leasing, loans, and access to necessary recourses that is by reducing budget revenues.

In general, for two months of quarantine more than 500 thousand business entities and over 8 million citizens received benefits and preferences amounting to almost 30 trillion sums. And according to Presidential Decree adopted on May 18, more than 500 thousand business entities and about 100 thousand people will receive additional assistance worth 1.7 trillion sums.

The social responsibility of the state also manifested itself in relation to citizens of Uzbekistan who work and find themselves abroad during quarantine. At the expense of the government, 39 thousand compatriots have already been returned to Uzbekistan. Measures are being taken to return another 12 000 who find themselves in a difficult situation abroad.

Extreme circumstances are usually a kind of test for the strength of both people and government. In this regard, the pandemic clearly confirmed Uzbekistan’s commitment to a strong social policy. Social support amid a reduction in state budget revenues due to the pandemic not only did not weaken, but, on the contrary, was significantly strengthened, and in relation to those categories of the population that were most affected by the pandemic.

On the principles of justice

It is noteworthy that since the beginning of independence, Uzbekistan has been pursuing a strong social policy, regardless of the ideological and political changes in the world over the past thirty years, and despite the pandemic.

Strong social policy means that state institutions carry out a certain redistribution of the social product in favor of the least protected and most vulnerable members of society. That is, our government fully meets the criteria of justice, built on a fair attitude of people in relation to other individuals.

At the same time, in Uzbekistan over all these years, unlike in many other countries, the need for a strong social policy has not been questioned. The utilitarian concept of justice, popular in the modern world, has never taken much public attention in our country. That is, it can be stated that Uzbekistan initially chose a model of state policy corresponding to the concept of fair justice. Why did it happen?

In Uzbekistan for thousands of years over which a traditional worldview has been formed that people should help each other, and the poor and weak, who are in difficult situations should receive support from those who can provide it, from neighbors, from society, from relatives. These principles of public morality have widely influenced the structure of social justice, which is based on the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.

Based on this, it can be concluded that in Uzbekistan the formation of social policy has been determined precisely by the worldview features of the nation, their ideas about justice. And that is why social priorities are especially popular.

The social policy pursued by Uzbekistan combines intuitive perceptions of the people about justice with Rawls ideas about the social justice of government institutions. This can be interpreted as the fact that a consensus reached in Uzbekistan between the government and society regarding this issue, that is, a real agreement regarding the principles of justice in the public consciousness of Uzbekistan, which Rawls insist on. And it is precisely the fact that state policy that is built on the basis of people’s beliefs is the key to its success and effectiveness.

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