A caste system can only be just if most people perceive themselves as having a fair chance to find their rightful place in the social order.
In our current system, someone very bright and capable may simply come from a poor neighborhood and easily fall in between the cracks. In many ways, “free” Western societies already have rigid arbitrary caste by birth but those in polite society and credulous schlubs who want to “get ahead” just make believe that it doesn’t exist and call the dividing rifts visible at once on any color-coded city map by any other name.
Westerners can play this game of make-believe simply because there are “soft” forms of enforcement rather than formalized prescriptions enshrined in law but the reality is the same.
I’ll begin with an example of one thing the present society gets right: Public libraries in every neighborhood. Anyone who’s curious has access to information. Book stacks are a bit out of date, but I notice most libraries are reducing their collections and making room for computers. This is a move in the right direction. It should be obvious in the 21st century that free public access to the internet is essential to any society at all that wants to consider itself fair.
And of course lending of e-books helps untie public libraries even from physical location and the limitations of space.
There are some things that would have to change with public libraries/internet access. Disruptive people just looking for someplace warm, with no interest in knowledge do not belong there and would have to be thrown out, though someone clearly engaged might be allowed to spend the night. An upside of a lack of equalism is there would be a clear sense the venue exists in service of its proper patrons. Public computers perhaps ought to be in cozy booths so people could browse with a comfortable sense of privacy for long periods of time.
The book collections would need to be reworked. As they are now, public libraries are loaded mostly with popular fiction and light self-help books. A correct sort of public library would have a clearer mission: to provide everyone the same opportunities to access valuable information. These public libraries would not exist first to cater to the popular taste, but to give a route upward to those of potential in every neighborhood.
This would mean an emphasis on skills and disciplines, critical thinking, history, and philosophy. I remember distinctly how in my life the public library would never even have a single book on computer programming. Perhaps libraries gave up having books that were valuable and therefore got stolen!
Also these kinds of valuable books remain closely guarded by monopolies and tend to be strategically overpriced for students.
Reviving a common institution in the ancient world, public baths in every town could contribute to social fairness.
Once I was an adult taking care of myself, it was obvious rent was the expense that dwarfed all others. I immediately thought of reasons why an apartment was necessary. The first that came to mind was being able to take showers. It’s impossible to find and keep a job to get money without personal hygiene. That stood out as one of the top ways people can be forced into paying rent. It occurred to me that there are truck stops and swimming pool and healthclub memberships but this is a very limited infrastructure for something that should be available to everyone.
Public baths would make it so even people living out of their cars could stay clean and provide a place where people from all the castes to socialize in a relaxed atmosphere and establish a sense of social unity. It would be a blow to the power of rent-seekers.
Another institution would be to set aside abundant public land in key locations for tent occupancy or even makeshift houses rented at a pittance. Also important would be free/cheap long term parking spaces for cars and RVs. Only people of good character and social standing would be granted permits to use these resources. These would not be allowed to become free zones of underclass misery. The main purpose would be to create a safety valve for decent people and an indirect price control on rents. I suppose wages would adjust to rents but that would be fine if it meant more of society’s effort went into productive activity. Most important I think, would be to establish the principle that being without money isn’t effectively a crime like it is now, at least for people with a basic level of conscientousness. For it to work, those who would trash the commons have to be shown their place.
A caste system is going to be most stable if the state makes an honest effort to sustain its people. Possibly guaranteed minimum income for people who are a decent risk for society to invest in. For lower class people who probably are stable where they’re at, perhaps guaranteed minimum food at least.
This society already has EBT cards but does it all wrong. Those who come to the state for food don’t decide what they get to eat, they take what they are given. It sends all the wrong messages when people with foodstamps can load their grocery carts with freezer food and snack cakes. There would be no wasting public money on luxury junk foods. In a smarter system they might get 50 lb. bags of rice, potatoes, or flour with some rations of fresh food and meat as decided on by the system. Whatever most cheaply keeps people healthy who are only going to produce a minimal return on investment.
Then there is the problem of those who are very likely to always be a net drain on society. Our current caste system imprisons a few million, the bottom 1% or so of defectors at enormous expense.
A fair caste system would strive to invest as little as possible in disruptive people and direct that wealth into good investments. Imagine if the money to care for a prisoner for a year was instead used to pay for education for a bright and promising young cooperator. It undermines the social order when an inmate lives a lifestyle that costs 50,000 dollars a year while many hard-working people on the outside live far more meagerly. For the masses to be content with lower to mid-caste, they have to feel they are granted a certain status and level of social investment just by virtue of being cooperators. It must be clear to everyone that even the smallest contributor lives in a category far above criminal defectors who drain society’s precious wealth.
I could imagine “reservations” instead of expensive prisons. The prison population is already a small country. They could really be given their own country. This would require substantial land, perhaps islands, but it would be a zone totally free of public investment and thereby prevent destructive people from becoming a perpetual drain on everyone else. Those who would destroy the public wealth would be set free to create wealth for themselves if they can and if their regions were nasty hellholes, it would be the natual justice after a fashion. In our existing system, city areas allowed to become ghettoes already informally serve a function kind of like this.
Of course, we could keep this more simple and do what many other nations do, encourage unwanted people to simply move to someone else’s country. Hapless egalitarian Western democracies, for example, serve as a worldwide dumping ground for other countries’ criminals and underclass when they could have just sat back and benefited from brain drain while keeping poor investments out.
Finally, in a crowded world with scarce resources there’s the simple fact that there is a time for the very simple solution of executions to make a clear and unequivocal statement to the masses that some behaviors will not be tolerated.
The problem with enlightenment social philosophy is that human social life isn’t just a game of high ideas. Human lives aren’t of unlimited value, most of us have to produce more than we consume or else we die. In real life, societies are like competing organisms in nature or like businesses in the marketplace. Groups that can capture wealth and then use it wisely are those that come out on top. Those that can’t get conquered or wiped out. So an effective society must embrace these realities. A fair caste system means life is very harsh, and possibly very short for those who try to destroy but on the flip side cooperators get to enjoy many nice things they can never have in a low-trust system that treats everyone the same.