Written by Daniel J. Samet |
Monday, November 13, 2023
Sowell makes it clear that the state should reject the social justice vision and its agenda. The natural end point, he states, is “having government empower surrogate decision-makers to rescue victims of various forms of mistreatment by taking many decisions out of other people’s hands” (82). Our ever-growing administrative state is full of people convinced that others cannot be trusted to do what is best for themselves. We’re left with policies putting the lie to the world envisioned by social justice advocates. Sowell points out “the painful reality . . . that no human being has either the vast range of consequential knowledge, or the overwhelming power, required to make the social justice ideal become a reality” (127).
Another year, another book by Thomas Sowell. It is astonishing that Sowell, 93 years young, scarcely appears to be slowing down. No public intellectual of his generation has been this prolific for this long, save perhaps Henry Kissinger. He’s a veritable national treasure.
Social Justice Fallacies is classic Sowell. There are no graphs or tables, nor even any cover art. The one and only attraction of the book is Sowell’s air-tight reasoning. It alone justifies the price tag.
Within its pages is his salvo in our culture war du jour. At a time when activists, scholars, and politicians trot out slogans like “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and “systemic bias,” Sowell has a biting retort. He argues that the social justice agenda they champion is mistaken. It is based on flawed premises and conclusions, inevitably leading to social policies that harm the people they’re supposed to help.
“You’re entitled to your own opinion,” reads the book’s epigraph, a quote from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” That’s one way to describe the essence of Sowell’s writing. He does not assert anything without evidence in its defense. If only peddlers of social justice pieties could do the same. To rebut Sowell’s arguments, they will need many facts: facts that do not seem to be in abundance, to put it mildly.
Take their view that there would be equal outcomes in a world of equal chances, which is the subject of the book’s first chapter. “At the heart of the social justice vision is the assumption that, because economic and other disparities among human beings greatly exceed any differences in their innate capacities, these disparities are evidence or proof of the effects of such human vices as exploitation and discrimination,” Sowell writes (2).
Do human vices explain why NHL players from Canada outnumber those from the United States, despite the fact that Canada has under 1/8th the population of the United States? Why Germans have for centuries been world leaders in beer production? Why Asian Americans have more PhDs in engineering than blacks and Hispanics combined? Why first-born and only children are more likely than other children to reach the highest rungs of the professional ladder as adults? Sowell shows that much else besides exploitation and discrimination accounts for inequality of outcome.
Advocates of social justice deploy flashy terms to justify their agenda, but not hard evidence. “We can read reams of social justice literature without encountering a single example of the proportional representation of different groups in endeavors open to competition— in any country in the world today, or at any time over thousands of years of recorded history,” observes Sowell (2–3). He, however, deploys many past and present examples of the reverse from places as varied as Italy, Malaysia, and South Africa.