Paul Tuns, Review:
Social Justice Fallacies by Thomas Sowell, 224 pages, (Basic Books, $35, 224 pages)
Economist and writer Thomas Sowell’s latest book, Social Justice Fallacies, examines the incorrect assumption that different outcomes for visible minorities or women are prime facie evidence of unjust discrimination. Sowell says the notion that absent racism or sexism all groups would perform identically is fundamentally flawed. Over time, Sowell says, “different peoples evolved differently in very different settings around the world, developing different talents that created reciprocal inequalities of achievements in different endeavors.” The social justice movement – not a genuine Christian belief in social justice, but capital-letter Social Justice – peddles the narrative that all disparities are the result of discrimination and exploitation. A just society, these Social Justice Warriors argue, requires remedial action to redistribute resources to provide some measure of equality.
Sowell examines numerous fallacies that undergird the social-justice vision, the “many things that are thought to be true simply cannot stand up to documented facts, which are often the opposite of what is widely believed.” A primary example of fallacious thinking is the assertion that the breakdown of the black family in the United States is a legacy of slavery. Like many social justice assertions, this one is never “subjected to tests of either facts or logic.” Sowell notes that families were more intact during slavery and the 100 years after it ended than was becoming the norm in the 1960s and especially now, with a majority of black children being born to single-mothers. Slavery cannot explain the tearing apart of families, Sowell says, more than a century after the institution of slavery ended. Indeed, black America was making progress in narrowing economic gaps between blacks and whites for decades until the 1960s. Government policy (welfare) that made it feasible to have a household without a father was destructive to the fortunes of many American blacks when one considers that boys raised without fathers are much more susceptible to various social pathologies than those raised in two-parent, married families.
Sowell does not begin with the assumption that equal outcomes would be the norm absent discrimination. “The more other things there are, influencing outcomes, the lower the chances of all of those things being equal.” Sowell observes that geography, historical trends and circumstances, family life, government policy, genetics, and much else influence outcomes. The greatest social justice fallacy is not the factually wrong and logic-challenged arguments but the very assumption that equality is the natural state of being absent discrimination and oppression. The social-justice vision, argues Sowell, “starts off by reducing the search for causation to a search for blame. And for so much of what happens, there is no blame.” What the social justice vision imagines to be a problem is merely a condition, in no need of official fixing. Another fallacy is “converting” people in different income brackets into discrete social classes because doing so ignores the significant amount of turnover, especially at the highest income levels, that occurs.
Sowell makes the important point that gaps in outcomes between blacks and whites or men and women are often exceeded by gaps within groups. He provides many examples but a poignant one is this: six of the ten poorest counties in the U.S. are in eastern Kentucky where the population is 90 per cent white. Sowell points to historical research to show that hill-dwellers generally lag in progress compared to others.
Social justice vision is supported by catchwords rather than facts or logic, but they play on our emotions. Emotions are immune to facts and logic – and that is one of the advantages of the language of social justice, as it empowers an elite clerisy that will ameliorate the injustices through central planning. Sowell notes that the social justice agenda has not thus far achieved its nebulous goals, which, to the social justice warrior, is merely evidence for even more control over every aspect of our lives to help achieve some utopian vision of perfect equality. Sowell’s Social Justice Fallacies provides necessary intellectual reinforcements to counter the false but self-serving narratives of the controlling elite.