Social Justice Fallacies

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I could have read this book via Portsmouth (NH) Public Library; they do a decent job of picking up books from all over the political map.

And I could have saved a few bucks by getting the Kindle version.

But instead I sprang for the hardcover, simply to put a few more shekels in Thomas Sowell's pocket. I like him that much. I still have the first Sowell book I bought, Knowledge & Decisions, purchased back in the early 1980s. (I'm too lazy to get out the tape measure to find out how much shelf space is being taken up by Sowell books. Trust me, it's a lot.)

It's a short book, 130 pages of main text. 58 pages of notes, 13 page index, and some blank pages at the end. Maybe that's unexpectedly short; the title certainly describes a vast subject range. But, as I type, Sowell is 93 years old, and I'll take what I can get.

And, truth be told, there's not a lot new here for Sowell fans; he's hitting the same themes he's played for decades, rearranged in terms of the common "fallacies" the social justice warriors employ in arguing for their schemes. A quick tour:

"Equal Chances" Fallacies: Sowell has long argued against the assumption that disparities in outcomes prove that invidious oppressive forces are at work. Not so.

Racial Fallacies: in a special case of the above, various explanations of differing statistical outcomes of different races are examined and found wanting. Sowell throws cold water on "genetic determinism", an explanation favored by "progressives" back in the day.

Chess Pieces Fallacies: Maybe it's not the best title, but it's inspired by Adam Smith's observation of the "man of system", who "seem to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board." Sowell comments:

Interior decorators arrage. Governments compel. This is not a subtle distinction.

Another Sowellian comment about one of the more popular proposals of "arranging" society:

There is no question that governments, or even local looters, can redistribute wealth to some extent.

Knowledge Fallacies: A deep Hayek-inspired dive into the "fatal conceit": that those "men of system" have all the information needed to direct social forces to their will; all they need is more power to do so. Sowell's bottom line:

Stupid people can create problems, but it often takes brilliant people to create a real catastrophe.
Words, Deeds, and Dangers: a summary of what Sowell has called the "unconstrained vision" of those crusaders for "cosmic justice" causing damage and ill-will instead. And, Sowell points out, those crusaders seem immune to pesky facts, and they bear no penalty when their well-intentioned schemes fail to work. Instead, they double down on their bad bets.

Bottom line: it's a fine, short, summary of Sowell's major lifetime themes.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 9:06 AM EST