King Rat (gkr) wrote,
King Rat

Eco 200: Cosmic Justice

Read, analyze, and comment on the following:

Thomas Sowell introduced his theory by saying that it encompasses three points:

  1. The impossible is not going to be achieved.
  2. It is a waste of precious resources to try to achieve it.
  3. The devastating costs and social dangers which go with these attempts to achieve the impossible should be taken into account.

In the second polemic (published by the Hoover Digest) he summarizes it:

  1. What can we do about them—and at what cost?
  2. What should we do collectively about them—and how much should we leave up to individuals themselves?

However much I might agree with his points, his attempt to support these points with these two distillations of his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice will convince no one except those who do not read carefully. Some will already be convinced, and his argument will dovetail nicely with their existing beliefs.

First, Sowell likes to construct straw men then tear them down, without offering much evidence that these scenarios are how proponents of social justice would suggest proceeding. His Marquis of Queensberry scenario is a prime example.

Second, these two polemics offer little evidence to back up his assertions, and what evidence is offered is anecdotal. For example, he states that mitigating sentences increases crime, while offering zero evidence to support this.

Third, for most of his arguments, he doesn't even offer the logic which supports his argument. For instance, he states that cosmic justice changes the meanings of the plainest words, but doesn't bother to fill in the logic by which he believes this.

And lastly, in a fit of apparent pique at character assassination, he resorts to character assassination against unknown proponents of cosmic justice, accusing them of lying and character assassination in their attempts to push their agenda.

I mostly agree with his summarization. His argument detracts from the summary. I hope there are better proponents though. The impossible will not be achieved. We should be attempting the possible. Using resources to achieve some form of social justice is not a waste, even if we never achieve the ultimate impossible goal of an "equal society." We can achieve a better society.

Even more, I agree with his assertion that we should take into account the costs and unintended effects of our policies. I have always been a proponent of the philosophy of pragmatism. Keep that which works and throw away the rest. If the costs are greater than the benefits, we should not adopt a policy, or at least should modify or discard the policy when the harm becomes apparent.

My own assessment of proponents of social justice is that the work done before enacting their policies is inadequate. Rather than look for efficient ways to achieve an end, the policies often mandate the end. A more efficient way of achieving the goals of affirmative action might have been to offer incentives for companies to recruit in disadvantaged neighborhoods, or to fund underperforming schools better than affluent schools. In anticipation of the argument that this isn't fair to the affluent, I rebut with the note that achieving fairness has already been discarded as a valid goal by Sowell's argument of traditional justice. In my pragmatic view, if the benefit outweighs the cost, we could implement the policy at least until we find a better method. Included in that assessment is a realistic look at all the costs.

Society should not rely exclusively on the market to be the only arbiter of policy. I do believe that over the (infinite) long term, the market will resolve most social justice issues and perhaps all. Nevertheless, it is in society's interest to push that along more quickly. Were we to rely exclusively on the market, abolition of slavery would have taken much longer. The cost of the civil war and to the social fabric of the country was great. But the moral cost of slavery was greater. Even now there are many opportunities to game the system, such as those exploited by Enron and others. The market corrected the behavior of the individuals involved, but at great cost to many.


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