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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sowell on Inequality and Cosmic Justice

I read just the intro to Thomas Sowell's " The Quest For Cosmic Justice " .

Quoting Hayek:

The late Nobel Prize–winning economist and free-market champion Friedrich Hayek, for example, declared, "the manner in which the benefits and burdens are apportioned by the market mechanism would in many instances have to be regarded as very unjust if it were the result of a deliberate allocation to particular people."

Hayek basically said that people look at unequal wealth distribution as the result of some central plan rather than random events in the real world. Sowell talks about the unfairness of physical and mental capabilities and the seekers of cosmic justice attempt to even the playing field for them. One point I get is the alleged secularists have just replaced one God with another. Or maybe one devil with another (capitalism).

Sowell finds that cosmic justice is a faiy tale. He writes:

Cosmic justice is not simply a higher degree of traditional justice, it is a fundamentally different concept. Traditionally, justice or injustice is characteristic of a process. A defendant in a criminal case would be said to have received justice if the trial were conducted as it should be, under fair rules and with the judge and jury being impartial. After such a trial, it could be said that "justice was done"—regardless of whether the outcome was an acquittal or an execution. Conversely, if the trial were conducted in violation of the rules and with a judge or jury showing prejudice against the defendant, this would be considered an unfair or unjust trial—even if the prosecutor failed in the end to get enough jurors to vote to convict an innocent person. In short, traditional justice is about impartial processes rather than either results or prospects.

The final paragraphs of the introduction:

Much, if not most, of the concerns billed as "social justice" revolve around economic and social inequalities among groups. But the general principles involved are essentially the same as in other examples of pursuing cosmic justice. These principles have been proclaimed by politicians and by philosophers, from the soapbox to the seminar room and in the highest judicial chambers.

Nobody should be happy with cosmic injustices. The real questions are:

What can we do about them—and at what cost?

What should we do collectively about them—and how much should we leave up to individuals themselves?

The issue is not whether undeserved misfortunes shall be addressed. The issue is whether they will be addressed politically, rather than in the numerous other ways in which they have been, are being, and will be addressed, usually without the high costs, counterproductive results, and dangers to the whole fabric of society that the politicizing of such misfortunes has produced repeatedly in countries around the world....

Not only does cosmic justice differ from traditional justice, and conflict with it, more momentously cosmic justice is irreconcilable with personal freedom based on the rule of law. Traditional justice can be mass-produced by impersonal prospective rules governing the interactions of flesh-and-blood human beings, but cosmic justice must be hand-made by holders of power who impose their own decisions on how these flesh-and-blood individuals should be categorized into abstractions and how these abstractions should then be forcibly configured to fit the vision of the power-holders. Merely the power to select beneficiaries is an enormous power, for it is also the power to select victims—and to reduce both to the role of supplicants of those who hold this power.


At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sowell is so much the philosopher.
One of the great original American thinkers. thank you for highlighting his ruminations--recent and not so recent! He's timeless. Bill


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