Thomas Sowell

Most of us want to be fair, in the sense of treating everyone equally. We want laws to be applied the same to everyone. We want educational, economic or other criteria for rewards to be the same as well. But this concept of fairness is not only different from prevailing ideas of fairness among many of the intelligentsia, it contradicts their idea of fairness.

People like philosopher John Rawls call treating everyone alike merely "formal" fairness. Professor Rawls advocated "a conception of justice that nullifies the accidents of natural endowment and the contingencies of social circumstances." He called for a society which "arranges" end-results, rather than simply treating everyone the same and letting the chips fall where they may.

This more hands-on concept of fairness gives third parties a much bigger role to play. But whether any human being has ever had the omniscience to determine and undo the many differences among people born into different families and cultures-- with different priorities, attitudes and behavior-- is a very big question. And to concentrate the vast amount of power needed to carry out that sweeping agenda is a dangerous gamble, whose actual consequences have too often been written on the pages of history in blood.

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There is no question that the accident of birth is a huge factor in the fate of people. What is a very serious question is how much anyone can do about that without creating other, and often worse, problems. Providing free public education, scholarships to colleges and other opportunities for achievement are fine as far as they go, but there should be no illusion that they can undo all the differences in priorities, attitudes and efforts among different individuals and groups.

Trying to change whole cultures and subcultures in which different individuals are raised would be a staggering task. But the ideology of multiculturalism, which pronounces all cultures to be equally valid, puts that task off limits. This paints people into whatever corner the accident of birth has put them.

Under these severe constraints, all that is left is to blame others when the outcomes are different for different individuals and groups. Apparently those who are lagging are to continue to think and act as they have in the past-- and yet somehow have better outcomes in the future. And, if they don't get the same outcomes as others, then according to this way of seeing the world, it is society's fault!


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate