Politics & Policy

The ‘Fairness’ Fraud

Differences in outcome aren’t always the result of “social barriers.”

It seems as if everywhere you turn these days there are studies claiming to show that America has lost its upward mobility for people born in the lower socioeconomic levels. But there is a sharp difference between upward mobility, defined as an opportunity to rise, and actually having risen.

That distinction is seldom even mentioned in most of the studies. It is as if everybody is chomping at the bit to get ahead and the ones who don’t rise have been stopped by “barriers” created by “society.”

When statistics show that sons of high-school dropouts don’t become doctors or scientists nearly as often as do the sons of Ph.D.s, that is taken as a sign that American society is not “fair.”

If equal probabilities of achieving some goal is your definition of fairness, then we should all get together — people of every race, color, creed, national origin, political ideology, and sexual preference — and stipulate that life has never been fair, anywhere or at any time in all the millennia of recorded history.

Then we can begin at last to talk sense.

I know that I never had an equal chance to become a great ballet dancer like Rudolf Nureyev. The thought of becoming a ballet dancer never once crossed my mind in all the years when I was growing up in Harlem. I suspect that the same thought never crossed the minds of most of the guys growing up on New York’s Lower East Side. Does that mean that there were unfair barriers keeping us from following in the footsteps of Nureyev?

A very distinguished scholar once mentioned at a social gathering that, as a young man, he was not thinking of going to college until someone else, who recognized his ability, urged him to do so.

Another very distinguished scholar told me that, although his parents were anti-Semitic, it was the fact that he went to a school with many Jewish children that got him interested in intellectual matters and led him into an academic career.

All groups, families, and cultures are not even trying to do the same things, so the fact that they do not all end up equally represented everywhere can hardly be automatically attributed to “barriers” created by “society.”

Barriers are external obstacles, as distinguished from internal values and aspirations — unless you are going to play the kind of word games that redefine achievements as “privileges” and treat an absence of evidence of discrimination as only proof of how diabolically clever and covert the discrimination is.

The front page of a local newspaper in northern California featured the headline, “The Promise Denied,” lamenting the underrepresentation of women in computer engineering. The continuation of this long article on an inside page had the headline, “Who is to blame for this?”

In other words, the fact that reality does not match the preconceptions of the intelligentsia shows that there is something wrong with reality, for which somebody must be blamed. Apparently their preconceptions cannot be wrong.

Women, like so many other groups, seem not to be dedicated to fulfilling the prevailing fetish among the intelligentsia that every demographic group should be equally represented in all sorts of places.

Women have their own agendas, and if these agendas do not usually include computer engineering, what is to be done? Draft women into engineering schools to satisfy the preconceptions of our self-anointed saviors? Or will a propaganda campaign be sufficient to satisfy those who think that they should be making other people’s choices for them? That kind of thinking is how we got Obamacare.

At least one of the recent celebrated statistical studies of social mobility leaves out Asian Americans. Immigrants from Asia are among a number of groups, including American-born Mormons, whose achievements totally undermine the notion that upward mobility can seldom be realized in America.

Those who preach this counterproductive message will probably never think that the envy, resentment, and hopelessness they preach, and the welfare state they promote, are among the factors keeping people down.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2014 Creators Syndicate Inc.

Thomas Sowell — Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author, whose books include Basic Economics. He is currently senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Most Popular

Film & TV

In Unsane, Aetna Meets Kafka

Unsane doesn’t take the form of a horror film; at first, it appears to be a Hitchcockian thriller about mistaken identity or perhaps getting ensnared in a web of bureaucracy. Yet with clinical detachment it develops into a nerve-flaying story almost too agonizing to endure. Unlike most horror movies, it isn’t ... Read More
Science & Tech

The Real Deal With the Tech Giants

A bit of dialogue from the old television series Person of Interest, where a reclusive billionaire programmer and a former CIA agent use a giant supercomputer to predict crimes and save people: FINCH: Hester's living off the grid. No photos online and nothing on the social networking sites. REESE: I've never ... Read More

Viva l’Italia?

Italy has just had elections, with very interesting results. I wanted to talk with Alberto Mingardi, which I have. He is one of the leading classical liberals in Italy -- the director general of the Bruno Leoni Institute, in Milan. (Mingardi himself is Milanese.) He is also an authority in arts and letters. In ... Read More

Putin and the Cult of Leadership

On Sunday, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won an unsurprising reelection-campaign victory against Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, by a margin of 76.7 percent to 11.8 percent. The results were unsurprising because Putin is a tyrant who murders or imprisons political rivals, and who isn’t afraid to use ... Read More

Trump and Brexit Derangement Syndrome

I am not one of those Brexiteers who believe that Brexit and Trumpism are essentially the same phenomenon in two different countries. To be sure, they both draw on some of the same political trends, notably a distrust of elites and an upsurge of popular anger over evident failures of public policy such as illegal ... Read More

Stand Up to Putin

President Putin’s landslide victory in Russia’s presidential election was achieved against the lackluster competition of a group of mediocre candidates from which the sole serious opponent had been excluded; amid plausible allegations that his security services had tried to poison two Russians in England by ... Read More

Nordic Welfare States Worsen the Gender Gap

Following International Women's Day 2018, a host of policies have been promoted as ways to advance women's careers. CNBC, for example, has run a story arguing that policies such as parental leave for both parents can raise women’s incomes. In the Huffington Post we can read that adopting the welfare policies of ... Read More