Reexamining the Social Justice Imperative

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Reexamining the Social Justice Imperative

Perhaps no concept divides progressive and conservative activists more than “social justice.”  Both progressives and conservative say they want a society that is “just.”  But the two sides have come to define that term in radically different ways. 

For the most part, progressives believe government adds value by regulating and facilitating human activity.  Most conservatives believe that government should simply provide a context that provides opportunities for people to make the most of their talents with minimal costs and controls.

When considered in the contexts of environmentalism, immigration, and identity politics, the battle for the American Dream can be boiled down to achieving justice as the two sides define it.

Because so much is at stake, a “battle” metaphor is wholly appropriate for describing the struggle for supremacy between the two worldviews.  That’s why so many progressive activists refer to themselves as “social justice warriors.”  And, for the most-part, these social justice warriors seem motivated by good intentions just like their opponents.  But, as every objective analyst knows, “good intentions do not necessarily produce good results.” 

In fact, as demographer Joel Kotkin observes, “quantifiable evidence indicates that the policies preferred by progressive idealists often demonstrably hinder the economic and social progress of the very people they seek to rescue.”  They do this in many ways. 

For example, emphasizing subsidies and “preferences based on race” typically undermines aggregate economic growth because scarce resources are allocated in ways that ensure suboptimal results.  And this comes as no surprise to most Americans.  In fact, a recent poll shows that most poor people, of every race, believe that “economic growth would be more effective than entitlement spending in reducing poverty.”

Meanwhile, opposition to charter schools and school vouchers may please progressives’ allies in the teachers’ unions.  But it removes two proven ways to achieve better results for poor and minority students. 

Similarly, lowering entrance standards is one way to allow some of these students to emerge from under-performing public schools and enter elite colleges.  But the evidence is that such students, on average, do poorly in these environments, often dropping out.  And, even if they stay, they are all too often segregated into departments, like ethnic or women’s studies, devoted to social justice indoctrinations.  Such degrees seldom prepare their recipients for economic success...

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