Social Justice for Business Ethics

Social Justice, Libraries, and Postmodernism

SUNY Oswego describes itself as a “social justice institution.” In doing so, it follows the lead of much more prestigious Ivy League institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Because the phrase is endorsed by an elite, it is hard to imagine that “social justice” is a completely nonsensical idea. However, justice, like truth, does not come in different flavors. No adjectives can legitimately be put in front of the word “justice.” Justice is fairness as reciprocity. Anti-social criminals who break the law and harm other people deserve punishment. Pro-social people who sacrifice their time and wealth helping other people deserve praise. People who merely virtue signal are engaging in cheap thrills and deserve skepticism. Liberals have a conception of themselves as good, compassionate and kind. They have compassion for the less well-off, who suffer, while conservative people, they think, have no compassion. The idea that conservatives have a different idea about what is good for all people does not occur to them. In fact, modern liberals claim that any opposition to their views and their agenda is not just wrong-headed, but evil. They are the unique repositories of goodness and wisdom. Debate is pointless because they already have all the answers, even though these answers keep changing. Their opponents are “fascists,” though that word is left undefined. It apparently now means “someone who disagrees with me,” even though what I said last month or last 1year I no longer agree with too. A few years ago, famous liberals, e.g. Barack Obama, opposed gay marriage. Now, they are for it. It would be interesting to know how many people who use the “F” word could even explain what national socialism was all about. If they can, can they explain what that has to do with the people who disagree with them?

Some liberals declare that all the books in our libraries are morally antiquated and should be rejected. They have not read those books. They do not even know the many languages in which those books were written. The people who make this claim are not philosophers and have no background in either logic nor moral theorizing. In this regard, their arrogance is astounding. In effect they are saying, “Anything I do not know is not worth knowing. I neither know nor care what far smarter people than I have had to say on the topic of ethics. Libraries give me access to thousands of years of thought, but I am so wise, so all-knowing, that I neither need nor want to consult them.” The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, to name but one book, was the equivalent of a “best seller” for over a millennium. It is thoughtful, poetic, and profound. Some books become briefly fashionable but disappear again because their contents turn out to be ephemeral and shallow. Not every great book survives, but the ones that do have been judged by hundreds of generations to have something significant to offer. It would be odd if this latest generation were smarter and more moral than all the rest. They are descended from these people after all. People made moral mistakes in the past. They continue to make moral mistakes now. They will make moral mistakes in the future. That is not sufficient to reject everything written by our forebears; though some such books are the source of ideas popular among social justice advocates like Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality which really should be forgotten. 2We cannot study the future. The only way of learning is to study the past in order to prepare for the future. If we are so ignorant of the past, we will repeat its mistakes and ignore its warnings. Dostoevsky warned in The Possessed written in the 19th century that the atheistic political ideologies popular at the time would leave 100 million dead. He was right. The fact that our past was far from morally perfect does not mean all the writers were responsible for that. Perhaps they made it significantly less bad than if they had not existed.

If the idea is that we judge our past and all the books written by the current state of society then there has not been this level of interracial animosity in the US for many decades. Why would things be getting so much worse? That would indicate that there is something wrong with the books being written right now. SUNY has abolished courses in Western civilization system wide, so those old books cannot be to blame. As one administrator put it: “Western civilization is over.”

The situation concerning the nonsensical “social justice” can be compared with the introduction of post-modernism to American universities, particularly in the 1980s. It was another instance of non-philosophers appropriating a philosophical topic and getting confused.  Postmodernism was invented by French philosophers like Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault. It held that literally everything was a “text,” including the physical world, and that this text is susceptible to interpretation with no definitive truths of any kind. It was not possible to compare an interpretation with reality because “reality” is just another text. All interpretations are equally valid. This was obviously false because self-contradictory. The postmodernist claims to know the truth – namely, that there is no truth. If it is not true that there is no truth, then we are free to reject postmodernism and in fact must reject it. And, if there is a truth about the lack of truth, then the postmodernist is wrong about the non-existence of truth.

Anglophone philosophy departments were not taken in by postmodernism for a minute, with very few exceptions. But, English departments, home to people not trained in philosophy of any kind, were frequently hoodwinked and took to the new philosophy with alacrity. Postmodernism made it possible to write gibberish, while seeming to be profound, because it was so hard to understand, and nobody could really criticize what was written because nobody knew what its writers were saying. Nonscientists have frequently envied physics, because physics at its upper reaches is so difficult and hard to understand that it could only be conceived by the highly intelligent, whereas almost any old person could read an English essay. Postmodernism changed all that and made an English essay just as nonsensical to the average person as advanced astrophysics. The difference was that postmodernism was literal nonsense. Alan Sokal3 wrote a computer program that generated this nonsense at the click of a button, submitted it to a journal, that then published what he “wrote.” The journal editors and reviewers were unable to distinguish Sokal’s intentional gibberish from any other article published in the journal. The website “Post Modern Generator: Communications from Elsewhere” generates a new essay following his program every time it is accessed.

Here is a paragraph chosen at random: “Art is intrinsically a legal fiction,” says Foucault. In a sense, in Platoon, Stone affirms Foucaultist power relations; in Natural Born Killers he deconstructs the subtextual paradigm of reality. If dialectic precultural theory holds, we have to choose between Foucaultist power relations and conceptualist discourse.”

“Social” justice is an idea that has infected American colleges and universities in a similar manner to postmodernism and it has been embraced by non-philosophers who have no idea what they are talking about. Neither are they committed to truth and scholarship. Instead, they are frequently self-described “activists.” While there are no experts in ethics per se, there are experts in thinking and writing about ethics who are familiar with the history of thinking about ethics, the smartest people from the last several thousand years and from multiple cultures, who can identify the various issues that typically arise in ethical inquiry. Only philosophers have this expertise. Scientists, including social scientists, have nothing to say about ethics. It is simply not part of their discipline or training. As soon as they write about ethics or make ethical pronouncements they have stepped outside their training and are attempting to be philosophers.

Are Liberals Just Nicer?

As a teenager, I had a friend who was an obvious misanthrope. He hated everyone. Being smarter than most people, he had contempt for other people’s relative stupidity. So, it caught me by surprise when he voiced support for communism which is advertised as being aimed at the general well-being of most people. Communism takes Christian charity, something that is good because voluntary, and removes any goodness by making the redistribution of wealth compulsory, complete with an evil dictator, a massive faceless oppressive bureaucracy, laws preventing people from leaving the country, and a secret police to terrorize people, imprison, torture and kill them. Making it illegal to leave a country is a giveaway that your country is horrible. Anything done under compulsion removes agency and thus moral responsibility, good or bad. If you confiscate my retirement fund and redistribute it, I can take no credit for my “generosity.” Because communism does not reward people who are smart and work hard, most people lose any incentive to put much effort into their jobs. The Marxist slogan is “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” This would happen to you too if you found that working twelve hours paid the same as working for eight. If truck drivers make about the same money as surgeons, why spend a decade getting a medical degree?

According to Verhulst et al[1] this friend was not at all unusual. In fact, Verhulst et al. found that being liberal is predicted by being low in agreeableness, low in altruism, low in empathy, i.e., being selfish, low in compassion, and low in conscientiousness which are all antisocial characteristics. The Big Five personality traits are agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, extroversion, and openness. They can 4be reduced to just two: prosocial and antisocial. Like IQ, there are no absolute standards; they are just relative to other people. Agreeableness is prosocial and means caring a lot about what other people are thinking and feeling. Conscientiousness means rule-following, following social norms and doing things which are socially approved. Those with liberal sympathies tend to be low in impulse control and rule following, high in neuroticism, mental instability, feeling negative feelings strongly like jealousy and anger, with the feeling that the world is an awful place, scary, unfair, and wrong, and having low self-esteem. It is typical of someone who is liberal that he tries to gain self-esteem and social status by claiming to be morally superior. He asserts that he is left wing to achieve this purpose. Actual elites do not need to virtue signal to get power, since they already have it. The working class are typically not so insecure and do not aspire to social climb and make no claims about being superior to others, other than, perhaps being proud of having practical skills. The middle class tends to claim to be superior to the working class and the upper class, saying that they are more educated and more moral. They are in fact, typically, better educated, but not more moral.

In Each is to count for one and none more than the other: Predictors of support for economic redistribution Chien-An Lin and Timothy C. Bates studied 251 people.

They found that the most prominent feature of those who want economic redistribution is malicious envy, not a compassion for the poor. This is quite commonly asserted; namely, that people hate the rich more than they want to help the poor. And they hate the rich precisely because they would like to be rich but are not. Around 2011, there was the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. The protestors complained about the 1%. What did they want? They wanted to take the power and money from the 1% and give it to themselves. This means they actually loved and admired the 1% to the extent that they wanted to become just like them. The thing that was stopping them from achieving this was the existence of the 1%. In this Girardian situation, the very thing you imitate and want to resemble becomes the same thing stopping you from getting what you want. The 1% are both model and obstacle. Likewise, the reason you cannot be LeBron James is that he himself is already occupying that position. This generates hate and resentment precisely because you love and admire someone or some group to the extent that you want to be them but cannot.

Malicious Envy 0.26

The biggest predictor of wanting economic redistribution is being an angry person motivated by spite, who is envious of those who have more than you do. Therefore, they signal they want economic redistribution. This is selfish. They want what others have. It is connected to neuroticism; feeling the negative feelings of malice, anger, and envy. They are jealous of other people. The neurotic feel negative feelings strongly; more strongly than positive emotions like joy. Those filled with malicious envy want what other people earn to be taken away so they can individually feel of higher status compared to other people.

Instrumental Harm 0.21

This is the second highest predictor of wanting economic redistribution. Being in favor of instrumental harm, means being happy for some people to be hurt; to experience pain and suffering for a greater good – and on their view, the greater good is an economic redistribution. It means to be in favor of scapegoating. This is not compassionate. This is the attitude that Stalin had when he ensured that farmers in the Ukraine around 1930 starved to death in a famine that Stalin exacerbated. He killed millions of people for the greater good. The focus on equality leads them to say that it is so unfair that anyone has more than them – which is malicious envy. Utilitarianism, as the corrupt moral theory that it is, actively promotes instrumental harm.

Self-Interest 0. 19

Low agreeableness is equated with not being very nice people. It is to eschew cooperativeness and concern for others’ thoughts and feelings. Left wing policies and signaling left wing policies allow you to get what you want. You convince yourself that you are left wing because it is in your economic interests to do that. Jobs in academia, the government, Hollywood, and now many corporations require you to at least appear to be left wing. Academic applications often ask candidates to demonstrate their commitment to social justice. The left wing are high in Machiavellianism (scheming and backstabbing) and narcissism. They are power hungry because they are neurotic and find the world to be scary place. By gaining power, they can hope to make the world less threatening-seeming to them. Being narcissists, they think they deserve high status. This is made worse by so many people going to college but not majoring in subjects that make them employable. When they fail to get a high status job, this makes them extra resentful and to feel unfairly treated. Where is my high-paying job and high social and economic status?

Communal Fairness 0.15

Communal fairness indicates a childlike, neurotic, mind – ‘It’s so unfair.”

Compassion 0.04% – not statistically significant

Liberals are not motivated by compassion at to any large extent at all. They simply signal that they are compassionate. Being narcissists, they want people to think they are great and fantastic. Being Machiavellian, they realize that signaling you are compassionate helps you reach the top of the hierarchy.

Legalized Corruption is Evil

Liberals are suspicious and jealous of people wealthier than them. There are in fact legitimate reasons for worrying about the existence of multi-billionaires not cited by liberals. Today, we have business elites with scary amounts of money. They are scary because America has legalized corruption, namely, the “lobbying” of politicians. The term comes from England where Members of Parliament were supposed to make themselves available to answer questions in the lobby of Parliament. In England, however, if members of the electorate tried to bribe Parliamentarians with money, then they would be arrested for corruption and the same if the MP accepted that bribe. In the US, it has been decided that money is “free speech.” This convenient piece of nonsense means that rich people can buy off politicians. Thus, Members of Congress and Senators, instead of acting in the interests of their states and electorates, act in the interests of those who bribe them the most. That is not democracy. In communism, the situation is possibly even worse. Communist party members have all the power and the money while the general standard of living is always significantly lower than under free market conditions because no one has the knowledge to create a well-functioning “planned economy.” Under capitalism, investors and businessmen take financial risks and suffer when 90% of businesses fail. Under communism, the tax payer suffers that risk. And then when businesses should fail, they are propped up by the state so economic natural selection cannot do its job and get rid of shoddy products and services in the marketplace. There is no incentive for a restaurant, for instance, to offer anything better than third-rate cafeteria food. There is no reward for providing good food.

The good news is that countries that have large numbers of millionaires and billionaires are also the richest. This suggests that the rich do not get rich at the expense of the poor. Sowell comments that “since the United States contains several times as many billionaires as any other country, ordinary Americans would be among the most poverty-stricken people in the world if the wealth of the wealthy derives from the poverty of the poor. Conversely, billionaires are much rarer in the most poverty-stricken parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa.”[2]

Communism has been the economic system most devoted to redistributing wealth and minimizing economic inequalities, but it tends to simply lower the standard of living markedly, create shortages and increase misery. Certainly, the victims of Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol pot, who number over fifty million paid a high price for the supposed worker’s paradise.

5After World War Two, Germany was divided into the communist East and democratic and free market West Germany. As such, it provided a fascinating experiment. Two different economic and political systems were applied to the same ethnic groups with the same cultural and historical backgrounds. The communist East ended up with a much lower standard of living, a much worse economy in general, many more restrictions on what could be done or said, a police state, and suffered surveillance by their fellow citizens causing them to live in a state of fear. They were also not allowed to leave – and leave is what many of them wished to do.

The standard of living and quality of life in West Germany was far higher even for the relatively poor. Far more people, for instance, had cars. In the East, people wanting cars were put on a waiting list and waited between eleven and fifteen years for a substandard, nasty, polluting Trabant, while the party leaders under communism lived in absolute luxury with special privileges for them and their families, attracting to themselves justified resentment.

After all that, Walter Scheidel provides empirical evidence in The Great Leveler that inequality is unaffected by the election of right-wing or left-wing governments. This communist experiment was all for nought.

At the very least, Sowell points out that attempts to achieve economic power concentrate political power in the hands of the few who decide who gets what based on political considerations. Political inequality is increased with no net benefit to the masses.

Conservatives: a different emphasis

Conservatives typically think that focusing on individual responsibility is likely to be the most productive thing to do. Telling people that they are victims of a racist system that they are powerless to change, since black people cannot control the thoughts of white people, implies that there is no point in getting an education and making an effort since the system is stacked against you.  Given this supposed state of affairs, it is thought to be moral and justified to simply rip away the wealth of the more successful and give it to other people. This will be a shortsighted strategy because you are ruining the most productive members of society. Once they are gone, we can expect to sink into relative economic collapse. It is a one-time thing only. Certain Latin American countries have undertaken related policies where they will “nationalize” the assets of major international oil companies. This theft will temporarily improve the balance sheets for the nation, but mean that people will stop wanting to invest in such countries because they cannot be sure at all that they will get their money back, nor will companies be inclined to trade with an unreliable trading partner who is prepared to break the law and steal on a massive scale. Most importantly, a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for success in anything, including education and employment, is trying to succeed. A defeatist ethos of “there is no point in even trying” will be intensely counterproductive for anyone, regardless of race or sex.

The Hypocrisy of the Liberal Elite

The left wing elite – and “liberalism” in the American sense, is in fact correlated with being higher IQ and having more education – take a strangely schizophrenic attitude with regard to their “social justice.” They work like a dog to make sure their children have every privilege it is possible to give them. In NYC, elite parents try to enroll children yet to be born into special pre-schools. There are waiting lists to get in and they are expensive. If successful, the next step is to get into the special elementary schools, high schools, 6and then, of course, into the Ivy League. The high schools might cost $70,000 a year. Imagine having four children in school at once. The eventual goal is to get their children the right “branding” (like a cow), e.g., “Stanford,” as Victor Davis Hanson puts it, that demonstrates their elite standing, and then get a job in a management position doing very little for obscenely large amounts of money.

These elites are complete hypocrites. They say they see hard drug use as an understandable response to disappointment, such as an actual case of a high school kid who had an athletic scholarship, got injured, and then took up hard drugs. When that person is asked what he would do if that were his son, the answer was that he would take him off to drug rehabilitation whether he wanted to go or not. Suddenly, they are in favor of tough love when their own family member is involved. The elites will tell you that the family is an outmoded institution, while themselves getting married, having children exclusively in wedlock, and promoting the interests of their family in every way within their power. They will live in the most expensive zip codes, relatively free of crime, and within a gated community if necessary. They will do this while promoting lax prosecution of criminals, reduced prison sentences, and pushing to defund the police, while not having to live with the consequences of these “luxury beliefs.” Luxury beliefs exist when someone has no skin in the game.

Banning IQ Tests Backfired Producing More Unfairness

The most efficient method of hiring prospective employees is using an IQ test. It is the best predictor of employee success. It is not perfect, but it is better than any other method. Job interviews are not reliable at all, sitting around 0.1 for predictive value. IQ is more like 0.4. In 1971 in Griggs vs Duke Power Co. (Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971), the Supreme Court outlawed the use of generic intelligence tests for employment because they thought it would disadvantage black Americans. The court described the tests as “arbitrary” and required that tests be tailored to specific job requirements. The problem is that the latter tests are relatively worthless with almost no predictive value except insofar as they are actually implicitly testing “G,” general factor of intelligence. One advantage of IQ tests is that there is no need for $70,000 a year private high schools, education having little effect on IQ beyond a certain point, so IQ tests are far fairer and more democratic. Because of the Pareto distribution discussed below, only a small number of employees do the most work and those are the high IQ ones. (It is necessary, but not sufficient, to be unusually bright to be unusually productive.) Once IQ tests were banned, employers, who are in competition with other businesses, must still compete to find and retain the best employees, but now they are fighting with one hand tied behind their back and blindfolded. They know that elite institutions like Harvard are highly selective, so employers focus all their attention on those bastions of the rich and privileged as a proxy (substitute) for IQ tests. Members of minorities who attend Harvard, Princeton, and Yale typically come from ultra-privileged backgrounds with parents who are wealthy professionals in jobs like law and medicine. They are typically not in need of any extra assistance whatsoever. Academic achievement has a moderately good correlation with general factor of intelligence (which goes down as degrees go up) and employers know this. Once students get to graduate school, most students are already fairly bright, and thus personality factors like conscientiousness become more important as a factor differentiating someone from other students. So, the attempt to make employment more egalitarian by the Supreme Court actually made it much less fair and forced employers to look to the Ivy Leagues. This is an example of a left-wing policy having exactly the opposite effect than intended. It made money, and conniving, striving parents much more important to success. In fact, there is evidence that no matter what the system, those with high social status in one system will become high status in the next; while the low status remain what they were. A study of Hungary during communism and then during capitalism found no social mobility of any kind other than the very very top layer of a tiny number of people. Party officials versus leaders of industry. Today, white women elite populate the ranks of college administration and of human resource departments all working for “diversity and inclusion” while not being remotely diverse themselves.

The New Zealand education system up until 1989 was much fairer than the American. Like England, all universities were public. Education was free for anyone who could pass the difficult exams to get in. Students even got a small stipend to live on and government subsidized employment over the summer. If you were a late bloomer, when you were 21 you could enroll in university courses. If you could pass your first year, you were admitted and even got the stipend. Standards were high, admissions were low. Many, perhaps most, students had parents who also had high educational attainment and socioeconomic status (SES). That is because IQ is positively associated with socioeconomic status and IQ is 0.8 inheritable. Being smart is also correlated with being interested in ideas and reading books. There is not much point in higher education if you are simply uninterested in concepts and learning. A fair system does not stop the social elites from reproducing themselves. So, that cannot be the goal. Better to base the system on talent and hard work than scheming and money wasted on expensive schools.

The Fiction of the Blank Slate

Part of what is going on with the social justice proponent is the notion of the “blank slate.” This is the idea that there is no underlying genetic capacity that differs from person to person but that, in principle, we could all be Albert Einstein if we played our cards right. I would argue that any normal person knows that is not true. Each of us knows that our intellectual capacity is much more limited than such a genius. We have no such illusions about sporting ability. The Green level in Spiral Dynamics emphasizes that all men are created equal. In the 1960s, equality of opportunity was the goal. Coming from a family who values education, who can introduce you to the right people, and who force you to strive, will mean that even if genetic capacity were the same, family background would make a big difference. High intelligence is correlated with improved impulse control which will help achievement. All attempts to improve native IQ have essentially failed. Head Start programs can make a difference for a while, but after two or three years of elementary school any advantage gained has been lost. The other children catch up. Once children reach the age of ten, IQ remains essentially stable for the rest of your life. Recently, a podcast commentator mentioned that Denmark keeps trying new interventions to increase social mobility and not to simply replicate the situation of the children of high SES people doing the best. Every intervention, upon review, has failed.

We know that intelligence is 0.8 inheritable thanks to adoption and twin studies. With adoptions, the IQ of the biological parents can be compared with the adopted child’s. And with the twin studies, scientists can look at people with exactly the same genetics in different familial environments and see what happens.

Social Justice Aims at Cosmic Justice: Neither Exist

7Social class, home environment, genetics and other factors all contribute to differences between individuals. People differ in looks, height, income, social status, morality, various kinds of intelligence and athleticism, musical ability, industriousness, discipline, and nearly every other human characteristic. Differences in culture, history, and geography generate differences between groups. Being born into a culture that emphasizes hard work, education, conscientiousness, and thrift is a tremendous advantage. “Social justice” advocates describe the resulting disparate achievements as “inequalities” with the suggestion that these represent an injustice. Unequal achievement is treated as though it must be the result of discrimination, “privilege” or some other unfairness, while it is in fact the inevitable consequence of differences between individuals and groups. These differences will exist no matter how a society is organized. Thomas Sowell points out that even an individual is not even equal to himself at different times in his life. A middle-aged person will, hopefully, be far more knowledgeable, capable, experienced, and wealthier than the teenaged version of himself. Very few people stay in the bottom 10% or top 10% of earners for very long. At some point an individual will probably hit his peak earning abilities, and upon retirement, his income will drop significantly.

So, there are inevitable differences that are the result of history, culture, individual abilities, and geography too can play a role. New Zealanders are overrepresented among the world’s top sailors partly because New Zealand is surrounded by water. Things like India’s caste system are actually unjust because the caste system is something one group of people do to other groups of people. On the other hand, having lots of fast-twitch muscles will help make someone a fast runner. This is neither just nor unjust. There is no such thing as “cosmic” justice. There is no answer to the question “Why am I not prettier than I am?”

An egocentric child, without prompting, can perceive that receiving a small ice cream while his brother gets a large one is unfair and unjust.[3] However, he is also likely to think that the fact that his older brother has fewer restrictions on what he can do than he does is unfair. Both cases generate resentment. However, only one is justified.

In the second case, being older and thus a little wiser, the older brother does not need as much supervision. He is more capable, self-sufficient and responsible, and therefore has more privileges. These privileges might seem unfair and unjust in some “cosmic” sense, but it is in fact perfectly reasonable.[4] His parents are not being unjust at all. It is merely that age and experience are on the side of the older brother. To harbor resentment at the parents is unreasonable, unfair and unjust. They are blameless. To resent the brother is also ridiculous. There will always be an older sibling as long as siblings exist. The protest is misguided.

Part of the maturation process is learning to distinguish between events that are due to favoritism, or some other inequity and occurrences that are the result of relevant differences between people. To feel resentful towards someone merely because he is better in some way, such as in looks, status, wealth, or popularity, is in some sense natural. It is also puerile and undeserved. It is a sin in the literal sense of missing the mark. Certainly, the envied person is not at fault simply for being superior. The defect is in the heart of the malicious resentful one.

By failing to distinguish between deserved resentment and inappropriate hatred towards someone or some group simply for being superior in some way, “social justice” returns people to an infantile inability to differentiate between resentment based on actual unjust treatment, and resentment that is generated simply by the desire to have or be what someone else has or is.

If the universe itself can be considered unjust in some way, due to the unequal distribution of admirable characteristics, it is not the fault or responsibility of people and it is not in people’s power to fix. It is certainly not the fault of “society,” which the phrase “social justice” implies. Justice and fairness appropriately considered enter the picture only with regard to human institutions and rules.

To reject inequalities is to rebel against reality itself. All people bar two are superior to some and inferior to others in any conceivable characteristic. To reject that fact is to renounce the character of existing at all.

Resentment and Saying “No” to Reality

One response to existence and Being is to reject it; to decide that it is better never to have lived and then, having lived, to end it as soon as possible. Mass shooters act out the intention not just to end their own lives, but to kill as many as they can in a rejection of Life itself.[5] Social justice advocates are engaged in a similar kind of nihilism. Scapegoating and killing the “kulaks”[6] in the manner of Stalin has no logical end. Since differences of achievement are unavoidable, the logic of social justice is the complete destruction of the human race. By encouraging undeserved resentment against individuals and whole sectors of society, “social justice” activists ramp up intergroup hatreds that promote internecine conflict and if unchecked, will lead to more horrible violence than simply one individual picking up a gun. Once the scapegoated group is murdered, differing levels of success within the persecuting group remain and the process will continue.

Resentment is not something to be cultivated and nourished. The social justice advocate, in order to garner support in a democracy for his cause, must actually foster resentment in himself and others. If the aim is to reduce resentment, then the social justice advocate is the problem not the solution.

Sowell points out the unstoppable nature of resentment. Each person can potentially find one reason or another to resent another. A rich sibling might resent the happy marriage of another; a beautiful person might resent an intelligent one; an intellectual the satisfactions of manual employment with its tangible results; a wealthy person the job satisfaction of someone who actually enjoys his job; a successful person might envy parents who do not have a handicapped child, the stay at home parent envies going to work, the worker, staying at home. Eliminating all differences of wealth would not eliminate resentment.

It is possible even to envy those who feel less resentful. Resentment is a painful affliction and to feel less of it is desirable. In a related fashion, on a meditation retreat it is possible to envy the apparent equanimity of fellow meditators and wish to possess their state of mind and self-control.

Any talent, natural or cultivated, can arouse admiration and thus resentment. The solution is not to ban talents. Any circumstance might appear enviable in some other circumstance. Do we ban circumstances?

Inculcating a feeling of gratitude might be more productive than dwelling on such differences. In other instances, envy can be used productively as an inspiration to copy the behavior of the envied person and try to learn from them.

With regard to resenting the success of companies, it is no skin off anyone’s nose if Apple makes an obscene profit. It is not as though the money Apple earns would otherwise find its way into the pockets of the average American citizen. Admittedly, there is something annoying about their high prices and their cash mountain with which they purportedly do not know what to do. But if their customers like their products and are willing to pay their prices, it is not up to anyone else to second guess the transactions involved.

Asian Americans

Asian Americans are the most successful group in America. They outperform all others in educational and occupational attainment. They are in no position to discriminate against anyone, being a small minority, and neither are they the beneficiaries of racial preferential treatment; quite the reverse. Harvard University, for instance, has admitted openly that it discriminates against them. This means that an expectation that each identifiable social group will find itself represented in the workplace or educational institutions at the proportion to be found in the general population as a whole is erroneous. Differences of result are not evidence of a nefarious, evil conspiracy. Certainly, no one has ever provided evidence of an Asian plot or even imagines one to exist. Their achievements are connected both to a strong work ethic and to having an average IQ of 106.

Jews are the next most successful group. So why are non-Jewish white males singled out for hatred as being “privileged?” Whites still make up around 60% of the US population so their numbers in general are likely to be higher than other groups, and being in the majority makes the “oppressor” narrative seem at least possible. However, historically, affirmative action, or “positive discrimination,” around the world has actually been directed against high-achieving minorities e.g., Japanese Canadians were regarded as “too” successful and laws were put in place to try to limit their success. Czechs resented German achievement in the Czech Republic.

The Pareto Rule – Big Inequalities of Achievement Are the Norm

If person A is 80% as good as person B, it might be expected that he get 20% fewer rewards, but in reality, he is more likely to get none at all. The prettiest girl in the class might get 50% of the social invitations, the second prettiest only 20% though she is merely 10% less attractive.

Reality tends towards winner takes all scenarios. The best house painter is inundated with job requests. The only slightly worse might get none. The silver medalist does not get fewer cornflakes box covers than the gold medalist. She gets zero. The Biblical quotation “For he who has much, much will be given. For he who has little, even that will be taken away”[7] captures the phenomenon.

Nassim Taleb comments that what was once known as the 80/20 Pareto rule is now more like the 99/1 rule. For instance, 1% of internet sites account for 99% of traffic, while fewer than 1% of authors account for 99% of book sales.[8]

In some cases, modern technology exacerbates this tendency. When only live music existed each place would need its own musicians. People would hire the best available local musicians who competed with each other on a small scale. With the advent of recorded music, people can listen to the very best musicians in the world according to genre. Why listen to the second best orchestra if it is possible to listen to the best? Do people want to listen to Bob Dylan wannabes or Bob Dylan? Inferior musical acts are likely not to get just fewer sales than the superior, but none or a tiny trickle. The Rolling Stones play to giant sports arenas. Someone nearly as good might play to perhaps twenty people.

A tiny proportion of musicians are responsible for the huge majority of popular music sales. Just four classical composers, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, wrote nearly all the classical music played by modern orchestras, and then only a tiny fraction of the music they composed is played.[9]

Extreme inequality of achievement is to be found in any area requiring creativity, including among scientists.

At the workplace, a minority of people at a job are likely to end up doing most of the work. For instance, one person’s analytical skills and writing ability will be superior to everyone else’s. This provides an incentive to keep directing work his way. Everyone competes for the attention of the person who is the best editor with the best command of English. Few will choose to forego success on the job because they feel sorry for the relatively incompetent. Embarrassing mistakes do not bode well for a career.

The winner takes all dynamic applies over a wide range of phenomena. A small number of cities have nearly all the people and tend to keep growing, such as London, Mexico City or Auckland. A small minority of celestial entities have most of the matter.[10] 90% of communication involves just 500 words,[11]50% of the population accounts for just 3% of healthcare costs, while the sickest 10% are responsible for 64%.[12] Out of 200 baseball players in 1931, 6.5% of players (13) accounted for 50% of all home runs.[13]

One estimate is that high achievers at a work place will be a square root of the total number. If there are nine employees, three will do most of the work. If they are 10,000, then 100 will be the most productive.

Differences in achievement by sex and ethnic groups

Black players make up 70% of the NFL despite black males being just 6.5% of the population. Similarly, blacks are the majority of NBA players, 74%, and are routinely the top stars. The best Olympic sprinters and marathon runners are usually black. These are gross differences of achievement with social and genetic causes.

The idea that racial disparities are inherently a problem does not seem to apply when blacks outperform whites. Likewise, when it comes to the sexes, areas where women far outnumber men or do better are ignored. Sometimes the mathematics simply does not work. 75% of psychology majors are women; not a problem. 33.7% of philosophy majors are women;[14] a problem. Since women are only 50.5% of the population, there are not enough of them to equal men in every field and also to be a large majority in other disciplines (Education, social work, nursing, art history, English, biology, etc.). However, to rectify this situation, numerically women would have to stop choosing psychology and other majors where they dominate simply to produce numbers more pleasing to those obsessed with “equality.” This would mean restricting freedom and choice to the detriment of women. This kind of social engineering pressure can be seen when stay-at-home mothers are frowned upon by their feminist peers.

Who gets to be a student?

High socioeconomic achievement used to be connected to college attendance. Being interested in abstractions; ideas, concepts, and theories is a sign of being smarter in itself. This connection was not because something magical happens at college, but that being high IQ and going to college used to be associated, and high performance at work is correlated with intelligence. This correlation was confused with causation and people were told that attending college would lead to higher paying jobs, but, as larger percentages of people go to university, the average IQ of students is now only 107 – just a bit above average. Many will therefore be disappointed at the return on investment. Plus, the more people get a degree, the less value that degree has in differentiating you from the rest of the job applicants. Attendance at elite institutions, however, continues to be valuable. Harvard has not raised the number of freshman admissions despite a massive increase in the number of Americans since they started.

Having a high IQ and being conscientious equates well with academic performance. Both intelligence and personality factors are largely inherited. These advantages are neither fair nor unfair. They are just luck. There is no meaningful way to “fix” this. You could send lower IQ less conscientious students to college instead but then a student who is less able, less literate, less motivated, less interested, with a smaller vocabulary, having read fewer books would take the other’s place. This is a poor use of resources and creates its own unfairness. The other problem is that social justice attempts a kind of unknowable counterfactual – one of putting someone where they would have been had not social, familial and genetic factors counted against him. Sowell points out that social justice requires non-existent God-like abilities to determine what that might have been.

Affordable Housing, Rent Controls, Price Controls for Food

Affordable housing initiatives, 90% of which are in California, Massachusetts and New Jersey, “increase the cost of housing and limit the supply of new affordable units.”[15] One method involves forcing developers to make a certain percentage of their new units “affordable.” This means selling them at below market rates. This eliminates any incentive to build such dwellings. If the developers go ahead and produce them, in order to stay in business, they will need to charge more for the other houses – thus pricing them above market rates. But who would want to pay higher prices than available for the rest of the market? Pricing the affordable units artificially low mimics the effects of lower demand and pricing regular units at inflated prices will really produce lower demand, thus hurting the entire housing market, reducing the supply of houses overall, increasing demand again, and thus raising average house prices, which will hurt the poorer most of all.

8Rent controls have the same effect. They reduce the incentive to make new rental properties available, and they decrease the incentive to do maintenance. If a landlord does put a new rental property on the market, since he cannot charge the market rate for a good property, he will be driven in the direction of making an instant slum – substandard housing for substandard rents.

Price controls for food lead to food shortages as the incentive and reward for food production is reduced. Food shortages will either mean higher prices or the least powerful will go hungry.

How to Increase Achievement

In order to mimic the success of another person or another group it is necessary to mimic their behavior.

One of my sisters complained when a Chinese New Zealander outclassed the other children at a local school’s talent contest. The child was just ten years old, but his father was a music teacher, and his mother sat beside him for three hours a day supervising his piano practice. The kid was fantastic. It is morally unjust of my sister to resent this child. This is a clear instance of unjust resentment combining love and hate. She would like her child to be the successful one. The answer is clear. Either grow up and shut up, or do what the other mother did to get her child to be so good.

Historically, the two countries that completely turned their economic fortunes around have been Scotland and Japan. In the 18th century, Scotland made a point of learning English, and imitating the English educational system. By the nineteenth century, Scotland had the most advanced ship-building industry on the planet, excellent engineers, and very high standards in medicine.

There is a trade-off for success. Sacrifices must be made. And one of the sacrifices is to become, for instance, a little less Scottish, and quite a bit more like the English. If it is insisted that Scottish culture remain unchanged, then the level of achievement will also remain unchanged.

Japan made a similar explicit decision to imitate successful Western countries. They had been committed, for instance, to Samurai sword culture. When Japan encountered Western ships and weapons, they realized that if they wanted to avoid being completely overrun and outgunned, they would need to modernize in the direction of the West. At one point, Japan imported so many Scottish engineers that there were a very high number of Presbyterian churches in Japan. The Japanese adopted much of the culture and habits of Westerners, including how they dressed.

Again, in order to compete with the West and to become successful, Japan had to give up some of their unique Japanese habits and cultural behaviors. Japan has almost no natural resources at all, but through hard work and good cultural habits, they are the third largest economy on the planet despite having a population of just 126 million.

The pathological response to being outcompeted is to scapegoat the successful groups and actively discriminate against them, such as Japanese Canadians, Asian Americans (top universities), Germans in the Czech Republic, etc. By doing this, you eliminate the top achievers and thus lower economic productivity from which everyone benefits.

[1] Verhulst, B., Hatemi, P. & Martin, N. (2016). Corrigendum to ‘The nature of the relationship between personality traits and political attitudes’ [Personal. Individ. Differ. 49 (2010): 306–316]. Personality and Individual Differences, 99: 378-379.
Verhulst, B., Hatemi, P. & Martin, N. (2010). The nature of the relationship between personality traits and political attitudes. Personality and Individual Differences, 49: 306-316.

[2] Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies, Ch. 5 “Income Facts and Fallacies.”

[3] Notice this is still egocentric. The brother with the larger ice cream is unlikely to complain on the other child’s behalf, just as the capuchin monkey getting the grapes continues on obliviously.

[4] Thomas Sowell equates social justice with what he calls “cosmic justice” in his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice upon which major portions of this discussion are based.

[5] Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p. 147.

[6] Kulaks were comparatively affluent Russian peasants. Characterized as leeches, they were exterminated by the millions. Killing anyone productive enough to be able to afford to hire other workers is economically ill-advised.

[7] Matthew 13:12.

[8] Taleb, Antifragile, p. 305.

[9] Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p. 8.

[10] Ibid, p. 9

[11] Ibid, p. 9.

[12] Taleb, Antifragile, p. 306.

[13] Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 179. Sowell could have picked any time period but used this date in the context of rebutting someone else’s claim.

[14] http://dailynous.com/2017/12/09/women-majoring-philosophy-schwitzgebel/

[15] Paul Kupiec and Edward Pinto, “The High Cost of ‘Affordable Housing’ Mandates, Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, 2/13/2018, p. A17.

3 thoughts on “Social Justice for Business Ethics

  1. I have a very minor correction here. Southern Scotland (the Lowlands) became English-speaking at the same time as northern England as both were settled by the Angles. It was the Highlands and “the Islands” that were settled by Scots (from northern Ireland).

  2. The new era of Woke Capitalism makes me pine Good Old Fashioned days of Real American Capitalism when Steve Jobs (son of a Syrian immigrant BTW) was going around screwing over everyone Apple made deals with, stealing other peoples ideas, selling overpriced products to hipsters, etc.

    Why can’t we go back to the 90s? As a child growing up, I basically remember everything being perfect back then. No smartphones, Nintendo 64, great action movies, Pizza Hut, LGBT not mainstreamed, racial tensions at the lowest levels on records, recognition of America as a nominally Christian country.

    Ah, the good old days.

    • If you read “War Before Civilization” you’ll see that the rot had well and truly set in by the 1990s. But, we probably need to go back to pre-Enlightenment or possibly the Renaissance to avoid the current disaster.

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