Author: Samuel Kronen

On Race and Inequality—A Reply to Nathan J. Robinson

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd has plunged us into a new era of institutional anti-racism. The prevailing narrative is that the country remains a fundamentally racist and white supremacist society that has yet to come to terms with its original sin and must be held accountable by eliminating all racial disparities of outcome. To this ongoing discussion, Nathan J. Robinson has contributed a long essay in his magazine Current Affairs restating the case for reparations on behalf of black Americans. What was once a fringe perspective has become increasingly mainstream in the wake of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s widely debated 2014 essay on the topic for the Atlantic. The reparations issue has become emblematic of the broader debate around race, encapsulating all of the moral and political dimensions that make it so complex and heavy. To what extent does racism continue to hold blacks back? Can an entire racial group, whites, be held responsible for the sins of the past? What does racial justice really look like, basic …

‘Systemic Racism’—An Unhelpful Concept

Is racism an individual or systemic problem? Traditionally, racism was broadly recognized as an interpersonal phenomenon: reflexive antipathy towards an identifiable “other,” supported by the negative cultural tropes and stereotypes used to inflame resentment and justify discrimination. This was the definition used by history’s most prominent anti-racist figures, from Frederick Douglass through W.E.B. Du Bois to James Baldwin, in their scathing critiques of slavery and Jim Crow. In this telling, racism is a disposition informing the beliefs and behavior of the people who operate society’s structures and institutions. It is a bottom-up process and ultimately exacts untold harms on both oppressor and oppressed. Yet this definition has undergone a phase transition in modern progressive discourse. Rather than an emergent psycho-social phenomenon, racism today is usually understood by theorists, analysts, and activists in structural and institutional terms that don’t require the prevalence of individual racist attitudes to explain recurrent disparities between racial groups. Bestselling author Ibram X Kendi is one of a number of contemporary writers who exemplifies this outlook: “‘Racist policy’ says exactly what the …

Cosmic Justice and the Expectation Gap

The quest for “cosmic justice”—a term coined by the economist Thomas Sowell in his book of the same name—describes the efforts to “mitigate the undeserved misfortunes arising from the cosmos” in pursuit of perfect equality between individuals and groups. While traditional forms of justice compel individuals to abide by the same set of social and economic processes despite natural differences between people, cosmic justice imagines society as an omniscient anthropomorphic entity responsible for resolving all inequities. But when expectation fails to meet reality, the purveyors of cosmic justice imagine something nefarious is afoot, and inveigh against whichever group their ideological priors persuade them is to blame. Although Sowell used this concept to critique the social justice Left, the quest for cosmic justice is part of a much broader phenomenon that cuts across the partisan divide: the weaponization of bitterness for personal and political gain. Americans are angrier at each other than at any time since Watergate. Republicans and Democrats harbor sharply negative attitudes towards their respective opponents that policy differences alone can’t explain, with nearly …

Arresting the White Backlash

Anyone who wants to explain what’s happening in the West needs to answer two simple questions. First, why are right-wing populists doing better than left-wing ones? Second, why did the migration crisis boost populist-right numbers sharply while the economic crisis had no overall effect? If we stick to data, the answer is crystal clear. Demography and culture, not economic and political developments, hold the key to understanding the populist moment. ~Eric Kaufmann The Overton Window that admits acceptable discourse on increasingly taboo subjects has been narrowing. Racism has concept crept to include moderate voices while the cultural Left, which privileges issues of identity over inequalities of class, now dominates a number of important and influential mainstream institutions, including academia, the media, and parts of the corporate world. The twentieth century shift from monoculturalism to multiculturalism is now often understood in quasi-religious terms, as if this development constitutes a unidirectional movement from darkness to enlightenment. However, the speed of this transition and the vertigo it can induce, especially among people with naturally conservative temperaments, has opened a …

Bitterness and Inequality—A Reply to Matt McManus

In a recent article for Quillette entitled “The Argument for Equality and Fairness,” Matt McManus attempts to rebut the charge that the Left is motivated more by a hatred for the rich than concern for the poor. McManus’s main argument, drawing on John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, is that while some on the Left may be motivated by an abiding resentment of the rich, sound arguments for policies designed to redress naturally occurring inequalities have merit independent of that antipathy. But McManus’s argument doesn’t answer—or even attempt to answer—the question of how can we tell the difference, or why a reasoned argument for redistribution is so frequently discarded in favor of a bitter hatred of the wealthy, successful, and fortunate. Justice vs Cosmic Justice It is interesting that McManus uses John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice as a launching pad for his argument about what the Left gets right, because it is the same example used by Thomas Sowell in his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice to make precisely the opposite argument. Equality …

In Defense of Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend

We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need…A negative income tax provides comprehensive reform which would do more efficiently and humanely what our present welfare system does so inefficiently and inhumanely. ~Milton Friedman I get emotional about facts. ~Andrew Yang Although we are still a long way from the 2020 presidential campaigns, whispers of who the Democratic candidates will be and what policy platforms will be adopted is steadily droning into an orchestra. We can already predict some of the names that are likely to appear on the ballot sheet and the talking points that will be heard on the campaign trail, and it would not be imprudent to suspect the upcoming election will be even uglier and more contentious than the last. While the overwhelming majority of political pundits seem to be pouring their energies into slamming the current president—criticizing old models …