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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Injustice, By Daniel Dorling (A Review)

Injustice : Why social inequality persists, Daniel Dorling
A Zambian Economist Review

Injustice: Why social inequality persistsDaniel Dorling’s Injustice aims to “redefine” our understanding of why injustice exists and how it is reinforced over time. The book is passionate and written as a rallying cry to the masses to agitate for greater redistribution of power and resources in society. The question of course is why the masses don’t do that already, but that brings us to Dorling’s central argument.

According to Dorling, although the developed world has become richer, people continue to live in an unjust world largely due to ignorance rather than conspiracy by the rich. At the heart of this new injustice is extreme social inequality, with the rich supported by a band of economists, continue to propagate social inequality through state machinery. They are able to get away with this because society at large continues to hold certain sets of beliefs that are aligned against positive social change. Over the ages these beliefs have taken many forms but in the modern era they have evolved into new five “modern evils” of elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair”. Crush these beliefs through books like his and we are on our way to a fairer and more just world.

The evidence presented is undoubtedly weighty. On every page statistic after statistic shows just how unequal society is, or more specifically the UK and USA. Through the unfolding pages we learn that a seventh of western children today are unfairly labelled as delinquents. We also discover that a sixth of households are excluded from social norms. As if that’s not enough there’s the shocking revelation that a fifth of people in the west find it difficult or very difficult to get by due to prejudice. Equally worrying is that in rich countries where there’s clearly enough for all, a quarter of people in these societies still do not possess the essentials. We also learn that despite the opulence and much talk of “western development” a third are now living in families where someone is suffering from mental ill health.

Such inequality of course matters and it is necessary to question whether it is “acceptable” let alone sustainable. Unfortunately, the question of how naturally sustainable is not explicitly discussed, and on “acceptability”, this is where Injustice is weakest. The book is missing is a clear analytical framework that properly anchors “social inequality” to “injustice”. The author takes it for granted that where deep social inequality exists there must be injustice. This is a poor foundation for social change, especially in a field where much of the literature already demonstrates that justice does not necessarily imply equality. There are many outcomes which involves unequal outcomes in terms of distribution that are morally considered just outcomes. The absence of “injustice” (justice) must consider other aspects e.g. exogenous rights, rewards and compensation. The author simply has not demonstrated sufficiently that those who view his form of injustices as irrelevant based on other notions of justice are wrong. Injustice does not sufficiently engage with alternative ideas or even contrasting evidence.

Equally worrying is that even accepting the central argument, there remains the vital question of how one begins to bring about meaningful equality, and indeed whether it is sustainable. Injustice’s answer is that we need to educate the masses on the evils of injustice through small steps of millions. There are also suggestions that we should live more in villages and other strange notions, which largely represent hopeless answers to people in need of hope.

One is left to conclude that though Injustice paints a an informative picture of the level of social inequality in the developed world, the lack of a coherent framework and insufficient balance in critique means it does not offer anything new beyond interesting statistics.

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