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RS 170 - Will Wilkinson on "Social justice and political philosophy"

Release date: October 16th, 2016

Will Wilkinson

How did "social justice" come to mean what it does today? This episode features a chat with Will Wilkinson, a writer, political philosopher, and vice president of policy for the Niskanen Institute. Will and Julia discuss the libertarian reaction to social justice, whether or not social justice is a zero-sum game, and how the Internet exacerbates conflicts over social justice.

Will's Pick: "Dune" by Frank Herbert

Podcast edited by Brent Silk



Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (20)

Is a homeless older white guy afraid of losing his status? This is a very basic error of logic. The fact that most high status people have been white men, does not mean that most white men have had high status. I'm sure if I were to make the claim that because the president of the United States is black, this means black people have high status, you would call me out on that immediately.
The fact that most social justice warriors are white and middle class, and most Trump supporteres are working class should make it obvious that the idea that Trump supporters are afraid of losing status is wrong. They are by and large people who are already disenfranchised and are afriad of losing what little they have.
October 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlienzen
Alienzen -- These claims are statistical, not absolute. We can say that, on average, white men have had more status than non-[white men], without claiming that ALL white men have higher status than ALL non-[white men].

Same as claiming that on average, men are taller than women -- you'll still be able to find plenty of individual women who are taller than some individual men.
October 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Galef
"[Trump supporters] are by and large people who are already disenfranchised and are afriad of losing what little they have."

Is this really true?

"The Mythology Of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support: His voters are better off economically compared with most Americans."

"A massive new study debunks a widespread theory for Donald Trump’s success"
October 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCole

If we are talking about politicians, then I think that's about 0.1% of the population. Let's say 90% of politicians are men, that would seem like a huge imbalance. But it still means 99.9% of men are not politicians. This is why the height analogy is a bad one. You are talking about a bell curve. High status people are a tiny percentage of the populatoin. Most men are and always have been, factory workers, soldiers, small business owners etc. It would be like saying 90% of Supermodels are women, therefore....whatever conclusion you want to draw from that.


Considering the median income of voters in primaries regardless of the candidate is higher than the national median, that would suggest that primary voters are not representative of voters as a whole. There are a lot of factors that make interpreting the figures difficult, most of which are mentioned in the Washington Post artcile, so I don't need to repeat them.
I think it's a trend in all countries, not just the US, that the poorly educated and lower income sections of society are the most racist and xenophobic. I think the point still stands, these are not high status people afraid of losing their status.
October 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlienzen
Just don't call it justice. Leftists hijacked the word like they hijacked "liberal." These days social justice is at odds with justice justice. Like, justice justice and the Department of Justice would say that Michael Brown violently robbed a store and assaulted a police officer who shot him in self defense. But SOCIAL justice says that regardless of the evidence, the unarmed black guy must've been the innocent victim executed by the racist white cop, and until the cop is strung up there's no social justice.
Justice justice would say "equal pay for equal work," but social justice says "equal pay, period." At the second presidential debate, Hillary Clinton attacked Donald Trump for saying women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men, so "equal pay for equal work" is misogyny now, and women deserve equal pay even if they do a worse job than men.
Justice justice opposes discrimination on the basis or race or ethnicity, but social justice supports discrimination against Asian and Jewish minorities in favor of blacks and Hispanics.
October 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMax

The poorly educated and lower income sections of society can still lose status, especially when there are other sections of society with even lower status (blacks). Sure, they are afraid of losing what little they have, including status. The point is that this fear and resentment is directed towards others who are actually doing even worse. Replace "high" with "higher", if you wish, the main point is the same.


I don't know of any other liberals looking for equality, period. Equal pay for equal work is literally one of the basic concepts behind gender discrimination, for example. The problem is that certain groups consistently receive lower pay for equal work, or worse treatment for the same crime. If you think blacks are being treated equally for equal crimes, you aren't aware of the situation. There are plenty of video examples now of blacks being shot for no crime at all under the most ridiculous circumstances, all they are asking for is to be afforded the same rights and courtesies under the same conditions.

Your "social justice" examples are strawmen.
October 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commentera stray cat
A Stray Cat - I think an accurate way of putting it would be: People at the bottom of society look to other groups they can position below themselves.
I think it's best to use words that are clear in their meaning, rather than potentially misleading words like "status".

For your information, a black woman will likely receive a substantially shorter sentence for the same crime compared to a white man.
Google "The sentencing gap".
October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlienzen
Strawmen, huh? Is Hillary Clinton a strawman for mocking the notion that women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men? Or for standing with the "Mothers of the Movement" who try to make martyrs out of thugs like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, even when the Justice Department didn't find civil rights violations in the cases. Are Black Lives Matter protesters strawmen for continuing to chant "Hands up don't shoot" even though neither Brown nor any other poster child of theirs kept his hands up? They'd be strawmen if they weren't real.
There are plenty of examples of whites being shot under the most ridiculous circumstances, and a black researcher found that cops are more likely to shoot whites than blacks under similar circumstances:
Or how about the Princeton study that found that in college applications, blacks and Hispanics effectively get a bonus 230 and 185 SAT points while Asians are penalized by 50 points. There's your social justice.
October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMax
The worst hostility and resentment in society stems from envy of those above rather than contempt of those below. That's what caused the worst genocides of the last century: the Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, Dekulakization. The upper classes have a good reason to fear losing status and being rounded up and executed.
October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Will's claims have no empirical support (1) People do not live better in capitalism. The countries where, on average, most people are better off, are the Scandinavians, mixed systems in which welfare comes from socialist laws and not from market economy, the hard core of capitalism, (2) we are not "rich" thanks to capitalism, but to industrial development, which occurred not only in capitalism. (3) unregulated markets do not promote cooperation but monopoly. (4) the principle of equality under the law is empty if it is not accompanied by economic rights.
I may disagree with some guest, Julia, but enjoy your program and, in general, all your work in favor of rationality.
October 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRoxana Kreimer
I completely support the arguments made by @Max and @Alienzen. Guest Will Wilkinson completely mischaracterizes the antipathy that anti-SJWs have for "social justice". Social Justice as a movement is not about economic equality, but about tying the communist concepts of economic classes to the protected classes in the civil rights, e.g. race, gender, national origin, etc. However much SJWs may try to tie these elements, the tying is inexact and often flagrantly incorrect. If you want to create a redistributive system, you do it based on economic classes themselves, without tying, and we already have this in most Western countries; it is called welfare. Welfare is completely color-blind and only cares about wealth. Many anti-SJWs also oppose this economic redistribution; I do not.

Since the SJWs actually care about racial categories moreso than the underlying economic argument, they have promoted all kinds of blatantly racist arguments. The most obvious one was when SJWs supported Blacks who wanted to eject Whites from a "safe space" on university campus since the Blacks felt "victimized" by the mere presence of Whites, even when those Whites were ideologically aligned with them. This is sickening and so racist that the KKK even sided with the SJWs. It is this level of bigotry based on seeing the world through race-based lenses which forms the basis of the opposition to SJWs. We oppose the SJWs BECAUSE we believe in the equality of all people before the law and OPPOSE racism, which is rampant in the SJW movement.
October 24, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteroremfrien
It seems that Will has stepped away from libertarianism far enough that we can welcome him into the ranks of social democrats. He says "it's just a positively good idea to have some kind of social minimum that ensures that everybody in a given society is definitely benefiting from the institutions that create rising prosperity. It's a good idea on grounds of ... it just seems fair that everybody in a rich society should get enough. That's kind of a static way of thinking. The dynamic way of thinking is that in order to sustain these institutions that create enormous wealth ... you need buy in. And the systems that are the best systems ... are a sort of liberal democracy, and in democratic systems you're depending on a popular buy in to keep the institutions going."

Isn't that more akin to social democracy than libertarianism? It seems a long ways from the Randian foundation he started from.
October 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTim Smith
So you're saying he's a RINO: Randian in Name Only.
October 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Although I don't fully agree with everything said in this particular episode, there was enough there to provoke me to stop and reconsider my position on Social Justice (and in particular SJW's)
Ultimately, I think this is the goal of this podcast, to get people to stop and think. To evaluate what you hold to be true today, and possibly alter that for how you view the world tomorrow.
I'm actually recommending this particular episode to many people to listen to today in the aftermath of the election upset in the US.
We all need to calm down for a minute and think about things from a fresh perspective, and maybe change our worldview just a bit now and then.
November 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTed
Historically speaking, the person that first called himself a libertarian was a socialist. The majority of libertarian thinkers that have lived and died were socialists or communists. Libertarianism as a right wing current opposed to both socialism and western traditional state capitlism is a recent export from the usa where it was very marginal until recently, and some other english speaking countries such as australia and canada.That libertarian was often an economically left wing position was common knowlede at one point internationally. It is annoying to hear these terms bandied about without qualification. Futher the left generally and social justice proponents today in the usa shouldn't be taken to be the same.
December 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTidak ada

Is someone afraid of losing his "status"?
Here the "status" doesn't have to be high status, the way you define it, as in the guy belonging to the top 20% of the society. When social scientists or journalists argue that many white people are afraid of losing their "status", that status simply means the white privilege, the status you have just for the sake of being white. There are certain biases white people do not have to face just because of being white. There are tons of research on this, you can just google "research on white privilege".
I wanted clarify this although I don't believe most trump voters voted him because they were Africa's of losing their status. Rather, I think many voted because they were fade up with the establishment, their incomes didn't increase for years. Many in fact lost their jobs, etc.

Also, your "homeless older white guy" is also max 1% of the population.


Your comment made me feel like we live in different realities. If you are getting your news from a single source like Fox News, time to diversify your information sources! & Yes, most news channels are NOT fake news.

Now to your points, police are biased against black people,- this is not just a claim, it has been shown in research again & again. There have been shooting of black man live on camera where it was clear that he didn't harm or threaten the police officer anyway. There are countless examples, there is decades of history of police bias against Black people. No wonder why BLM or black people are so skeptical about police activities.


The gender pay gap is real. There's no doubt in that, tons of research again. Now, the caveat you present,along with Trump is misleading. Are you arguing that women don't do equal work in most places? What's your evidence on that claim? Just because of their gender, women in same positions don't do same work? That's misogyny. There have been plenty of research on how women work in same positions as men, they still get paid less (example- university professors, sports players, business CEOs). Women also represent less of people who work in higher positions. The professions where women work more also have power median salaries. All these are not because women are worse qualified, or women work less, or they work in easier positions. But because, for years of patriarchy, our system has evolved to value women less than men.
August 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTheCommonMan

"There are tons of research on this"

Show me. Telling me too google something for you is very lazy, and doesn't reflect well on you. You are responsible for providing sources for you own claims, not me.

"Also, your "homeless older white guy" is also max 1% of the population."

CEOS are about 0.1% of the US population.

Politicians likewise

Accoriding to your logic, I can dismiss all complaints about men being disproportionally represented amongst those groups, yes?

As for the homelessness statistics themselves, about 0.5% of the US population will experience homelessness IN A GIVEN YEAR.

This means that the number of people who will experience homelessness in their lifetime is much higher, obviously.

"Now to your points, police are biased against black people,- this is not just a claim, it has been shown in research again & again"

Please do not cite research without showing evidence.

"There have been shooting of black man live on camera where it was clear that he didn't harm or threaten the police officer anyway. There are countless examples, there is decades of history of police bias against Black people. No wonder why BLM or black people are so skeptical about police activities. "

70% of police shootings are white men. Videos of white men getting shot are less likely to go viral than those of black men getting shot. Black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be shot than white men PER CAPITA. However, when you take into account the fact that black men are much more likely to have encounters with the police, they are actually less likely to be shot in any given confronation.

This link provides all breakdowns by demographics, along with photos and information about each individual shooting

I recommend you do a comparison of the statistics by gender, and compare white men to black women. You might want to ask yourself why police are(much much) more likely to shoot white men. And also why whites are shot more often than asians. Perhaps use this new information to reevaluate your position.
August 6, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteralienzen
"Liberalism" used to mean a belief in the Fundamental Freedoms of Humanity, but now just means Marxist Socialism. Justice originally meant a belief in the Right to Life, Liberty, and Property for all people. "Social Justice" now refers to some type of anti-male, anti-white racial identity politics that also seeks to establish Marxist Socialism. Women's rights and suffrage makes sense, but "Feminism" actually started as a way to promote Utopian Socialism and now seeks to establish Marxist Socialism as well. Environmental quality and safety make sense, but "Environmentalism" also now seeks to establish Marxist Socialism. Universal Suffrage and Civil Rights make sense, but "Multiculturalism" seeks to establish Marxist Socialism. Feminism may focus its attack on men, Environmentalism may attack industry, and Multiculturalism may attack whites, but all three of these ultimately want to attack classical liberalism and free market capitalism. Since Marxist Socialism and Communism have failed so abysmally, the promoters of these these types of philosophy/political theory/economic theory have sought to perpetually rebrand their unattractive theories and market them as something else.

Socialism differs from Welfare. Socialism occurs when the government controls the means of production, either through ownership of the production, over regulation of the production, or financing (taxing and subsidizing) the production. Socialism always fails and leads to massive widespread poverty. Welfare simply refers to redistribution of a modicum of the gross economic product of society in order to benefit the poor. Extreme conservatives and libertarians reject all welfare, but actually welfare has many beneficial effects. In the future, with massive increases in automation, our society will need a Universal Basic Income (UBI), and this will benefit both the economy and society as a whole. This is one reason Neoclassical Liberalism makes more sense than Conservatism or Libertarianism.
December 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
Wow so much Political, Social, Economic Ideology (alienzen, Jameson, Max of course..) in the comment section on a 'Rationality' podcast?? I feel like I have to apologize to the team of this Wonderful podcast for having to put up with such Irrational discourse. Ideologues will never be able to fully participate in critical thought, Rational analysis as long as they continue to let certain Ideologies influence, control and guide how they see and interact with the World. This my friends is the antithesis of what it means to be a person who practices Rational thinking(Rationalist). So as long as we continue on this course with Ideological rants, Rationality will remain in the back burner for the sake of trying to defend what we "feel" is right to us and not what actually, logically, Rationally is.

So these Labels we love to make up and throw around like "Social Justice Warrior" are all just a figment of our own Ideological leanings. They don't really mean anything in an objective, absolute sense but are there only to propagate and endorse what we "feel" and what "should" be right to us in how the World works(Ideology). A true Rational view of the World is free from any type of Ideology and puts the critical, veracious, analytic understanding of Reality above anything else.
July 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto

Please do realize that rational analysis does indeed lead to conclusions. Those conclusions, when taken together, often form an ideology. This RSPC episode, like every RSPC, made me think about several issues, and inclined me to change my views about various political and economic ideas.

However, could someone really properly define having an ideology as PER SE irrational? Do rational people need some type of lexicon to discuss their particular approach to analyzing issues, thus an ideology? Furthermore, do rational people need some type of lexicon for describing the ideologies of other people?
August 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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