Daniel Dorling, Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists

Daniel Dorling, Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists, second edition, Policy Press, 2015, xxi + 473 pp, pbk, 1 4473 2075 3, £9.99

This is essentially the same book as the 2010 edition. This is not to criticise. It needs to be the same book, because injustice persists, and in many ways is worse now than it was then. Injustice also has the same causes as it had then. After an introductory chapter, chapter 2 shows how injustice and inequality drive each other. The beliefs that sustain injustice create inequality, and old injustice also result in inequality; and inequality causes yet more injustices. Each of the following chapters tackles one of the five beliefs that Dorling believes drive injustice. These beliefs are: ‘elitism is efficient’; ‘exclusion is necessary’; ‘prejudice is natural’; ‘greed is good’; and ‘despair is inevitable’. Each chapter discusses flaws in the evidence offered for the believers, shows how the beliefs embed injustice, shows how opposition to the beliefs is growing, and describes how to reduce the injustice generated by the belief – which will generate yet more evidence that the belief is mistaken. The chapters sometimes offer grounds for hope: for instance, more widespread secondary education will slowly increase educational equality and will show that elitism was built on the fallacy that only a few people are capable of significant achievement. The final chapter declares there to be no single great conspiracy lying behind increasing injustice, and offers the hope that change is possible. Societies can and do change.

The book is packed with evidence and references – and one of the reasons that the second edition is longer than the first edition is that there is now more material from the USA (perhaps with the US market in mind).

The book does not define injustice, in the sense that it does not offer a short set of words to express what it means by the word ‘injustice’. Instead it shows what injustice is by describing many instances of it. It does not offer a coherent programme that would reduce injustice: instead, it scatters reasons for hope and detailed suggestions for change throughout the book. This is probably right. Change has to be specific, and injustice has to be tackled one injustice at a time. This updated edition of Dorling’s book will remind us – if we needed reminding – that injustice has not gone away, and that in many ways it is getting worse; that there are things that we can do about it; and that we need to do those things.

There was one criticism that I was going to make of this book – a criticism that applies equally to the previous edition – but then I found that Dorling had made the criticism himself: ‘I wish I could be more succinct and arrange my arguments better’ (p.376). The reason was that he found himself constantly changing what he believed: not about how wrong injustice is, but about the roots of injustice and about what might be done about it. He ought not to have worried too much. The somewhat chaotic nature of the writing is a function of the complex nature of our society and of its institutions, and of the difficulty of knowing precisely what to do in order to reduce the level of injustice: if indeed the idea that there might be some ‘level’ of injustice has any coherence in the midst of the many different examples of injustice that the author lists.

If you haven’t read the first edition of Danny Dorling’s Injustice, then read this new edition; and if you have read the first edition, then still read this edition. Injustice has not gone away, and all of us need to continue to do what we can to reduce it.