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On Fairness…

Those on the right say that it isn’t fair that the 1% who work the hardest, who are the most talented, and who are the “engine of the economy” are taxed for their efforts. For the sake of argument I’m not going to contest the merits of these claims of superiority, even if I am dubious that the 1% work harder that say they people who clean their offices.

I agree, at some instinctually level it seems to be unfair to tax someone who works harder and is an “innovator” or “job creator”. Granted when one takes a few minutes to think, some obvious holes with that thesis arise, but let’s just leave it at that for the moment: It’s unfair.

Let’s talk about some other things that are “unfair” though.

It’s unfair to be born to poor parents who don’t feed you enough. It’s unfair to be born in a home where there’s no intellectual environment to enrich you to help compete academically. It’s unfair to be born with a low (or lower than those who succeed’s) IQ. It’s unfair to be born with natural physical or mental handicaps. It’s unfair when your parents don’t buy you a car when you’re 16. It’s unfair when your parents can’t afford to send you to the best school, or any school for that matter. It’s unfair to be taught by your parents to be meek, when the successful parents teach their kids to believe in themselves. It’s unfair not to have help paying for your wedding. It’s unfair to not have your parents help you with a down payment for your first house. It’s unfair when you have no place to land should you fail. It’s unfair when your parents can’t hand you your first job. It’s unfair when your parents don’t have any good contacts so you can network your way to success.

I’ll stop there, but I could easily go on. The obvious answer by those on the right (or left for that matter) is, “Life is unfair“.

True, but you know what’s also unfair? When people take things at gunpoint. Or should I put it another way – it’s unfair when people come with their pitchforks and take everything from you.

You see if we’re going to talk about “fairness, we also have to talk about they myriad of “unfair” ways people level out inequality. It can be theft, fraud, gunpoint, coup – frankly the count of remedies are endless and all equally unfair and immoral.

The point is if we internalize unfairness in the design of our society, we’re asking for the people to find equally unfair remedies. That’s what the “Social Contract” is about – you don’t let me get screwed and I don’t screw you.

In fact social fairness is the key to civil society. It’s the key to keeping “the mob” from reigning anarchy on the streets.

Yes, there will always be some unfairness, but if unfairness becomes too great, those getting the worst end of it have no reason to play the game anymore. They may as well unfairly break the rules in hope of equalizing things. You honestly can’t blame them. At some point stealing from those who “have” is just as fair as remaining one of those who doesn’t.

So fairness isn’t just about what’s right and wrong, it’s also the most intelligent way to keep some semblance of a functioning society. A society that forgets, forgets at it’s peril.

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