More Than One Kind Of Fair
English is an often-inadequate language. One word can mean so many different things. This is especially true with the word “fair.”
According to some, an economic situation is fair so long as the participants are equal under the law. The laws are to be followed by all without exception. Those equally guilty are punished equally. The innocent are left unpunished. Each individual has the same amount of representation, the same rights, and their testimony counts the same in court. Everyone is equally taxed and equally regulated regardless of who they are. Everyone is kept safe as much as possible from theft, vandalism, extortion, and fraud.
According to others, being equally free from interference in our economic activities is not enough. We must also be free from the consequences of the freedom others have to govern their activities. To be fair, there must be no monopolies or collusion. Those institutions that do better shall not take advantage of their new status to undersell their competitors only to raise prices later. Sellers must not use their freedom to sell to whom they want to discriminate against those of certain races or creeds. Buyers must not use their freedom to shop where they want to do the same. Enforcing this kind of fairness necessarily diminishes the first kind.
According to others, it is not enough that we all be free of discrimination and collusion. We must all have the same starting point. No matter the economic means of our parents, we must receive the same education and be given the same amount of seed money. We must also be served the same level of health care throughout our lives so that we differ only in our competence and work ethic. Since the seed money and cost of education must come from someplace, in practice it means that the state discriminates against the most productive members of society by interfering in their economic activities. Enforcing this kind of fairness necessarily diminishes the first two kinds.
According to still others, none of this is enough. Fairness only exists when all outcomes are equal. Those who work hard, those who are lazy, those who are intellectually gifted, those who are mentally retarded, those who follow all the rules, those who actively fight against the system, and all those in between are guaranteed the same wage. That doesn’t sound fair at all.
Finally, “fair” can also mean a carnival. This is the best kind of fair.
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My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.