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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Not Fair

Posted Monday, August 20, 2012, at 12:00 PM



Now that the rain has finally started to fall again, my yard has the appearance of a young child with a bad haircut. What to do? Do you trim it now or let it grow out first?

Like generations of parents before me, I trimmed here and there, decided to let the rest grow, and am hoping for as little ridicule as possible. After all, to ridicule a homeowner's yard given our recent weather conditions would be unfair.

It seems that most people are concerned about fairness. If you have any doubt, just talk with an adolescent for any length of time. "That's not fair!" is a statement destined to come out of an adolescent's mouth after relatively little conversation.

What does it mean to be fair? What is fairness? After all, who can be against being fair?

Examining several on-line dictionaries, I have gleaned the following relevant definitions:

Free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice, clean, pure, marked by impartiality and honesty, free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism.

Some variation of claims for fairness are also frequently uttered by members of the political class. This is particularly true in speeches this political season.

How do you objectively measure fairness? How do you know what exactly is fair and what is not?

"We should treat all people the same!" Fine, but I happen to have dyslexia. I don't learn and remember things the way that most other people do. "Oh, well we should treat people with handicaps differently." So, in effect, to be fair, we should treat everyone the same unless they are different. I guess that makes sense . . . sorta . . . not really.

In fact, the word "fair" in its common usage is so subjective, if you listen to the people who use it, the common meaning is: Fair is when I get what I want so long as I don't inconvenience you too much. After all, if I don't get what I want, that's not fair. If I am asking too much of you, then that's unfair. It seems rather like the way the Supreme Court defined pornography, they know it when they see it.

Who can argue with the statement: "Everyone should pay their fair share."? That certainly sounds fair to me. But how much is a person's fair share? How do we objectively know when it is too much or too little?

The top 10 percent of income earners in America pay 50 percent of all individual income tax collected by the IRS. Like candidate Mitt Romney, they probably pay an effective rate of about 13 percent by doing things like investing in tax free bonds, long term capital, and various other things the tax code tries to encourage people to do with their money.

Most middle class Americans pay 25 to 35 percent of their income in federal income tax. Compared to the rich guy who pays 13 percent, that's not fair. But on the other hand, those top 10 precentors pay more than all of the middle class lumped together with some of the upper class and lower class mixed in to boot. That can't possibly be fair.

Isn't it fair that if you give a lot, you should get a lot? The top 10 percent get little direct benefit from the government, yet they pay half of all taxes. The bottom 10 percent derive the majority of their sustenance from the government, yet they pay nothing in taxes. Is that fair? But it would be grossly unfair to ask the poor to pay taxes equivalent to their benefits since they can't even eat without tax subsidized food.

It seems to me that politicians use the word fair to try to sucker someone in by their emotions. After all, don't we want everyone and everything to be Free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice, clean, pure, marked by impartiality and honesty, free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism?

In the end, when people clamor for fairness, what they are really doing is trying to appeal to everyone's subjective idea for what fairness means without taking an objective stand. After all, it is just as unfair to make everyone pay the same tax rate as it is to make the top 10 percent pay half of all taxes collected.

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