February 09, 2012

'That's not fair!'

By Dr. William Luckey *

The above expression brings me back to my childhood on the streets of New York City where we were always playing some kind of ball game.

So many times during a stickball game in the street there would be a great hitter, like my friend Dennis, who would cream the ball every time he got up to bat. And usually after a few runs, one person on the other team would shout out, “That’s not fair!” In fact, it always seemed to be the same guy. He could not stand it that there was someone way better than he was, if that guy was on the other team. A few times this complainer would go off in a snit into his house until his temper would abate and he would come out and apologize for his behavior in the face of yet another enemy home run.

In this case, my complaining friend was angry that someone was better, not only than he was, but even better than the rest of us—and we were no slouches. But Dennis was headed to the pros one day, which he almost made as a pitcher when he permanently injured his arm and that was the end of that.

What is fairness? Interestingly, it is not a philosophical concept. Neither the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, nor the Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry for the word or any variation of it. The on-line dictionary, on the other hand, hits the nail on the head: “Gained or earned without cheating or stealing … free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception … ” But is this what my companion meant by his protests—that we have violated the rules; that we cheated or were out to get him? Of course not. But there is a serious problem in our society.

More and more we hear the word “fair” and “fairness” in public discourse about the economy. There are calls by politicians and other interested parties that we need more fairness. The implication is clearly that if some people are doing better than others, financially, educationally, or skill-wise, that there is something “unfair” about it; that these people have gotten where they are by “cheating or stealing” or with “bias or deception.”

Take the example of Robert’s Rules of Order or the rules of criminal or civil procedure of a state. These rules are meant to produce a fair process, not to affect a “fair” outcome. The rules protect both sides of an argument to make sure they get a “fair” hearing. If the chairman of the meeting or in court the judge, who is the trier of law (the jury is the trier of fact), deviates from the rules, someone can object. But in a meeting when a vote is taken after the rules are followed, one sides loses; in a court once the jury decides, the rules being properly enforced by the court, the outcome is final. If you are convicted of bank robbery by said jury, that’s fair, because the rules are followed. You cannot argue that it is not fair that you have to spend 10 years in jail, while everybody else walks around free.

Now if your side loses and there is a reason of substance, not procedure, why you are upset, you might claim that the outcome was not just, even though the procedures were fair. Suppose the members of the organization at the meeting merely did not listen to your arguments, or the jury ignored evidence in your favor, then you can argue on substantive grounds that justice was lacking. In business, suppose I contract to work for a company for a gross amount of $10 per hour, and when I get paid, I get only $ 8 per hour gross. This might very well be unjust, but assuming it is not a mistake. If it is a mistake, it is merely unfair. If it is intentional, it is unjust.

So why the constant talk about fairness? Some have less resources than others. This is a fact of life, but there are reasons for it. If I have a skill that is in demand and you have no skills or a skill that no one demands, it is just that I get more income than you. A brain surgeon makes way more than I do, even though I have much more education than almost all brain surgeons.

Why? If you have a brain tumor, who would you go to? Me? Even I would not go to me.

Even though the world needs good political philosophers, economists and theologians, the need is not as acute as the need for surgeons. Hence, surgeons are in demand more that political philosophers, economists and theologians. Hence, the surgeons make more money.

But so many people resent this.

So many are supporters of politicians who will take the surgeons’ income away and give it to the political philosophers, economists and theologians, or, more likely, give it to the skill-less. But the surgeons, and for that matter, the political philosophers, economists and theologians are more in demand by society than the skill-less.

It seems that the root cause of all this fairness “jibba-jabba” (to quote Mr. T.) is egalitarianism; or the desire for equal outcomes, enforced, of course, by the government. And where does this idea come from? There a couple of sources; intellectual, laziness, greed and envy.

Here I want to address the laziness, greed and envy aspects. I want to do this because there are personal flaws surfacing and now widespread in many American people today. Laziness produces a desire for a reward despite the fact that one does not do anything to earn the reward.

Greed is the desire lurking in all of us for more and more. Greed does not apply to the rich only, contrary to popular opinion. Since greed is a capital sin, as is laziness and it applies to all, if we let that cat out of the bag.

Envy may be the worst of the three. In envy we are sad and jealous at the success of another and we begin to go from mere envy to a violation of the 10th Commandment—desiring our neighbor’s goods, which then leads to violation of the 7th Commandment—Thou shalt not steal.

But most people do not want to risk walking over to their neighbor’s house and kicking the family out of their mansion. This might bring dire consequences, like the possibility that the owner might kill the perpetrator, or that the perpetrator will be arrested and spend time in prison. What is the next best thing?

Get the government to do it!

Almost all government programs are wealth transfers in order to buy votes. The lower classes, who are more numerous than the more productive classes, use the votes or threat of votes to get politicians to take money from the latter and give it to the former.

This now has become legalized theft. Those who voted for it will not go to jail and the politicians will not go to jail. The productive classes are the only losers here because they just do not have the numbers. Today a report came out that the average person on governmental assistance gets more net money than the average net income of the whole USA.

Gee, I wonder why?

Next, I want to write an article about the HHS mandate, but then I will return to the root causes of this problem.

Dr. William Luckey is the former chairman of the department of Political Science and Economics at Christendom College, where he is currently a professor.  He holds advanced degrees in Business, Economics, Political Philosophy and Systematic Theology. He was married in 1971, has four children and 12 (soon to be 13) grandchildren, and is a Lay Dominican.

You can visit his blog entitled Catholic Truths on Economics at: http://www.drwilliamluckey.com/

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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