The “fairness” doctrine

protestLately, it seems, American culture and politics are increasingly focused on fairness and equality. We have attempted during the last decade to create several new individual “rights.” The right to healthcare, the right to faster internet speeds, income equality and a whole bunch of other rights that are intended to level the playing field.

I call these “feel good” rights because too often we ignore the fundamental fact that most of these “feel good rights” require the transfer of goods or services from one party to another, but they do make us feel better: more noble, generous and kind.

By contrast, an actual right, such as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are universal in nature. They are endowed by our creator (whatever form that takes for you) and they are enforced by law.  Real rights are not created by government, rather merely recognized as an inherent obligation of government.

Life is not fair

In 1978, Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, M.D. published a groundbreaking book that set the bar for so-called self-help books that would follow. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth became a bestseller published all over the globe.

I found the opening line of that book jarring in its brutal honesty. Peck’s book begins with the statement “Life is difficult.” From there, he goes into great detail talking about the four major disciplines he saw as a path from mental and spiritual illness toward mental and spiritual health.

No matter what we wish, no matter what we desire, we cannot escape the fact that Peck’s assertion is succinctly and brilliantly accurate: Life is difficult. But I would add to that.

Life is not fair.

In fact, life is only fair in fairy tales. But in reality, life is a crap shoot. There are winners and losers. Is it fair that one person is diagnosed with cancer and another is not? Is it fair that one person loses a limb and another does not? Is it fair that one person is born into royalty and another was born into poverty with alcoholic and abusive parents? Of course not.

While we all certainly make our fair share of stupid decisions that carry with them consequences, there are many other things  life throws at us that are not only difficult but patently unfair. These things are most often unavoidable and beyond our control.

It is not the appropriate role of government to make life fair. That is an impossible task that would bankrupt any nation.

But what about equality?

All things being equal

By definition, equality is another fruitless task because true equality is impossible. Unlike the concept of fairness, however, government does have an appropriate role to play in the sphere of equality.

Our Constitution declares that all men (people) are created equal under the law. Think about this for a moment. Our founding fathers knew that life was not fair and that is impossible for all men to be born equally, but under the law, every citizen is the same, regardless of their differences.

As I pointed out above, the reality of true equality is a stretch. According to my dictionary, equal (as an adjective) is defined as “being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value.”

If I weigh more than you, we are not equal. If I am taller than you, we are not equal. If you have hair, and I do not, we are not equal. You get the point.

However, when we look at equal as a noun, it is described as follows: “a person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality.”

Our system of laws is not perfect. OJ Simpson could still afford a better defense attorney than me. While we are both equal under the law in that we are entitled to a defense, we are certainly not equal.

By the order of natural law, true equality is virtually non-existent.

Remember the words of George Orwell in the book Animal Farm? Some animals are more equal than other animals. I know it may seem unfair, but it is true.

Tom Brady and I are never going to be true “equals.”

If we are going to have a rational discussion about fairness or equality, we must recognize that government simply cannot make something fair or equal.

What we can do, however, is treat each other as equals, despite our inherent inequality.

But no matter how many laws we create; no matter how many taxes we raise, life will always be unfair. And it will always be difficult.

 

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “The “fairness” doctrine

  1. I think this entire column can be summed up in two words: “Why bother?” My answer is that we bother–and we should bother–because we can make improvements in human rights and equality. Perfecting them may be impossible, but improving them isn’t. If you don’t think so, look at the last thousand years of human history and make comparisons. We live longer and richer lives by far. We experience less travail on a daily basis. We interact as individuals, as groups and as countries for our mutual benefit. Life will never be perfect, Randy. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make it better. It doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for equality. And by equality, I’m speaking of human worth, not your passing arm or your height. We should stop trying to expand human rights. Would the world be better, for instance, if health care were a human right? Of course it would. The question is, how can we do it? If we accept your premises, we don’t bother to try.

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  2. I wouldn’t wish to steal from my neighbor or the hospital down the street. What I would wish to do is amend the laws so that there is a more level playing field for all. We have already agreed as a republic to a progressive tax structure; that is not in question or even worthy of a lot of debate any more. The reason is that a progressive tax structure gives those at the bottom a chance to even out their total tax burden by making the income tax portion of their total taxation less burdensome. The same should be true of a “health care” tax, a higher education tax, and so on. Higher minimum wages have the added benefit of removing people from the welfare roles who would otherwise be getting public assistance, a benefit to rich and poor alike. The truth is we are not viewed equally under the law. Those who can afford to lobby our representatives get their wishes answered. Those of us who vote and write letters to our representatives get form letters that don’t even address our concerns. They ignore the fourth estate, too, which should be the system that keeps them honest and keeps them from separating us — in their minds — into haves and have nots, with the haves getting more attention and support.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s not about rights, it’s about the duties of the federal government. The preamble to the constitution clearly states one of the primary purposes of the federal government is to “promote the general Welfare”. That doesn’t just mean taxing and spending on large infrastructure projects that were the subject of controversy in the years after it’s adoption like the Cumberland Road or the Erie Canal, it meant making the United States a better place to live for all it’s citizens, not just those who wielded political of financial influence.

    How does that apply to healthcare, net neutrally and income equality?

    You’re right that we don’t know who will be unlucky, who will diagnosed with cancer and who won’t anymore than we know who will be born to royal parents or alcoholic abusive ones. But why should a family or individual who is unlucky enough to have a very expensive disease to treat be condemned to poverty or death by a health insurance system whose corporate interests dictate they put profit above care? It is the government’s duty to regulate businesses not only to level the playing field and prevent monopolies but to make sure the interests of corporations do not run roughshod over the interests of American citizens. Next to the corrupt Wall St practices that peaked in 2008 there was no better example of corporate abuse of the American people than the health care system in the US. Obamacare begins to remedy that situation as it should.

    FCC commissioner Wheeler in an about face declared he wants his board to reclassify both wired and mobile broadband service as Title II telecommunications services. This means they will be regulated as utilities. The FCC won’t go as far as setting prices or bundling packages but it will, as Wheeler says “assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.” No longer will Comcast be able to blackmail it’s competitor in the movie rental space Netflix by strangling it’s service.

    For over a decade the big broadband corps have spent most of their money on stock buybacks that artificially increase their share price mainly to benefit large stockholders like the company execs (an all too common Wall St practice these days), and gobbling each other up to expand their market share. They haven’t invested nearly as much in faster, cheaper internet speed and they sure can’t brag about their predatory customer service. When you compare American broadband service to countries like France and South Korea where they actually force their providers to compete on cost and service we pay more and get less. I applaud Wheeler for listening to the American people who sent millions of comments overwhelmingly in favor of regulating the internet as a public utility and President Obama who spoke in favor of it last fall. Again promoting the general welfare of all the people, not just the narrow interests of those their regulate or their investors.

    Income inequality, in particular wage stagnation for the American lower and middle classes has been a growing problem for decades. Adjusted for inflation hourly wages are 7.5% below where they were in 1973. The middle class is poorer than anytime since the 1940s, economists have shown. Starting in 1960s women entering the workforce helped mask stagnating pay for families but in the 2000s and especially after the financial crisis of 2008 it became clear that much of the middle class was struggling and sliding into poverty. Most of the gains from the recovery were going to the very top while most Americans haven’t seen any real recovery at all until recently. To put numbers to it an example is inflation adjusted median household income which went almost as high as $57,000 in 1999 but now stands at under $52,000.

    To fix this average hourly earnings must grow at least 3% annually. As of December it was growing at a meager 2.1% annual rate, That’s barely above the annual inflation rate of 1.7%.

    President Obama and Congressman Chris Van Hollen among other have proposed some good remedies that in the GOP controlled congress have no chance of being enacted into law. Republican office holders are starting to acknowledge the problem if not solid answers to fix it. Recent statements by almost all the major Republican prospective presidential candidates speak to the problem.

    Senator Marco Rubio of Florida dashed off a book entitled, “American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone,” which he published a few weeks ago.

    Even anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist thinks Republicans have to do a better job of convincing 99 per cent of Americans that they really are on their side.

    But is it any of the government’s business to address wage stagnation or income inequality? Isn’t it just punishing the successful for the benefit of life’s losers? And even if it isn’t don’t all attempts to remedy income inequality take from the rich and give to the government instead of the poor?

    First of all yes it is the govt’s business. Promoting the general welfare means everyone’s welfare. Since 70% of the American economy is based on consumerism it is in the govt ‘s interests that the majority of us not only have discretionary income to spend but feel economically secure enough about the future to spend it. Opportunities to pull ourselves up the economic ladder and knocking down barriers that prevent it have to be part of building that consumer confidence.

    Does it punish the wealthy? We used to tax the wealthy much more in the 1940s and 50s than we do today. Corporate taxes used to be about 35% of all taxes paid in the 1950s, today about 11%. I read recently the super wealthy are buying up property for what I can only describe as hiding places in distant nations like New Zealand. What are they preparing for exactly? Armageddon? A global warming catastrophe? Another Wall St crisis that doesn’t narrowly avert an international financial crash and depression this time? Instead of keeping the corporate jet gassed up on stand by, building panic compounds half a world away or living in walled castles it makes more sense for the top .01% to support sensible policies that allow their customers to shop for their goods instead of pitchforks and torches. Who the hell wants to be the richest man in Calcutta when you can still have more money than you can spend in New York?

    Like

  4. It’s not about rights, it’s about the duties of the federal government. The preamble to the constitution clearly states one of the primary purposes of the federal government is to “promote the general Welfare”. That doesn’t just mean taxing and spending on large infrastructure projects that were the subject of controversy in the years after it’s adoption like the Cumberland Road or the Erie Canal, it meant making the United States a better place to live for all it’s citizens, not just those who wielded political of financial influence.

    How does that apply to healthcare, net neutrally and income equality?

    You’re right that we don’t know who will be unlucky, who will diagnosed with cancer and who won’t anymore than we know who will be born to royal parents or alcoholic abusive ones. But why should a family or individual who is unlucky enough to have a very expensive disease to treat be condemned to poverty or death by a health insurance system whose corporate interests dictate they put profit above care? It is the government’s duty to regulate businesses not only to level the playing field and prevent monopolies but to make sure the interests of corporations do not run roughshod over the interests of American citizens. Next to the corrupt Wall St practices that peaked in 2008 there was no better example of corporate abuse of the American people than the health care system in the US. Obamacare begins to remedy that situation as it should.

    FCC commissioner Wheeler in an about face declared he wants his board to reclassify both wired and mobile broadband service as Title II telecommunications services. This means they will be regulated as utilities. The FCC won’t go as far as setting prices or bundling packages but it will, as Wheeler says “assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.” No longer will Comcast be able to blackmail it’s competitor in the movie rental space Netflix by strangling it’s service.

    For over a decade the big broadband corps have spent most of their money on stock buybacks that artificially increase their share price mainly to benefit large stockholders like the company execs (an all too common Wall St practice these days), and gobbling each other up to expand their market share. They haven’t invested nearly as much in faster, cheaper internet speed and they sure can’t brag about their predatory customer service. When you compare American broadband service to countries like France and South Korea where they actually force their providers to compete on cost and service we pay more and get less. I applaud Wheeler for listening to the American people who sent millions of comments overwhelmingly in favor of regulating the internet as a public utility and President Obama who spoke in favor of it last fall. Again promoting the general welfare of all the people, not just the narrow interests of those their regulate or their investors.

    Income inequality, in particular wage stagnation for the American lower and middle classes has been a growing problem for decades. Adjusted for inflation hourly wages are 7.5% below where they were in 1973. The middle class is poorer than anytime since the 1940s, economists have shown. Starting in 1960s women entering the workforce helped mask stagnating pay for families but in the 2000s and especially after the financial crisis of 2008 it became clear that much of the middle class was struggling and sliding into poverty. Most of the gains from the recovery were going to the very top while most Americans haven’t seen any real recovery at all until recently. To put numbers to it an example is inflation adjusted median household income which went almost as high as $57,000 in 1999 but now stands at under $52,000.

    To fix this average hourly earnings must grow at least 3% annually. As of December it was growing at a meager 2.1% annual rate, That’s barely above the annual inflation rate of 1.7%.

    President Obama and Congressman Chris Van Hollen among other have proposed some good remedies that in the GOP controlled congress have no chance of being enacted into law. Republican office holders are starting to acknowledge the problem if not solid answers to fix it. Recent statements by almost all the major Republican prospective presidential candidates speak to the problem.

    Senator Marco Rubio of Florida dashed off a book entitled, “American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone,” which he published a few weeks ago.

    Even anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist thinks Republicans have to do a better job of convincing 99 per cent of Americans that they really are on their side.

    But is it any of the government’s business to address wage stagnation or income inequality? Isn’t it just punishing the successful for the benefit of life’s losers? And even if it isn’t don’t all attempts to remedy income inequality take from the rich and give to the government instead of the poor?

    First of all yes it is the govt’s business. Promoting the general welfare means everyone’s welfare. Since 70% of the American economy is based on consumerism it is in the govt ‘s interests that the majority of us not only have discretionary income to spend but feel economically secure enough about the future to spend it. Opportunities to pull ourselves up the economic ladder and knocking down barriers that prevent it have to be part of building that consumer confidence.

    Does it punish the wealthy? We used to tax the wealthy much more in the 40s and 50s than we do today. Corporate taxes used to be about 35% of all taxes paid in the 1950s, today about 11%. I read recently the super wealthy are buying up property in distant places like New Zealand preparing for what exactly? Armageddon? A global warming catastrophe? Another Wall St crisis that doesn’t narrowly avert an international financial crash and depression this time? Instead of keeping the corporate jet gassed up on stand by, building panic compounds half a world away or living in walled castles in their rarefied communities it makes more sense for ther top .to support sensible policies that allow their customers customers to shop for their goods instead of pitchforks and torches. Who the hell wants to be the richest man in Calcutta when you can still have more money than you can spend in New York?

    Like

  5. It’s not about rights, it’s about the duties of the federal government. The preamble to the constitution clearly states one of the primary purposes of the federal government is to “promote the general Welfare”. That doesn’t just mean taxing and spending on large infrastructure projects that were the subject of controversy in the years after it’s adoption like the Cumberland Road or the Erie Canal, it meant making the United States a better place to live for all it’s citizens, not just those who wielded political of financial influence.

    How does that apply to healthcare, net neutrally and income equality?

    You’re right that we don’t know who will be unlucky, who will diagnosed with cancer and who won’t anymore than we know who will be born to royal parents or alcoholic abusive ones. But why should a family or individual who is unlucky enough to have a very expensive disease to treat be condemned to poverty or death by a health insurance system whose corporate interests dictate they put profit above care? It is the government’s duty to regulate businesses not only to level the playing field and prevent monopolies but to make sure the interests of corporations do not run roughshod over the interests of American citizens. Next to the corrupt Wall St practices that peaked in 2008 there was no better example of corporate abuse of the American people than the health care system in the US. Obamacare begins to remedy that situation as it should.

    FCC commissioner Wheeler in an about face declared he wants his board to reclassify both wired and mobile broadband service as Title II telecommunications services. This means they will be regulated as utilities. The FCC won’t go as far as setting prices or bundling packages but it will, as Wheeler says “assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.” No longer will Comcast be able to blackmail it’s competitor in the movie rental space Netflix by strangling it’s service.

    For over a decade the big broadband corps have spent most of their money on stock buybacks that artificially increase their share price mainly to benefit large stockholders like the company execs (an all too common Wall St practice these days), and gobbling each other up to expand their market share. They haven’t invested nearly as much in faster, cheaper internet speed and they sure can’t brag about their predatory customer service. When you compare American broadband service to countries like France and South Korea where they actually force their providers to compete on cost and service we pay more and get less. I applaud Wheeler for listening to the American people who sent millions of comments overwhelmingly in favor of regulating the internet as a public utility and President Obama who spoke in favor of it last fall. Again promoting the general welfare of all the people, not just the narrow interests of those their regulate or their investors.

    Income inequality, in particular wage stagnation for the American lower and middle classes has been a growing problem for decades. Adjusted for inflation hourly wages are 7.5% below where they were in 1973. The middle class is poorer than anytime since the 1940s, economists have shown. Starting in 1960s women entering the workforce helped mask stagnating pay for families but in the 2000s and especially after the financial crisis of 2008 it became clear that much of the middle class was struggling and sliding into poverty. Most of the gains from the recovery were going to the very top while most Americans haven’t seen any real recovery at all until recently. To put numbers to it an example is inflation adjusted median household income which went almost as high as $57,000 in 1999 but now stands at under $52,000.

    To fix this average hourly earnings must grow at least 3% annually. As of December it was growing at a meager 2.1% annual rate, That’s barely above the annual inflation rate of 1.7%.

    President Obama and Congressman Chris Van Hollen among other have proposed some good remedies that in the GOP controlled congress have no chance of being enacted into law. Republican office holders are starting to acknowledge the problem if not solid answers to fix it. Recent statements by almost all the major Republican prospective presidential candidates speak to the problem.

    Senator Marco Rubio of Florida dashed off a book entitled, “American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone,” which he published a few weeks ago.

    Even anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist thinks Republicans have to do a better job of convincing 99 per cent of Americans that they really are on their side.

    But is it any of the government’s business to address wage stagnation or income inequality? Isn’t it just punishing the successful for the benefit of life’s losers? And even if it isn’t don’t all attempts to remedy income inequality take from the rich and give to the government instead of the poor?

    First of all yes it is the govt’s business. Promoting the general welfare means everyone’s welfare. Since 70% of the American economy is based on consumerism it is in the govt ‘s interests that the majority of us not only have discretionary income to spend but feel economically secure enough about the future to spend it. Opportunities to pull ourselves up the economic ladder and knocking down barriers that prevent it have to be part of building that consumer confidence.

    Does it punish the wealthy? We used to tax the wealthy much more in the 1940s and 50s than we do today. Corporate taxes used to be about 35% of all taxes paid in the 1950s, today about 11%. I read recently the super wealthy are buying up property for what I can only describe as hiding places in distant nations like New Zealand. What are they preparing for exactly? Armageddon? A global warming catastrophe? Another Wall St crisis that doesn’t narrowly avert an international financial crash and depression this time? Instead of keeping the corporate jet gassed up on stand by, building panic compounds half a world away or living in walled castles it makes more sense for the top .01% to support sensible policies that allow their customers to shop for their goods instead of pitchforks and torches. Who the hell wants to be the richest man in Calcutta when you can still have more money than you can spend in New York?

    Like

  6. The reason “fairness” is resonating isn’t that people don’t realize that life isn’t fair. Everyone knows that. The reason is that there have been changes in the last generation that make it virtually impossible to move beyond base working class into the lowest rungs of the middle class. Education is beyond the reach of most of the middle class. There is no more “on the job training”, so the only people who can get ahead are those who are already ahead. Health care should be a right and it should be one borne by society in general; those who can pay more should pay more and those who cannot pay at all should not be turned away — it’s a matter of simple human decency, not fairness. No one should have to hold a bake sale for a toddler’s chemotherapy, Randy, that’s obscene.

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    1. Gina: you cannot dictate or mandate fairness. Nothing stands in the way of generosity, volunteering or even empathy but demanding that another’s goods or services (without compensation) are yours by right is just as obscene as your red herring argument. By definition, you and I are not equal; by consent of the governed we do acknowledge that we should be viewed equally under the law. That does not mean you have license to steal from your neighbor simply because she has more food. If your neighbor “chooses” to share his food that is her right.

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