What is “Fair”?

One of the things I’ve seen a lot of, lately, is people complain about our system not being “fair”.  At that point, depending on which political camp the person is in, the person issuing the complaint will make one of two diametrically opposed types of suggestions.  At the heart of this is significantly different definitions of the word “fair”.

The basic arguments can be summed up in two quotes.  First, “It’s not fair that 1% of the people have 90% of the wealth!”  Second, “It’s not fair that some people pay no taxes and others pay more than 40% taxes!”.  The first definition is based on the idea that people should earn roughly the same amount of money, and that if this isn’t happening, the “haves” are getting more than their “fair share”.  The other takes the attitude that working hard and being more successful shouldn’t penalized by having a higher tax rate.

So what is at the heart of this?  It’s fairly simple.  Consider the statement “life isn’t fair”.  In this idea, if life were fair, everyone would get as much money as they wanted, or at least enough to live comfortably.  What this ignores is that not everyone puts the same amount of energy into living, earning income, etc.  Consider an extreme example: suppose one person sits on a couch all day in his mother’s basement, and the other works 60 hours a week as a greasemonkey in a garage.  Which one deserves deserves a flat-screen TV?  Which one deserves a Blue-Ray player?  If the slug deserves these things, on what basis?

The other perspective is that everyone can work hard, take risks, and sacrifice for a dream.  The taxes suggests that if the above imposer on his mother works 10 hours a week, that 10% of his income should be used to support the government (probably 0%), while 45% of the other person’s labor is needed by the government.  Couldn’t it be argued that the hard working person has done far more to contribute to society, and should pay less taxes?  At the very least, doesn’t the hard worker have as much right to the fruits of his labors as the one who spent little time working?

Ultimately, the question is this: do we want equal results from unequal efforts, or do we want equal rewards for equal efforts?  From the phrasing of my question, which is quite biased, it should be clear which I believe.  Risk deserves reward.  Work deserves reward.  If you compete for a low paying job, you deserve low pay.  If you class yourself so that people compete to have you work for them, you deserve high pay.


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8 Responses to “What is “Fair”?”

  1. Tincup Says:

    My friend:) Let me ask you a question. Who should get paid more…the President of the United States or an NFL quarterback straight out of college?

    Let me ask you another question. Say you make a million bucks through working hard. You earned it. Now lets say a buddy that works for a company give you and inside tip about the company he works for. You use that inside information to invest your one-million in that company…and low and behold…your friend was right…you increase your million buck by 30% for doing nothing…you continue to use inside info to keep increasing that original million bucks to two million bucks. Lets say during the time between when you made your one million and the time you made your additional million, you sat around on the couch and drank beer for two years. Now…did you create an additional $1 million dollars in value???

  2. WingedPanther Says:

    The NFL quarterback. I don’t think serving for an elected position should be paid. Maybe then we would have fewer corrupt, career politicians. Also, you have to figure the NFL quarterback has spent at least half of his life training for that, and is the best .1% of all the people who trained for that position. It is an extremely limited set of skills and talents. With that said, none of my money is going towards that quarterback’s salary. If more people found football as uninteresting as I do, NFL quarterbacks wouldn’t get paid to play.

    For your second scenario, I would say I did. I provided the necessary funding for that company to hire people, purchase technology, rent or purchase space, etc. I gave that company the opportunity to use my money, which also meant I couldn’t spend it on nearly as many beers, a bigger house, a cooler car, etc. I was also taking a huge risk. Suppose my friend was wrong? I could have lost a million dollars. We saw something like that with Solyndra.

    Let me ask you this, if I had sat on the couch and drank beer for two years while the company lost all my money, would you be asking me if I’d gotten $1 million in value from the company? I took a risk. My dad actually did something very similar a while back. It was far less than $1 million, but he multiplied his investment by about 10 times. He could as easily have lost it all.

    Similarly, if you invest in a 401K or Roth IRA for 40 years, will you beat yourself up when you retire at 65 and bum around watching TV and drinking beers, or will you only feel satisfied working until you die?

    Is there luck involved in making money? Of course. I would never invest all my money in a single company. That protects me from losing it all, but also prevents me from getting the huge score on “the right” one. Also, the extra million return on the investment would be taxed. If you argue that I didn’t “earn” the second million, shouldn’t I be exempt from taxes on it, since I already paid taxes while earning the first million?

    At the end of the day, when I purchase stock, either with a hypothetical million dollars, or in my retirement account, I am entering into a contract with the company I am buying the stock from. I agree to provide them the liquid capital they need to function, in exchange for part of the profits they earn with that money. Are you suggesting that such an arrangement is somehow unfair?

  3. Tincup Says:

    Well, my point is that IF you have inside information, in theory, your gamble is risk free. It is my belief, right or wrong, that many high powered folks in companies, at banks, investment banks, Wall Street, government, have access to private information or more information than the average Joe or Jill that simply throws their money into a 401K or the stock market. It is, my belief, that these folks that understand how the market works can actually make the market move up or down. Therefore, they can make a killing with relatively less risk tha the average Joe or Jill. As such, they continue to use Joe’s and Jill’s money to make more money for themselves without actually creating any more value.

    Now, as far as the quarterback goes…people like myself watch football or pay to go watch a game…we also watch all the damn commercials that try to convince us we want this or that at a given price…this is how a quarterback can earn a ridiculous amount of money…in the millions of dollars for throwing a ball around. Meanwhile, the guy that can build a house, compose music, unplug your toilet, ensure you have electricity, lives on the threshold of the poverty line. Do you understand the dangers of money and a public that can be swayed by the media to do this or that?

  4. WingedPanther Says:

    That’s also why insider trading is illegal. I realize that it still happens, though.

    So, you admit that you’re contributing to what you consider outrageous wages by watching football. Meanwhile I don’t contribute, but don’t really have an issue with the salaries that are earned. As a side note, I used to find it offensive, but as I’ve embraced free market capitalism more and more, I’ve decided that I shouldn’t be worried about what someone else is making, and instead worry about doing what I do to the best of my ability.

    Seriously, you choose to expose yourself to large portions of advertising. I do too, but if I find the advertising offensive, I’ll complain to the advertiser or stop watching the show.

  5. Tincup Says:

    I don’t write my thoughts as though I am Jesus…I am not standing upon a podium preaching…many of my ideas and criticisms come from looking at myself…and that around me. Sad isn’t it. I feel like a piece of flesh that once had potential but is slowly decaying and turning to waste.

  6. WingedPanther Says:

    If I came across as attacking you, that really wasn’t my intent. I guess I just find it odd that you take issue with how much NFL players get paid when they are providing you a service that very few people can. Sure, we could televise pee-wee football, but it just wouldn’t be the same. The same can be said of actors, some of whose movies I refuse to watch because of their politics.

    I think there’s something beautiful about how millions and millions of individual choices about “I will/won’t buy that for $x” can give us so many products. I think iPhones are cool, but would never buy one. It introduced a new type of phone, however, and I would consider getting an Android phone. Kindles are neat, but I waited until I found a Sony eReader for $80. The fact that others were willing to pay for it at $300+ spawned the competition that made my purchase possible.

  7. dragonstrand Says:

    I am amazed how someone is who is “found” can be so lost. What you lack, not surprisingly, is doubt and skepticism. But of course this is not surprising–it is interesting to me how once a person succumbs to “blind faith” then this condition emanates throughout his/her entire existence and “conditions” it. You consistently miss all of the underlying subtleties of every issue, always erring on the side of blind stereotypes and either/or fallacies. I wonder how it is possible for you to have no conscience whatsoever regarding this. Yet I know the answer to this too: It is the Achilles heel of your conversion–in your blind belief you have lost that incisive self-interrogation, the ability to engage in it, that is the hallmark of all authentic truth seekers. So much is sacrificed to the bliss of redemption, isn’t it? How expensive “blessedness” is! I question this barter. Don’t worry . . . I know you don’t.

  8. WingedPanther Says:


    You talk about how lost I am, yet you attack my position based not on what I said, but on my faith in Christ. You talk about my either/or fallacies, but choose not to discuss possible middle grounds (of which I am well aware there are many). I deliberately chose the extremes in an effort to make a point: that fairness has multiple interpretations that are making it difficult to make policy decisions, because of conflicting goals of “fairness”.

    Regarding your assumption that I have some sort of “blind faith”, that is simply an assumption on your part. I spent years as an atheist, more in the occult, and more being angry with God. The faith I have is far from blind, but is instead the result of a great deal of study, along with seeing the blessings of God first-hand.

    I do understand, however. My ideas don’t set well with you, and it is far easier to dismiss both me and them with an incantation of “you and your poor ‘blind faith’,” then move along with a sense of moral victory. I used to do the same thing to Christians. The sense of smug, self-superiority allowed me to avoid analyzing my own beliefs. What it didn’t do was let me get away from the gnawing sense that I had to keep looking into Christianity, despite my conviction it was nonsense. God chased me down, and brought me to Him, just as He’s done for many others. I don’t know if He’ll do that for you. If He’s calling you, I can tell you this: He doesn’t give up, and He is quite willing to corner you. If He’s not calling you, why do you feel the need to follow me to my blog, only to ridicule a faith you know nothing about?

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