Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fair v. Fair revisited

It has been many months since I wrote my post on fairness and I have been thinking about it quite often. The more I listen to political personalities and pundits, the more I realize that almost every modern political discussion boils down to a simple disagreement about fairness. The two concepts of fairness that I put forth in my first post are still valid, but need some refinement. The most important change has to be the title and definitions of fairness. I am therefore writing a second post on the subject.

Natural Fairness

Natural fairness is probably the easiest to understand. It occurs naturally without any thought and across all types of life. Natural fairness is the idea that any output from a system has a direct correlation to the amount of input into that same system. Or in other words, the harder one works, the more rewards one receives. Every thing that one receives is a fair reward of the work one does. It is an idea that can exist inside a political vacuum and requires no effort to implement. Its effects can be seen in the natural world as well. Predatory animals that are better at hunting will eat more regularly and will therefore be healthier.

Individual responsibility is at the essence of natural fairness. If we live in a world controlled by natural fairness we will not be able to rely on anyone else to sustain us. Anything that we receive will be a result of an effort on our part. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Conceptual Fairness

Conceptual fairness is slightly harder to understand since it is primarily a human invention. This idea of fairness is an extension of the compassionate feelings that humans feel. It is basically the idea that as humans, we are essentially the same and therefore should all receive the same rewards regardless any other qualifying criteria. Conceptual fairness requires higher producers to give their rewards to lower producers until all have access to the exact same rewards.

Conceptual fairness does not exist naturally in any system and is in essence a cerebral exercise. It requires humans to move beyond our natural selfish inclinations and embrace a conceptually better paradigm. For the purposes of this post, I will use conceptual fairness as the goal of society since I personally believe it should be.

Fairness in the Real World

As we have discussed, natural fairness is basically the default setting when it comes to existing in the world. In many situations the only concept that makes logical sense is natural fairness. For example, people with more knowledge cannot give their excess to those with less knowledge. People with more knowledge can teach others but cannot simply hand the knowledge over. Conceptual fairness simply does not apply to this kind situation.

Although conceptual fairness has its limitations, it also has many applications. For example, food is a commodity that has limited personal use and can easily be shared with those who have little. Conceptually, as long as a society can produce enough food for everyone in the society, no one in that society should go hungry. Similar examples can be made for housing, healthcare, and other basic living needs. (Please see my first post for a more detailed look at the positive and negative differences between the two ideas of fairness, Compassionate=Conceptual and Achievement-Based=Natural)

Since conceptual fairness is an intellectual exercise, many people who study at institutions of higher learning seem more inclined to embrace its ideals. Natural fairness, on the other hand, is preferred by those who have experienced its effects in their day-to-day lives, i.e. the working class.

Implementing Conceptual Fairness

Since natural fairness will govern human interaction in the absence of other factors, we do not need to explore how we would bring about a naturally fair world. As conceptual fairness requires conscience activity to realize, we will discuss two different methods of how to employ this idea on a wide scale.

The first method of applying conceptual fairness is also the most common, the use of force. This is often seen through governmental action to redistribute goods from those with abundant resources to those who are lacking. A government can use laws and regulations to force the members of its society to distribute goods to the government. The government will then distribute those goods to others within the society based on perceived need.

The second method of applying conceptual fairness is also seen regularly in society. Charitable giving is done at the individual level and requires one to personally overcome selfish desires to create a more conceptually fair society. Goods are often given directly to the underprivileged or to an institution that will distribute the goods in a specific manner. The individual has complete control on the amount of goods given and to whom the goods are given.

Charitable giving often produces the same result as governmental programs but the method of distribution is fundamentally different. While governmental programs require force to distribute goods, charitable giving is voluntary. People who give willingly to charitable causes must first overcome selfish desires. People who pay taxes mostly do so under threat of imprisonment or other punishments.

Politics and Conceptual Fairness

There are too main schools of thought when it comes to political implementation of fairness, namely capitalism and socialism. Capitalism is more focused on natural fairness while socialism is more focused on conceptual fairness. Most current governments have some kind of balance of the two philosophies. Some governments tend to be more socialistic like Sweden while others tend to be more capitalistic like the United States.

The illustration to the right is my depiction of the political spectrum (forgive the quality). The illustration portrays capitalism and socialism as polar opposites. The drawing also shows where I think a utopian society exists on the scale. Utopia and socialism are near each other since they both achieve conceptual fairness. The means of that achievement is the key difference between to two societies. While socialism is achieved by force, utopia is achieved by society’s voluntary sacrifice for the greater good. Socialism is achieved through fear while utopia is achieved through compassion. (For more on my thoughts about Utopia, please read my earlier post on the subject)

The red arrow represents increasing freedom of choice. Under a socialistic system, people have very limited freedoms and as that system becomes more capitalistic, those freedoms grow. Once people have unlimited freedoms, the society is now able to choose to be more conceptually fair be voluntarily distributing resources evenly throughout the society. This choice is depicted by the green line. The society will continue to improve until a utopia is reached.

In this utopia, no individual will have to support government programs that he or she does not believe in. Christians will never have to pay for abortions while atheists will never have to pay for a town’s Christmas tree. People will have the freedom to distribute their resources as they deem necessary.


I believe that most people want a conceptually fair society where everyone is treated with the same respect and compassion. But the push for a better society has always been in the wrong direction. Every new government program to redistribute resources brings that society further from utopia since the program is created through force. It is human nature to resist being obligated to do something against ones will. Unless every member in a society has the exact same goals a compulsory government will never create a utopia. The more diverse a society is the more need for individual freedoms of choice.

People have a long way to go to achieve conceptual fairness voluntarily but every step towards government compulsion is a step backwards. If we want to create a better society, we must encourage voluntary giving above government redistribution.