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.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fair v. Fair

There has been a lot of talk lately about fairness in society or social justice. Although the talk of income equality seems to speak to an inherent idea of fairness, I have never felt comfortable with the concept in general. Then I came to the conclusion that there are in actuality, two very different definitions of fairness that we experience as humans. I will call one idea “compassionate fairness” and the other “achievement-based fairness.”

Compassionate Fairness

I grew up in a family of six children where sibling rivalry was practically an institution. Whenever we had the opportunity to eat ice cream for dessert, my mother weighed each portion to insure that no child had more ice cream then the next. If there were even a possibility of unequal amounts, the screams of unfairness would be heard down the block. We believed that since we were all basically on the same level, children, we all deserved the same amount of ice cream. Since my parents tried not to favor any one child over another, they thought the same thing.

I call this concept of fairness compassionate because it does not hold any person higher than another. Compassionate fairness does not care if you are old, young, rich, or poor. Every individual is treated the same. This is the idea of fairness that seems to dominate the national discussion.

Achievement-Based Fairness

I was a terrible student. I would rarely study and most assignments were completed with little interest in going the extra mile. As expected, my grades were less than stellar. Naturally I did not like getting poor grades, but I also knew that I deserved them. It would have been unfair to the students that put forth an effort for me to receive similar marks.

Achievement-based fairness makes a distinction between people based on the effort and accomplishments of the individual. The rewards in life are completely distributed in direct proportion to the amount of effort devoted to achieving those rewards. It compensates the industrious and punishes the indolent. This concept of fairness is often overlooked during discussions of social justice.

The Better Idea

Does one concept of fairness trump the other? I do not think so. I believe that both ideas have their place. It is incorrect to rely solely on one idea and ignore the other. No two people are placed into same circumstances when they are born, a problem that achievement-based fairness cannot resolve. Some people are lazy while others are productive, an issue that compassionate fairness cannot reconcile.

If a teacher averages all the grades in a classroom and gives every student that average grade, it would only benefit half the class at the expense of the other. This practice would discourage study and learning since they would not improve one’s grades. Compassionate fairness fails to compensate for personal achievement.

On the other hand, if some students could not even show up to class because of the socio-economic conditions they were born in to, they would never be able achieve any grades. Achievement-based fairness does not provide a common starting point from which people can begin to achieve. The most productive person in the slums will never have more money than the lazy heir to a fortune.

There are many more complexities in the discussion on fairness than I have mentioned. One being the idea of innate talent. Some people, by no effort of their own, are gifted by enormous talent. Is it fair that they were born with it? How would compassionate fairness distribute that talent? Would success be an achievement if there was no effort to obtain it? Is it fair that people are different?

Final Thoughts

Both concepts of fairness are at complete odds with each other. The reliance on one creates unfairness in the other. Any appeal to fairness by either side of the debate is an appeal to unfairness on the other. In essence, life is not fair and never will be. Instead of wasting resources and time trying to make life fair, we should be devoting our time to making the best of the cards dealt to us. Fairness is a dream.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Logical Mind v. The Emotional Mind (Science and Reason v. Religion)

There is an inherent conflict between our logical perceptions and are emotional feelings. Emotions are often illogical while logic is devoid of all emotion. The reconciliation between the two is impossible. Our logical mind thrives on finding reason and understanding in our lives while our emotional mind attempts to find emotional fulfillment and meaning. There is the inherent conflict, emotional fulfillment is not logical and logical reasoning is emotionless. With this understanding, we can better understand the conflict between religion and science. Both appeal to different parts of the human experience but both often contradict each other.

To logically debate the existence of a God is futile. No amount of rational discourse can prove or disprove the existence of deity. All arguments along this strain must include illogical suppositions (e.g. Since there is suffering, there can be no God. This supposes that God cares about suffering). The only arguments that have been made have had emotional undercurrents and therefore breach the limits of logical discourse.

Religion is best defined as the desire for emotional fulfillment and meaning. People have said that primitive forms of religion sought to explain the mysteries of the world around them. Although that may be true is does not explain why we still worship. The mysteries of the universe are being discovered and explained at an exponential rate, yet religion still thrives. Ignorance of these discoveries may explain a portion of the religious world but definitely not the majority of it. It seems that human nature yearns for the emotional gratification that religion provides regardless of logical world around it.

Whether it is the understanding that God suffered for your personal mistakes or that there is a possibility to reach a state of mind free of suffering and pain, religion provides humans their emotional needs. Although science and reason provide the mind with nessesary truths, they cannot provide the needs of the emotional mind.

Both religion and science have things to offer the human mind and the mind can not be fully satisfied unless it has both.

The Hypocrisy of Hope: How Obama’s vision of hope will destroy the American Dream

Note: I posted this back in April 2009 but had to remove it. Although the President has not been able to see his vision realized, this post addresses what that vision is.

The American dream has inspired hope in the hearts of hundreds of millions since the United States was formed. Scores of immigrants have swarmed its shores hoping for a better life. Even today many people risk their lives just for the chance that they can improve their circumstances. President Obama has even written a book about how to bring the American dream back to its glory; however, his socialist vision for America will not bring back the American dream but destroy it.

The American dream is the epitome of hope. It is the hope that one can improve his or her station in life. It is the hope that one can make the lives of his or her children better than one’s own. It is the hope that hard work will bring rewards. The American dream inspires, motivates, and drives us. It is not the guarantee of prosperity but the undeniable hope for it.

My father grew up on a small chicken farm in the country and my mother grew up in a low income, single parent household. Both of them struggled to get an education and raise a family. My parents were not content with their situation in life and worked hard to improve their circumstances. Through their hard work, I was able to live a comfortable and safe life. I am a product of the American dream. This year I will graduate with a Masters in Accounting from one of the best accounting schools in the nation. This is all because my parents and their parents believed in the American dream. I also believe in the American dream but I have lived in Germany, which is a country void of all such hopes.

I lived in the eastern part of Germany or the part that was controlled by the Soviets until 1990. The people who live in this part of Germany have experienced both communism and socialism. During my time in Germany I talked to and interacted with the people from all walks of life. I talked to them about their lives, families, goals, and dreams. Each person I met was in a different situation, but all were similar in their want of hope.

One man I knew had been unemployed for ten years and was living comfortably on welfare. The welfare even provided him with funds to vacation in Tunisia. Another man I met had been unemployed for two years and would not accept employment because he made more money on welfare. I also knew an illegal immigrant from Cameroon who came to Germany to make enough money to bring his family out of Africa. The German Government gives him an apartment, TV, food, and clothing. It however does not allow him to work nor does it send him back to Africa.

All three of these people are unemployed and being completely supported by the government and none of them have any hope that their situation can be better. These stories are very typical of the people I met in Germany. Of course I did not only meet unemployed people but people who are employed have little hope of improving their situation because they are paying taxes for all of these government programs. They are stuck in mindless jobs and have lost all hope for improving their condition.

This kind of hopelessness is seen in the productivity of the work force. While I was volunteering at the German Red Cross, one of the employees suggested that we worked “as if we were dead.” She saw no advantages to working harder. I had grown up with the idea that the harder I worked the more rewards I would receive but these people only knew how to do the bare minimum. Since there is no hope for a better job there is no reason to work hard. The worst part is that this hopelessness is ingrained into them at an early age.

When young people in Germany turn twelve, they are tested and someone decides if the children are smart enough to go to college. If the kids make the cut, they will continue in school until grade 13 and then proceed to a University. If the children are not chosen for higher education, they will be separated into a different kind of high school that only goes until the 10thgrade. From there these kids will join a job training program for one year where they learn skills for one particular job that they will be doing for the rest of their lives. These children will never be offered a college education presumably because the government cannot afford to offer everyone a free ride. These students learn at age twelve that hope dies young.

But everyone is healthy and few are extremely poor. The merits of socialism should not be minimized. People who need the most help are given it. What is important is that socialism is not the same as the American dream. The American dream has been about the hope for upward mobility with the risk of downfall. Socialism brings the exact opposite, no hope for a better life and no risk of a worse one.

Recently there were protests in France because young people did not want to be fired for being poor employees. Basically employers in France cannot fire someone unless they have done something extremely bad. Ineffectiveness, laziness, and ineptitude are never grounds for termination in France or in many unions in the States. This combination of ultimate job security and promotion based on seniority leads to mediocre performance and absolutely no hope that one can improve his or her situation through determination alone.

The government funds most of its programs through high progressive taxes. This means that the more money one makes the higher ones tax rate will be. This simply causes one to stay in his or her current economic situation even though he or she is making more money. This of course does not take into account inflation in which case you might even be making less. What kind of hope does a tax system like this instill in the hearts of the people? What is the motivation to make more money if it cannot improve one’s quality of life? Why work hard if the government is going to support you no matter what you do?

But everyone is still healthy and some are well educated. The merits are undeniable and beneficial but the costs are more than just high taxes and mediocre standards of living, it also costs people the hope that inspires them to overcome. So what would America be like under a socialistic system? Just like every other country. There will be nothing special about America, nothing inspirational, and nothing hopeful. We will all be just mediocre people working mediocre jobs living in mediocre apartments with mediocre ambitions. But we will all have health-care, few will be poor, and those smart enough to qualify will be well educated. The American dream will struggle to survive but will ultimately die in the myopic compassion of socialism.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Although the exact definition of a utopia varies from person to person, there are a few characteristics that seem to be common amongst most. Most people feel that in a perfect world there will be no classes. No one will be poor, no one will be rich, no one will be hungry, and no one would consume more than they need. Another common thread a utopia is that everyone will work towards the common good and not their own self-aggrandization. Although I personally do not think I would be able to stand everyone smiling and being nice all the time, the concept of this kind of utopia has almost universal appeal.

But if a utopia is the goal, how do we as greedy self-centered human-beings achieve it? One of the most notable attempts was the USSR. Due to the oppression of the czars, the people of Russia revolted and tried to establish a government that would create equality. But as George Orwell put it in his book Animal Farm, some people were more equal than others. This system led to oppression as a ruling class emerged from a supposed classless society ruled by the people. The grand experiment of Communism/Marxism failed.

Why did it fail? Because people, by nature, do not like being forced to do something even if it is in their best interest. Utopia cannot exist if it is forced upon the people it is trying to help. Utopia, by most definitions, is a place where people help one another out of the goodness of their hearts not by being forced into it by some authority figure. This is why all utopias have failed, because people are inherently greedy and inherently anti-authoritarian. People (collectively not individually) will not be charitable out of the goodness of their hearts nor will they do it because someone else is making them. So the question must be asked, can a utopia exist or is it merely just a fantasy?

Even if we do not know if a utopia is possible, we do know ways in which it will not work. Most notably, government forced compassion/income equality. Yet people continue to push government programs, under the guise of creating a utopia. If utopia by those means is impossible, why do people in power continually want to create their version of a “better” world? There can only be the following two reasons: One, they are ignorant of history, human nature, and the amount of real good a government can do; or two, they are very aware of another inherent human trait, the lust for power.

I believe that most people who want government intervention to make the world “better” are good people who simply want the less fortunate to have better lives. I would like to think that most of them do what they can by charitable giving, basically overcoming the greed that encompasses too many. I also think they do not know the best way to help so they turn to the government to do it. Although this is shortsighted, I think they are honest in their want to help.

Sadly, there are the a few (mostly within the government itself) that could care less about helping the needy. They only act in their own self interest, either to secure votes or make money (or both). The more control the government has on its people, the more power those inside the government will have. It is only the quest for power that drives their expansion of the government, not the welfare of the citizens.

In short, government intervention will never create a utopia. Those who think otherwise are either delusional or stand to benefit from it. A utopia will never exist until people overcome their greed and lust for power.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Town in Nebaska Looks Forward to First Fatal Stabbing

Herman Nebraska - In order to qualify for the current economic stimulus package residents of Herman Nebraska (pop. 301) will need to have had at least one violent murder in the years 2007, 2008, or 2009. As part of the Crime Prevention section of the new stimulus bill, congress will give cities $1 million for each murder during the past three years. While larger cities like L.A. will receive around $1.2 billion, small towns like Herman are left in the dust.

The last murder in Herman was committed by Ferris the beaver on March 15th, 2007. Ferris became aggressive after Marvin Jenkins, local football fan, attempted to swallow Ferris' tale during a drunken bet. Although the mauling had a profound effect on the small town, it does not qualify for the stimulus package since Ferris is not a sentient being.

Mayor Clyde Jenkins, uncle of Marvin and owner of Ferris, was disappointed by the sentience qualification and is quoted as saying, "We are going to make this right! We will have some of that stimulus if I have to kill someone myself!"

Sheriff Moss Jenkins, illegitimate son of Mayor Clyde Jenkins, has made assurances that the Mayor will not need to commit the murder. Sources have told him that there is a good chance that Thadeus Jenkins, brother of the late Marvin, will fatally stab someone any day now. Thadeus lives in a cliche run down shack on the outskirts of town and has been seen lurking in the shadows recently. Although Thadeus currently does not have a knife or similar such implement, the Sheriff has promised that Thadeus will be provided with one soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why I love Subway

Many people have fallen in love with Subway and I am proud to say I am one of them. Now, I don't love Subway for its delicious, fresh, and abundant ingredients. I don't love Subway for its semi-healthy fast food alternative nature. I also don't love it because I found it to be a true taste of Americana in the land of the Schnitzel (Germany has Mc D's but how many Americans are proud of that?). No, I love Subway because of its Subway cash card.

Not only does it have the potential to possibly reduce your daily Subway expense by a few cents, but it can also open doors quite well. Last Friday, my wife and I locked ourselves out of our apartment and the property manager was out of town. Kristy had the idea to use a credit card on the door, but who wants to use a valuable credit/debit card on a door. Then we found our Subway card. Not only is the plastic sturdy enough to push the latch down, but the plastic is cheap enough to bend easily through the door jam. All I can say is, Thanks Jared for making Subway what it is today!!