Posts tagged fairness

Column on the Bottom Line on Obama-Economics

The bottom line on Obama-economics!

Tibor R. Machan

Economic fairness is impossible: an oxymoron. Since economic activities are inherently varied and often competitive and since one size doesn’t fit all and not everyone can win in a competition, no such thing as fairness is possible unless it simply means no one may be prevented from taking part. Certainly, however, the outcome will most likely be very different for different participants.

The sort of fairness and equality President Obama and his supporters are after maybe achieved around a family or fraternity dinner table or in a last will and testament where goods are being distributed among family members who each expect the fulfillment of an implied promise from elders to receive a “fair share” of the wealth left to them. “Fair” here makes sense since the idea is that no one is going to get much less or more than another. But no such expectation makes any sense throughout a country! The government owns nothing and can thus leave nothing to the citizenry without engaging in massive redistribution of wealth it doesn’t have any authority to distribute or redistribute.

When fairness is demanded, it implies that the government does have the authority to assign winners and losers in the economic sphere. As if we still lived in a monarchy awaiting the decision of the king as to who will be the beneficiary of his largess. All the subjects can hope they will receive a fair share of the wealth of the country.

But in a free country, with the principle of private property rights as the law of the land, the king or government has no business engaging in wealth distribution so the issue of fairness is entirely moot. It’s a dream and where attempted, it leads to a police state. All that Mr. Obama needs to do to appreciate this is to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a wonderful parable about what happens when equality is demanded and government tries to produce it. He might also check out the late Robert Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain example, from this book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1973) where he shows that when goodies are fairly distributed among people they will turn right around a rearrange it all so the “fair” distribution is completely upset.

Or if he wants real life cases from which to take lessons, Obama & Co. might remember the Soviet Union and investigate how things are panning out in that heavenly egalitarian country, North Korea. They could perhaps consider that in Cuba the rulers are finally realizing the futility of the socialist-egalitarian ideal and are making changes to turn the place into more and more of a free market system.

Still, there will always be those who want to level the economy. The main reason is the misguided conviction that we are, after all, in the same boat, just as are the children in a family. But the government isn’t like our parents who have made a promise to care for all their children. We aren’t the children of Mr. Obama and his administration! To try to serve us all with all the benefits that parents owe to their offspring would be futile and invites totalitarianism.

Parents, after all, own their resources and owe some of it to their children; this is not the case with governments and the citizenry. They don’t own anything at all without confiscating it. At most they may do this up to what is needed for administering the laws of the land–providing the citizenry with national defense and a sound legal system and its maintenance. Even some of this can be achieved without much government management. After all, who is the government but other citizens who have been hired to do a rather limited job in the country. It is up to the citizenry to secure for themselves economic growth, solvency, innovation, investment, etc. To attempt anything more would involve the government in tasks that free citizens aren’t entitled to.

Sadly Obama & Co. see the country as it if were some club or team where everyone is part of it and needs the same treatment as everyone else. But a country is not a club or a team–those are the results of free men and women coming together voluntarily for a great variety of purposes. The government of such free men and women must not get involved with what the clubs are embarking upon, be it business, athletics, education, entertainment or whatever else peaceful such folks will embark upon. Like the proverbial cop on the beat, the government isn’t there to pick the goals and tasks of those whom they serve in a limited capacity of securing their rights. It’s there to keep the peace, that is all!

Column on There’s no Level Playing Field nor Equal Opportunity

There’s no Level Playing Field or Equal Opportunity

Tibor R. Machan

Yet another excuse for some people to gain power over others is this idea of the level playing field. It’s a metaphor, of course, but used often to mean starting in a race with no advantages for any of the participants. Another term by which to indicate this is equal opportunity. Even those who see through the ruse of peddling equality for all people tend to cave in to this one, agreeing that at least everyone has the right to an equal opportunity. The opportunity for what is not often spelled out but it may include obtaining a job, entering a school, embarking on travel, winning a contest or whatnot. The image that’s called to mind is that when people start out to achieve some goal, none may be favored or disfavored, none may have special advantages or disadvantages, etc.

But the the idea is hopeless. In no actual or even imaginable endeavor do people enjoy the level playing field or an equal opportunity. Take those who begin a marathon race at the same starting point. Looks like they are enjoying an equal opportunity or level playing field since none is provided with extra time or less distance to complete the race. Surely this amounts to treating all those in the race as equals.

Not really. Some of them will have gotten a good night’s sleep, others tossed and turned for who knows what reason that’s certainly unavailable for control by those who organize the race fairly. Some will have had a decent breakfast, others were too nervous to keep any food down; some had loving fans seeing them off to the races, others went it alone. There are, in short, innumerable sources of inequality right from the get go. People are simply too different and face different situations as they embark on various tasks that others, too, attempt.

But by holding out some vain hope for the true level playing field or genuine equal opportunity, meddlers can insist that they must butt in and that their legally mandated manipulations and interference are needed for the noble purposes of serving this utterly misconceived version of justice. It is all bunk. Not only are there predictable differences among virtually all people who embark on similar missions but there are always fortune and misfortune, like the weather or just a plain old cold, that can hit and tilt the odds in favor or disfavor of certain of the participants. Even in sports wherein every possible effort is made to put all participants on a level playing field, this is an unrealistic aspiration. Everyone knows that it is unattainable and any serious attempt to attain it will be futile.

Then quite apart from the natural, given, and unavoidable inequalities that place people into different categories with different chances of winning, there is also other people’s preferences, wants, hopes, and such that upset the apple cart all the time–some athletes are loved by fans, others aren’t so much. Or the sex appeal is simply missing.

More significantly, say you are a farmer planting and harvesting a crop but the purchasing public just lost interest in it and the price you can ask for it plummets, while the efforts of others, say those diving for seafood, are in high demand all of a sudden? Maybe this is because a popular TV chef has come up with some very appealing seafood dishes on the show and the audience is now smitten and demand for the the farmer’s crop has subsided markedly. Surely this upsets any hope for a level playing field between farmers and seafood merchants.

So how is all this to be rearranged without sending in the police who will have no clue what to do about it all but will insist on trying to do something, anything, so as to seem important? And how will the disparity between the power of those embarking on the rearrangement and those who are subject to it be eliminated so that equality obtains between them? Impossible.

The dream of full, robust equality is a nightmare, let’s face it, and it is best to distance ourselves from it as far as possible.

Machan’s Archives: In Defense of Aesthetic Judgments

Is Aesthetic Preference Unfair Discrimination?
(Or, are we being unjust to weeds when we bring home pretty flowers?)
(Originally written in response to Noami Wolff’s The Beauty Myth but now just as relevant to Deborah L. Rhode’s The Beauty Bias, reviewed very favorably in TNYT Book Review [5/23/2010].)

In his Slate on line discussion of the issue of bias in favor of people who are deemed attractive, both men and women, Stephen Landsberg seems to regard being ugly or unappealing and beautiful or appealing as entirely accidental, purely a matter of luck. But this is often wrong. And the resulting analysis as to whether giving better deals to those who have versus those who lack good looks also fails at least for lack of subtlety.
Some people get to be beautiful through hard work, some are ugly through serious neglect (though not all). No one can dispute the fact that many men and women spend extensive time and many resources in order to make themselves look good, at least as they understand this. I have two daughters and they have huge arsenals of beauty aids and, frankly, I am not without some assistance in my vain efforts to be more than less presentable.
But even if this weren’t so, even if it were entirely an accident that some are more, some less appealing, those who interact with people have the right to prefer the appealing over the unappealing, even if this is unfair of them — fairness isn’t the highest value, most of the time, to be sought from associating with others. That is to say, no one has the moral or should have the legal authority to order anyone what criteria to choose for association. (Yes, this goes for even the silliest or detestable criteria.) Certainly, choosing associates who are appealing is something one should be free to do and it is also arguable that one should take good looks or appeal into consideration in selecting people for various occupations (although at times it is irrelevant and their doing it is then arguably though perhaps excusably unfair).
Landsberg’s discussion omits these and other related points and makes it all a matter of cruel injustice or unfairness that those with more appeal gain advantages. And he is by no means alone — a number of writers on the topic — e.g., Noami Wolff in her The Beauty Myth — in failing to consider some of the nuances of how our judgments concerning appeal figure into our decision making in or out of the market place. Sometimes the discussion of this topic seems as if the authors were jesting. There are many other reasons besides beauty alone, ones that people can control to a lesser or greater degree, that they are not as eagerly accepted — some have weird voices, some a strange odor, some a difficult to understand accent, some various other traits and habits, over which they have little control.
One way to make sure these do not seriously interfere with their chances in the job market is to compose detailed employment agreements and job descriptions to spell out more explicitly what the work to be performed requires of successful applicants! Yet even here not everything can be spelled out that may be of some relevance and the factor of appeal will have a role in the decision.
But why is that wrong? Don’t we pick pretty flowers rather than weeds for our dinner table? Or cute pets rather than ugly ones? Don’t we reject unappealing works of art and put on the wall pictures that appeal to us? Is it unfair to those who cannot help but paint ugly works that their creations don’t sell? What about those who write bad novels or poetry — is it unfair to reject them? But if not, why is injecting some role for appeal in the hiring process something so unfair, unjust? Well, it isn’t. Certainly, if one wishes to argue, as many do, that the market place must be a forum of human association, such perfectly normal human elements as expressing one’s aesthetic preferences cannot be excluded from it. And that aesthetic preferences make a difference in one’s human associations cannot be disputed. Are they something unfair, wrong? Selecting our dates and mates in part because they are attractive to us surely isn’t wrong — unless pleasing ourselves in these ways is to be considered wrong, which is ridiculous.
There is only one valid point to be made about invoking aesthetic criteria in selecting trading partners, including business associates, employees, and so forth: if the job description is fully met by both the ugly and the pretty, then choosing the pretty is something but not much of a bias, an unfairness, since it isn’t a reasonable objection against anyone that he or she — or everyone around the shop — wants to be near an appealing rather than unappealing person.
In short, it is more complicated than those make out who champion some kind of simple policy of what we might dub as association-egalitarianism, the policy that we ought never to take into consideration matters — such as aesthetics — not directly relevant to what a deal is about. To try to eradicate our aesthetic concerns from all our human relations is simply obtuse — neither can it be done, nor would it be a good thing.
This is one reason that trying to legislate all this universally results in a morass and remedies little.