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The Fallacies of Fairness

We hear it repeatedly from the left: so-and-so’s not paying his “fair share.” Or “that’s not fair!” Or the rich need to pay their fair share. Or fair trade, not free trade. And for good reason: the notion of fairness is so vague, it bears repeating in whatever context the left deems appropriate.

But what is fair? The left thinks it’s really unfair that people who don’t work, or do work that isn’t valued much in the labor market, aren’t given their fair share of the profits that rich folks receive by providing more demanded products in the marketplace.

Half the country doesn’t pay income taxes. Is that fairness? The government is billing each household over $200 in a single day, more than the median income salary, without their permission. Is that really “fair”? Imagine you opened your credit card bill and each day an unauthorized charged for $212 appears. That would make anyone peeved.

The top 10% of income earners pay 70% of the taxes. How is that not enough? While Democrats on news outlets like CNN insist that the only way to get the debt-to-GDP level down to 40% by 2035 is through tax increases, even if the so-called Bush tax-cuts expire and rates on the rich go up, we’ll generate $83 billion a year or a whole eight days of “revenue” annually. Whoopee.

How about we slash spending and live within our means? Government, through the inflation that comes from buying its own debt, jacks up gas prices, utility prices, and food prices, hitting the poor hardest. It thus creates the need for poorer people to turn to the government for food stamps. This Keynesian-created vicious cycle is somehow fair?

Government inflates education tuition rates with its student loan programs and then bails the indebted students out by subsidizing their loans’ interest rates. Meanwhile, the job market is thoroughly saturated with graduates with  low-demand liberal arts and humanities degrees that colleges offer and to the extent that more than half of new grads can’t find a relevant job. This doesn’t strike me as “fair.”

Perhaps it’s heartless to think this way, but it seems impossible that someone is entitled to things he has done little or nothing to contribute to making. Just because someone is born on earth, he is neither owned by society, nor does he own society. Mutual slavery is not the natural condition of man.

But capitalism is taken to mean exploitation. Property is theft, as the radical slogan goes. So who should control it? “People,” says the leftist. And who should control the people? “No one.”  So how should the equal distribution of property be governed? “Democracy.” Then people vote for politicians who will make it equal? “Yeah.” And politicians will always make things equal because… ‘blank out’ (to borrow a phrase of Ayn Rand’s).

Or alternatively: “We all just come together and share stuff.” But no one has any clue how a business or any organization can function that way. Maybe that’s the point – disorganization is freedom, ahem.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Wealthy people’s money did not come at other’s expense without government arm-twisting. If someone thinks work is inherently exploitation and willingly paying for a product is being gouged, then it’s hard not to feel embarrassed for him.

So, Bill Gates exploits people, because Windows Vista sucked and was overpriced? Touché. But people cannot profit in a marketplace unless they provide something that is valued by the people willingly buying it. And they cannot charge whatever price they want for their crap, unless they have some brand-capital to burn. Like Microsoft did. It had to revamp and offer a new OS upgrade incentive on Windows 8 or spook people that didn’t want to get burned again.

No one gets screwed over when he voluntarily plops down $200 for some computer software. Like Bill Whittle put it, “nobody trades down.” People either prefer parting with their cash or going without a new Operating System.

The flip side of all the progressives’ complaining about being exploited by rich people is that a lot of those nasty bastards mass produce or mass market things that improve people’s standard of living. Apple makes IPads that do things that boggle the mind for the price of a low-wage earner’s salary for a few weeks of stocking shelves. Is that really unfair? Or someone working at McDonald’s can earn enough in an hour to feed himself for a day. That is definitely not considered “unfair” in non-capitalist systems around the world.

There is a lot of hand-wringing about supposedly evil Wal-mart, which saves people on tight budgets a bunch of money (or else they wouldn’t shop there). Its employees make about as much in three days as it costs to buy a medium-sized flat screen TV. And for what? Certainly nothing comparable to the marvels of engineering it took to build and ship the televisions to the store.

That’s not a knock on Wal-mart workers; they have necessary and tough jobs. But let’s not pretend it’s unfair that they aren’t paid the same as people who got themselves into debt and invested the necessary time and effort to graduate from college –  at least with meaningful degrees (and let’s be honest, most colleges don’t exactly have rigorous standards).

But young people expect government to clear all obstacles in their path to success. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. No one can be great unless he overcomes adversity. Looking to government to remove all hardship from life is a fatal illusion. This misperception has aided government’s growth to dangerous proportions.

All politicians can really do is pass the buck to other people or to generations down the line. Not owning up to this basic TANSTAAFL economic reality is harmful to people’s integrity and also to the young folks who will pay the price for it.

Young people are now saddled with $200,000 in national debt for all the gifts government is giving out (yes, I did go there). Where is the money going to come from? A lot of people don’t know and don’t care.

What about rich people? They have so much and poor people have so little. If only there were so many truly poor people in this country! There are a lot of folks below the poverty line who are rich by world standards, and it isn’t because of perpetual-poverty creating entitlement programs. Many own cars and televisions and cell-phones… not exactly the picture of sub-Saharan Africa.

But let’s dispel the myth anyway that soaking the rich is going to pay for all of our stuff: the government could seize all the incomes and savings of the so-called 1% and run the country for about a year.

We’re turning into a nation of beggars, and Americans who are getting something for nothing should stop burdening society. There is nothing fair about subsidizing the takers and penalizing the makers.

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