Fairness

From his analysis of political patterns, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently said,  "What I've found is that fairness is at the heart of both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. But because the words have different meanings and they relate to additional moral foundations, that's why they're really, very, very different moral views."

This word has been used over a vast range of issues, from "fair trade" laws to the Fair Labor Standards Act - and to concerns that the rich don't pay their "fair share" of taxes. What exactly do we mean by fair?  

Jonathan Haidt speaks of fairness as rendering justice according to shared rules (also called proportionality). "Fairness for all" Liberals tend to see fairness as equality of outcome, where conservatives see fairness as proportionality, where it is fair for those who work hard and succeed to receive more rewards.

One conservative columnist argues that "fairness" is a vague and politically useful word that means "more" in practice:  "Life in general has never been even close to fair, so the pretense that the government can make it fair is a valuable and inexhaustible asset to politicians who want to expand government."

From a liberal perspective, this conservative view of fairness can be infuriating because the assumption is so insufferably judgmental of people who work quite hard and still aren’t able to get ahead. It’s worth mentioning that most liberals don’t believe that anything approaching proportionality actually exists.  They’d be pretty happy if it did!!

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