Who doesn't believe in fairness? President Obama certainly does. He used the word "fair" eight times in Tuesday's State of the Union address, or exactly eight times more than he used the word "freedom" and almost one-sixth as often as he used the word "I."
No doubt his rhetoric resonated with many Americans, who have been taught since kindergarten that they should be fair and share with others. Unfortunately, this isn't kindergarten anymore, despite the way some adults behave during youth sporting events, and the president's use of the word "fair" in an economic context is highly problematic, for a number of reasons:
What does "fair" mean? In my experience dealing with both pre-adolescents and leftists (excuse the redundancy), the phrase "that's not fair" is almost always followed by "waaaa." People tend to use it when they don't get what they think they should get. Fairness is therefore relative, not to mention highly subjective.
I dare say that, in any given situation, what I think is fair and what you think is fair will be entirely different. That's why wars are fought, divorces occur, and little league drafts end in fistfights.
Who decides? Because "fair" is such a subjective term, meaning different things to different people, in order for the concept to have any practical application there must be some ultimate authority who determines what is fair for all.
That means you don't get to decide what's fair for you, and I don't get to decide what's fair for me. Someone else, either elected or appointed, will decide for us.
How fair is that?
It's easy to be fair with other people's stuff. In kindergarten, you learn to share your things. In politics, you learn to share other people's things.
A few years ago, I tried an experiment with one of my classes. Before returning students' tests, I explained that, since some had done well and others hadn't, I had taken points from those who made A's and B's and given them to those who made D's and F's. That way, they all made C's. No one really needs more than a C, right?
Predictably, those who scored high were incensed, while those who scored low were just fine with the idea. (I didn't actually change anyone's grade.)
And yet, even most of those who thought it "wasn't fair" for me to take away their points -- they'd earned them, after all, by studying harder -- probably think it's perfectly fair for the government to take more money from society's high achievers and give it to the non-achievers.
In the end, "fair" just means "so-so." Since there's no way everyone can be raised to the level of high achiever, the only "fair" thing is to bring those people down. If the president and his nanny-statists get their way, eventually we'll all be C students -- not just in the classroom, but in life.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. Email him at email@example.com.