Will Wilkinson has an article up on the question of what “fair” means in the latest SOTU address:
- The politics of fairness (The Economist)
“Fairness” in this context — as opposed to, say, describing a random number generator, a complexion, or a surface — is one of my favourite flavours of haterade. Inevitably it’s used as a rhetorical cudgel by sanctimonious assholes to bully and browbeat those who don’t agree with sufficient fervour. Will eviscerates the trope masterfully:
Suppose I’m a surgeon pulling down six figures. Perhaps doing my fair share is to pay 33% of my income in taxes. But, hey, wait! My sister, who could have been a surgeon, chose instead to make pottery in a little hippie arts colony. She makes only as much as she needs to get by, works relatively short hours, smokes a lot of weed with her artist friends, and pays no federal income tax at all! If paying 33% of the money I make saving lives is doing my fair share, then it’s hard to see how my sister—who could have been a surgeon, or some kind of job- and/or welfare-creating entrepreneur—is doing hers. But if she is doing hers, just playing with clay out there in the woods, benefiting next to no one, paying no taxes, then clearly I’m doing way more than my fair share. Which seems, you know, unfair.
Are you doing your fair share? How would one know? Actually, I just made myself feel slightly guilty for not going to med school and joining Médecins Sans Frontières. But unless government can come up with a way of taxing the leisure of people who aren’t doing as much as they might for kith and country, I reckon I’ll just stick to part-time pro blogging and let all you 9-to-5 suckers finance the necessary road-building and foreigner-bombing.
(Emphasis in the original.)