Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fairness is not fair

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

- Karl Marx

The great significance of Marx's explanation is, that here too, he consistently applies materialist dialectics, the theory of development, and regards communism as something which develops out of capitalism. Instead of scholastically invented, 'concocted' definitions and fruitless disputes over words (What is socialism? What is communism?), Marx gives analysis of what might be called the stages of the economic maturity of communism.

- Vladimir Lenin

Why this obsession with fairness? Have we deluded ourselves into believing life can be made fair? Is this delusion the result of modern education and enlightenment? Who defines this agenda for equality? As much as people would like to believe otherwise, public policy does affect the home. There seem to be two main factions in American politics: one pushing toward fairness and one pulling toward freedom.

These are admittedly loaded terms, each carrying a great deal of baggage and political energy. A brief look at these two sides of American politics can also provide a glimpse into the effectiveness of political propaganda. If we unpack these loaded political terms what do we find?

Fairness: compassion, sharing, open mindedness, tolerance, equality, community, giving, progressive, liberating, peace loving, helpful, trustworthy, unity, Democrats

Freedom: greed, selfishness, closed mindedness, intolerance, hatred, inequality, bigotry, discrimination, individualism, taking, backward, oppressive, war mongering, harmful, untrustworthy, divisiveness, Republicans

I did not see this list anywhere; it was simply compiled as a summary of the suggestions and implications and direct statements made living life in the hyper-productive, news and marketing-saturated, politically charged American culture. I have gathered this list from the pool of common knowledge by reading or watching news stories, movies, television programs, listening to politicians or people in my everyday life. What I've noticed is Americans advocating fairness are often associated (implicitly or explicitly) with the terms listed above. Likewise, those advocating individual freedom are typically associated with the terms listed above with that label. The biggest irony about this list, in my opinion, is that it is backwards.

We live in a culture that loves to find a scapegoat for anything bad. We are all victims of something, aren't we? You may have observed that of all the bad things happening in our nation, it is Republicans who get most of the blame, even for bad weather. If there is any reason to think racism or sexism is a factor in any situation garnering public attention, there is typically an implication, if not outright accusation, that Republicans are the problem. Any disapproval of homosexuality is branded as hate speech, and of course it's only those right wing extremists who disapprove of it; therefore it is not worth listening to and no explanation of their objection is permitted. This is the power of propaganda: when one group is criticized often enough and loud enough, implicit and explicit propaganda takes root in a society, while hatred and distrust of the victimized group eventually overpowers logic and common sense. As one example, this happened to the Jews over decades, beginning in the 19th century, and culminated in the mid twentieth century. You can probably think of other examples where the self-proclaimed tolerant and open-minded hypocritically attack those with different opinions.

The same trend has been happening in Western politics for about a generation, this time against conservatives. This time the propaganda is not based on race, but on something more benign: helping people. With just a brief overview of the current political climate one should notice many items on the public agenda for American public policy is motivated (at least publicly) by compassion and the desire to help. From the impetus to redistribute wealth to the insistence that a national health care system is vital to the well being of Americans to the minimum wage to Social Security to publicly funded abortions, American politics is inundated with public programs designed to "help people." But this movement to offer government aid for any and everything has a price, and I'm not just talking about our tax dollars.

When a movement builds sufficient momentum to take hold of the underlying ideology it takes on a life of its own. When the government raises taxes it affects us even if it is not our own taxes that are directly raised. When unpopular opinions become hate crimes it impacts many people who are shocked to find themselves accused of criminality. When home schooling becomes illegal millions of people will be affected, as will millions more when a left-leaning sex education agenda is required learning in public schools, even more so than it is now. These are just a few examples of how a political agenda in Washington D.C. ends up impacting you and me at home.

The minimum wage is another good example. Federal politicians decide to help those earning low income by forcing employers to pay higher compensation. We are told this mandate is designed to help poor families, while ignoring the fact that it is mostly students and ENTRY level workers who earn the minimum wage and that raising the minimum wage also tends to drive up prices, which we call inflation. This inflation drastically reduces the intended effectiveness of artificially raising wages, which leads to the need to raise the minimum wage again. What happens during inflation is that businesses raise their prices for you and me; many businesses would go out of business if they didn't do this, which would increase unemployment. You and I end up paying for wage increases, whether or not we get a pay raise, increasing our burden and making it more difficult to make ends meet. We should not forget that this mandatory wage increase also encourages businesses to migrate jobs over seas. But let us not forget to give politicians credit for caring as they debate increasing the minimum wage yet again.

Whether inflation, higher taxes or a loss of individual strength and resolve, or something else, social policies forced upon us by our legislators eventually encounter the law of unintended consequences, which dictates an unforeseen situation will result from government interference in our lives, and this result is typically unpleasant, causing more harm to society. What is most frustrating to me is that the negative results of this government aid are often entirely ignored by the very people who imposed it upon us. Their good intentions seem to trump any painful results which make life more difficult for everyone else. And what is so good about raising the minimum wage if it doesn't really end up making life easier for the high school and college students who earn it? Well, it's an attempt to make things more fair, of course, and that is worth it.

I think I've noticed a pattern at work here. In the minds of those for whom fairness is an obsession, what determines when government intervention is necessary is when an injustice is observed. But here is how injustice seems to be defined:

inequality = unfairness = injustice

In our minimum wage example, there was economic inequality. Those who learned skills or who employed workers had more wealth than those who had not yet developed employable skills. Thus, in the leftist mindset, an injustice was found justifying the involvement of government elites. If an inequality can be found, no matter how significantly numbers have to be manipulated and no matter how many other factors must be ignored, that inequality is unfair, and therefore unjust. This mentality saturates the political left in western civilization. It is a tragedy that this leftist mindset is becoming common place in the general population as well. However, we should not discount the political element of the situation. Politicians want to get re-elected.

How do politicians keep their jobs? They have to win re-election. How do they accomplish this? They have to win more votes than any of their opponents (assuming the election system actually works properly). How do politicians win votes? By saying things we want to hear. If enough people like what a politician says (or doesn't say, as the case may be) more than another candidate the most popular candidate wins the popularity contest. Keep in mind, this does not qualify politicians to make laws, it merely authorizes them to do so. Winning the job does not automatically mean politicians know what they are doing. The constant cry for government reform (often from politicians themselves) should be evidence enough of that.

It is no coincidence that compulsory government programs (i.e., the seriously problematic Social Security program and the alarming national health care program looming on our political horizon) are discussed as "aid." It is much easier to put shackles on people if they think they need them. This should raise the question as to why journalists so seldom challenge this rhetoric. If one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter (as journalists trying to be "fair" tell us) is it not also legitimate to remind us that one man's government aid is another man's government shackles? Try telling the government you don't need their help with retirement, and refuse to pay FICA taxes any longer and let me know how that goes for you.

Politics is not the only realm in western culture where this Marxian obsession with fairness thrives. Academia is renowned for its left wing politics. From classical Marxists, to Socialists, even some admitted communists, my experience and the testimonies of others who survived the college experience tell me higher education is saturated with a left wing mentality (I mention this only because those who subscribe to that leftist tilt do not recognize it as leftist bias. They, of course, think of themselves as "normal" and anyone who disagrees with them are the extremists).

Some friends of mine and I were discussing the 2008 presidential election about a week before election day. The discussion centered on then Senator Barack Obama's redistribution of wealth agenda. One guy revealed he has been successfully taken in by this Marxian Populism. His argument ostensibly was motivated by a sense of community building, unity and fairness. In discussing "who benefits most from what government has to offer" he mentioned three things in particular, one of which will suffice for my long-winded pontificating: interstates.

My friend, whom I will refer to as F, suggested that people who benefit more from government programs should be taxed at a higher rate. Let me unpack the interstate example. The suggestion was that it is unfair that someone use the interstate more than someone else, with the implication that it is most likely rich people who have this greater benefit (they would use it more). Personally, I would think rich people (not being one myself) would be more likely to travel in the air than on the interstate, but my rebuttal was based more on the example of a mutual friend of mine and F's who is an artist. This artist person travels throughout the region from gallery to gallery. From what I can tell he is no more wealthy than F (though I suspect both are more wealthy than I). By F's example, our artist friend should be taxed at a higher rate some how to "compensate" for his "unfair" usage of the interstate. My response concluded it doesn't matter how much someone uses the interstate, it is there for all of us, to what ever degree we may use it.

The problem with F's example is that the worldview behind it filters life through a lens of class envy. If we were all assigned a certain allotment of miles to use on the interstate, and the artist friend of ours used more than his ration, one could make the case that something "unfair" had occurred, and proceed from there to argue this would also be an injustice, requiring some sort of punitive action by the government (such as raising the artist's taxes). However, there is no such rationing of the interstate, or many other government programs, yet F still wanted to see the situation from the perspective of an inequality. I mentioned in the discussion that it does not matter if anyone uses the interstate more than I do, and this inequality is therefore not "unfair." It is irrelevant. I don't know if F would call it this, but I would say his argument stemmed from an attitude of class envy - Populism. This inequality in the use of a government service was a manufactured injustice. I think F genuinely understood this after it was explained. Whether or not he really did, it seemed clear to me he had no idea he was inciting class hatred, which effectively is an attack on unity, something F and I both value. I just don't know if F realized that while injustice can be manufactured, unity cannot, at least not for the long term.

In April of 2008, the American Thinker published an excellent article by Lee Cary titled Obama, CEO Pay, and the Politics of Class Envy. Class envy does not build unity, it is inherently divisive, pitting groups of people against each other. Cary eloquently explains this simple truth using contemporary examples. For instance, Cary writes about Barack Obama's many statements condemning high CEO salaries:

"When a politician bemoans the salary-disparity on the Jay Leno or David Letterman Shows the crowds applaud. Never mind that Jay makes $123,000 and Dave $154,000 for each show - considerably more than the average U.S. worker makes in a year. Entertainers, including sports figures, are exempt from salary comparisons. They have talent. And never mind that Obama has leveraged his support from Oprah Winfrey to gain votes. At an annual income of $260,000,000, The Oprah makes a million dollars per weekday."

One should never assume a news story provides all information necessary to fully understand a situation. In news coverage about CEO compensation, as Cary points out, the outrage is highly selective. Senator Obama is apparently upset about supposedly excessive CEO pay, but has no complaints about the pay of politicians, Oprah, actors, athletes, etc. To promote a more "fair" economic situation, the propaganda line of the day is designed to sow hatred of CEOs, while ignoring the many other aforementioned rich people. That, quite simply, is not fair.

Since so many national level journalists also subscribe to the leftist obsession with fairness the hypocrisy of Senator Obama's argument is not brought to light. How many stories have you heard about CEO pay, versus the number of similar stories criticizing Oprah, or actors, or athletes for their obscene wealth?

As listed in the definition of fairness above, compassion is a major factor. Good intentions can be used to justify almost anything. Emotional impressions last, and that is why emotional appeals are so often used in politics today. For example, there is still a persistent myth that the Bush Administration should be blamed for hurricane Katrina. On September 6 of 2005, George Lakoff wrote an excoriating piece tying the failures of that tragedy to public policy and ideology. Mr. Lakoff relied heavily on emotional pandering in exploiting an opportunity to yet again accuse Republicans, and conservative ideals, of being uncaring. This emotional rhetoric has been so successful that many people even today blame President Bush for the disastrous aftermath of the hurricane. Global warming hysteria has been infused into the situation so often that Bush has even been blamed for the storm itself. Below is an excerpt from Mr. Lakoff's piece on the aftermath of Katrina, showing emotional exploitation, manipulation of "fairness" and distortion of the views he disagrees with:

"The cause was political through and through -- a matter of values and principles. The progressive-liberal values are America's values, and we need to go back to them. The heart of progressive-liberal values is simple: empathy (caring about and for people) and responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy). These values translate into a simple principle: Use the common wealth for the common good to better all our lives. In short, promoting the common good is the central role of government."

"The right-wing conservatives now in power have the opposite values and principles. Their main value is Rely on individual discipline and initiative. The central principle: Government has no useful role. The only common good is the sum of individual goods. It's the difference between We're all in this together and You're on your own, buddy. It's the difference between Every citizen is entitled to protection and You're only entitled to what you can afford. It's the difference between connection and separation. It is this difference in moral and political philosophy that lies behind the tragedy of Katrina."

Do you notice Lakoff's mixture of "unity" and divisiveness? Not only is there a plea for greater fairness, but insinuations of greed, a lack of compassion and just plain evilness by those he criticizes. He suggests conservatives never support a helping hand and ignores a common concern: if you rely on the government to take care of you don't be surprised when it does a bad job. While suggesting conservatives rely only on individual discipline and initiative he is also revealing that liberals don't believe you or I have discipline or initiative. That is the result of government's helping hand: the attitude that you and I are incompetent and cannot survive without Democrats taking care of us. Big government is cumbersome by its very nature, so relying on it for social aid is not necessarily a good idea.

To this day Republicans are still accused of racism regarding hurricane Katrina. Such accusations of hatred and intolerance are often made with a hate-filled and intolerant attitude. The hypocrisy of the left can be ignored because of the underlying assumption they care about people, while those they criticize supposedly don't. This labeling of conservatives as uncaring, racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted in any way is common place, but to suggest a "moderate" or "progressive" or leftist of any stripe as any of these things is considered an outrage. The fact that leftist policies tend to also cause harm is disregarded, and to publicly mention failed leftist ideas is considered a mean spirited attack.

What matters is not the results of leftist policies, but only their intentions. This is very dangerous. Because all leftist ideas are believed to be motivated by compassion any number of things can be attempted which would never be allowed to meet the light of a committee chamber if a conservative were to suggest them. Ideas like Social Security (a compulsory ponzi scheme decades old), the McCain-Feingold law on campaign finance reform (infringing on our right to free speech), and a compulsory national health care system destined to lower medical standards and limit medical care as much as Canada's or (insert European nation name here)'s health care system are all allegedly designed to make life better for ordinary people, yet we have no choice in whether to participate. In my mind, this raises the question of what do our politicians really care about?

I'm sure there are many in Washington to truly care about other people. I'm just not ready to accept the notion that compassion-inspired public policies are genuinely intended to help us the way we have been promised. One thing I have never understood with regard to legislation is the blind acceptance of the intent to help. Yet there seems to be another motive carefully avoided in debate: the idea that fairness is more important than actually helping people. It would not surprise me if it turned out our compassionate politicians would be satisfied if all Americans lived in poverty, as long as we were all on equal economic terms (except themselves, of course). This suggestion is no more extreme or mean spirited than the constant barrage of accusations that conservatives don't care about people.

America's founders wanted a limited government that respected the right of the people to make their own decisions (with enough government in place to help protect us from harming each other). When people make their own decisions (i.e., making good grades, working hard, making wise choices) inequality inevitably results, but this does not automatically mean injustice results. Efforts to make life more fair in our current political climate inevitably bring us closer to communism, exemplified by the brutal and oppressive regime of the former U.S.S.R. Lenin knew this. Our politicians know this, even if they deny that is what is happening.

My favorite example of why economic fairness is not fair is the comparison between a medical doctor and a garbage collector. A medical doctor who rises from the same poor neighborhood as the local garbage collector has not committed an injustice by earning more wealth. But this economic inequality is the only factor most leftists seem to care about. The inconvenient facts that the M.D. had to take on tremendous debt, put in many years of higher education, acquire a license to work, and works possibly twice as many hours in a week as the garbage collector simply have no place in the argument of economic fairness. The medical doctor is considered greedy by the standards of the leftist, and should be taxed at a higher percentage rate than the garbage collector because our government has the right to do anything it deems necessary.

Possibly the best example of fairness turning on itself and becoming utterly unfair was given to us during the 2008 election season by Congressman Jim Moran, (D - VA). The Weekly Standard has a video of his comments at a forum in Virginia, in which he challenged the Simplistic Notion That People With Wealth Are Entitled To Keep It. Congressman Moran's sense of fairness makes him believe government is entitled to take what ever it wants from whom ever it wants, and do what ever it wants. If government can take your wealth which you earned and you have no recourse for this action, how do we stop such a government from doing anything else? Congressman Moran's philosophy is the same mentality of the former Soviet Union. It is the opposite mentality of a nation of free people.

Populism is pitting groups of people against each other. But there should be a distinction between a people and their government. America's founders had an innate distrust of government, and we should maintain that attitude. The warning of our founders against factionism should also be heeded, though we obviously have ignored it for 200 years. It would do us well to trust people by default, but to distrust government. Ironically, leftists choose the opposite attitude, even when they claim to distrust government they prefer giving it more power while distrusting the people to make good decisions on their own.

America's founders warned posterity of this devolution into despotism.

“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.” — John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a Mrs. Powel anxiously awaited the results, and as Benjamin Franklin emerged from the long task now finished, asked him directly: "Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" "A republic if you can keep it" responded Franklin. (from a speech by Ron Paul, in 2000.

To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, "the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it." If the overgrown wealth of an individual be deemed dangerous to the State, the best corrective is the law of equal inheritance to all in equal degree; and the better, as this enforces a law of nature, while extra taxation violates it.

- Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Milligan

“The goal of socialism is communism.”

“It is true that liberty is precious - so precious that it must be rationed”

“We need the real, nation-wide terror which reinvigorates the country and through which the Great French Revolution achieved glory”

“The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.”

“Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism”

-- Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin confirmed these warnings by his own example in forming what became the USSR. Lenin's propaganda centered on erasing class distinctions, attempting to correct the supposed injustice of having "rich" and "poor." Is this not the same message we hear from our compassionate elitists today? The saddest aspect of all this is that we seem to have only one option at our disposal, to hope for change as our new president takes the big chair. At least, until the next election cycle.

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