“Life Is Not Fair” is a Relative Concept

Fairness is primarily about justice .  It matters less that life isn’t fair when you’re wealthy.  It can mean everything when you’re not.  


Sometimes I think I may belabor the fact that today’s Republican Party is clearly not the Party that it once was or that it no longer truly represents most Americans.  I worry too that revealing over and over how the GOP, being captured by a combination of a libertarian philosophy and remnants of the Bush-era neo-conservatives who support policies that advantage the rich in this country, will ultimately discourage people from reading anything on my blog when I bring this socio-political issue to the forefront.

Redundancy can often have an adverse effect.  But when those within that Party continue to demonstrate this pattern of behavior as if it was somehow sanctioned by most working Americans, it’s just not in me to let it pass without exposing it and challenging their premise.  If for no other reason than to achieve personal peace of mind.

The guru of the libertarian laissez-faire economics is Milton Friedman.  In his 1980 book Free To Choose he concedes “that those who grow up in wealthy families and attend elite schools have an unfair advantage over those from less privileged backgrounds”. (source of quote from “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” by Michael J. Sandel)  He then proceeds to rationalize this as a condition of “that’s the way the ball bounces”.

Life is not fair.  It is tempting to believe that government can rectify what nature has spawned.  But it is also important to recognize how much we benefit from the very unfairness we deplore.  there’s nothing fair . . . about Muhammad Ali’s having been born with the skill that made him a great fighter . . . It is certainly not fair that Muhammad Ali should be able to earn millions of dollars in one night.  But wouldn’t it have been even more unfair to the people who enjoyed watching him if, in the pursuit of some abstract ideal of equality, Muhammad Ali had not been permitted to earn more for one night’s fight . . . than the lowest man on the totem pole could get for a day’s unskilled work on the docks? (Friedman, Free to Choose, 136-7)


This skewered example hardly considers how behavior is manipulative or takes in the fact that pure talent or a born-to-the-manner status are hardly true spawns of nature.  Is the wealth of some families due to their ability to conduct their lives and their businesses ethically or did they achieve it through guile and manipulation?   Are some  physical talents the result of nature alone or were their lives less challenged with a dysfunctional family that allowed them to enhance what many have but are unable to pursue?  What Friedman and his advocates see as free choices are often nothing more than arranged conditions that have been manufactured by human beings.

The belief that there is a natural propensity in the social order of things that we can’t control is flawed.  Just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean they have to remain that way.  If this were a truth then civilization as it is today would be non-existent.  People can effect social outcomes and can do it without adversely affecting those who have certain advantages over us, for what ever reason.

By creating a level playing field in the area of education we create greater opportunity for more people to reach their talented capabilities and to put them into action.  Rather than remain dormant and go wasted we unlock doors for people who are equally or more capable to succeed than those who have inherited wealth.  A chance to hone their skills through the advantages of a full education benefits society as whole more than any policy that puts them on equal footing with the more affluent elements in society.

In our democracy we want to enable the general welfare of all so that a few wealthy elites don’t dominate the mechanisms that control our economy and ultimately our way of life.  When the federal government helps disadvantaged youth to start at the same threshold as rich kids with a comparable education, it doesn’t alter any assumed natural state of things but rather enhances an expansion of the nation’s raw talent by encouraging competition of those who come into the free markets on equal footing.  To use Friedman’s example, why encumber a talented athlete with equipment too inadequate or out-dated to succeed.  By providing him or her with basic essentials we then provide a hungry public all the talent there is to provide and thus enjoy.


Yet the view that the GOP currently holds which essentially allows only the existing wealthy elite to compete in the free markets continues to find support amongst those very people who clamor for personal freedom.  They would deprive those talented people to compete simply by the luck of the draw that our social system has dealt them.  This point has been driven home recently in a Senate vote on two separate bills that would keep interest rates low on student loans.

One of the bills presented by the Democrats, S-2343, was rejected by a 51-43 vote.  The majority that favored extending the lower interests rates was insufficient because an earlier deal had been struck between Senate majority and minority leaders to allow passage only with a two-third’s majority – 60 votes.  The so-called “greatest deliberative body in the world” is rapidly becoming the laughing stock of global civilizations.  All Republican Senators voted against this bill as did one conservative Democratic Senator – Jim Webb of Virginia.  Several obviously abstained and Republican Olympia Snowe merely registered her vote as “Present”.

Prior to this vote the Republican version to allow student loan rates to remain at the lower level was rejected with several of the GOP members siding with nearly every single Democrat in their opposition.  The final tally for the Alexander amendment No. 2153 was a lopsided 34-62.  Snowe again registered her vote only as “Present” and two Democrats and one Republican chose not to vote at all.


The primary difference between the two bills is that the Democratic version would have  funded the lower student loan rate by eliminating a tax preference for certain shareholders of S Corporations.  The GOP version would have achieved their funding by eliminating a preventive health fund created by the 2010 health care overhaul.  The devil as usual is in the details but clearly the GOP rejected the Democrat’s bill because it was viewed by many as depriving a more affluent class of people some of their income, while theirs is seen to pay for the lower loan rates on the backs of less affluent people who would benefit from a preventative health care measure listed in the Affordable Care Act, or what opponents of this legislation derisively refer to as “Obamacare”.

These votes alone by both Parties speak volumes as to where their interest lie and who their true constituencies are but there is even a more subtle assault here on low and middle-income families that isn’t highlighted in the vote count.  Take a good look at those Republicans who voted with the Democrats  in rejecting their own Party’s bill on this issue.

Jerry Moran – Kansas

Rand Paul   – Kentucky

Richard Burr – North Carolina

Tom Coburn – Oklahoma

James Inhofe – Oklahoma

Patrick Toomey – Pennsylvania

Jim DeMint – South Carolina

Bob Corker – Tennessee

Mike Lee – Utah

Ron Johnson – Wisconsin

Four of these – Jerry Moran, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Jim DeMint are part of the newly formed Tea Party Caucus in the Senate.  Both Oklahoma Senators and Bob Corker of Tennessee were strong supporters of Bush neo-conservative policies.  Both Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, though not official members of the Tea Party caucus, have clearly aligned themselves with Tea Party causes.  

What their vote speaks to here is not only a rejection of how such a bill to retain lower student loan interest rates should be funded but the idea that the government should help fund such loans at all is to be rejected.  In other words, a level playing field at the expense of anyone other than the students themselves is in line with Milton Friedman’s presumption that such aid is against some “natural spawn” that pervades the libertarian mind-set.


It is a mind-set that fails to see how the hand of human thinking has intervened and made such a “natural” state exist in the first place.  It denies that societies evolve in a dynamic pattern that result from human action and interaction, not by some “invisible hand”  that exists only in the minds of zealots.  It supports a status quo view that they themselves either benefit from currently or aspire to, despite the fact that more people than not will needlessly suffer from such impractical perceptions.  And finally it values monetary wealth and material gain over the basic human need to fulfill a dream.  Not for the sake of personal gain alone but for what it does to make life better for others.


Fairness is what justice really is.  – Potter Stewart


The Cost of College Will Soar if Interest Rates Are Allowed to Double 


10 responses to ““Life Is Not Fair” is a Relative Concept

  1. The thing is, a belief in the importance of the vibrance of the community is a fundamental conservative value. The libertarian ethos is contrary to core conservative ideals in that it puts the individual first, disconnected from responsibility, ethics, and duty. In most European states conservatives support health care systems and core efforts to promote a level playing field because it creates social cohesion and ultimately strengthens society. They disagree with the left on a host of issues, but recognize that letting the wealthy use their advantage to simply promote their own interests is poisonous. The ‘tea party’ folk have opted for ideology over reality – and ideology is always theoretical simplification that overlooks the complexity of social relations.

    • Nicely said Scott. I would add too that it is the neo-style of both conservatism and liberalism that puts more emphasis on wealth and material acquisition purely for some self-fulfilling reason rather than how their rewards were more a result of their effort to improve life for a greater number of their fellow citizens.

      Profits for the sake of profits seem to trump all of their entrepreneurial motivations today where in an earlier time it was the idea of making things to improve life that was a priority with men like Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller. Carnegie’s essay On Wealth was clear about this:

      “There remains, then, only one mode of using great fortunes; but in this we have the true antidote for the temporary unequal distribution of wealth, the reconciliation of the rich and the poor–a reign of harmony–another ideal, differing, indeed, from that of the Communist in requiring only the further evolution of existing conditions, not the total overthrow of our civilization. It is founded upon the present most intense individualism, and the race is projected to put it in practice by degree whenever it pleases. Under its sway we shall have an ideal state, in which the surplus wealth of the few will become, in the best sense the property of the many, because administered for the common good, and this wealth, passing through the hands of the few, can be made a much more potent force for the elevation of our race than if it had been distributed in small sums to the people themselves.” (On Wealth, Andrew Carnegie, June 1889)

      To do this Carnegie was in favor of taxing the wealthiest to use that revenue for “the public good”.

      “The growing disposition to tax more and more heavily large estates left at death is a cheering indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion. The State of Pennsylvania now takes–subject to some exceptions–one-tenth of the property left by its citizens. The budget presented in the British Parliament the other day proposes to increase the death-duties ; and,most significant of all, the new tax is to be a graduated one. Of all forms of taxation, this seems the wisest. Men who continue hoarding great sums all their lives, the proper use of which for – public ends would work good to the community, should be made to feel that the community, in the form of the state, cannot thus be deprived of its proper share. By taxing estates heavily at death the state marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.”

      • I don’t think you should have to wait till they die to tax them. Tax them while they’re still alive and have the chance to earn it back.

        Or, are they afraid that their incomes were somehow an undeserved fluke they can’t repeat and not entirely the result of their superior talent and work ethic?

        I believe in Trickle Up economics. Take it from the top, give it to those at the bottom, and it will eventually trickle back up.

  2. Hey…you’re not beating this issue to death. People need to wake up to what the GOP is all about! Especially the Tea Partyers.

  3. “Just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean they have to remain that way.” – I wish more people understood just that simple truth. And that “individual liberty” isn’t subjective. It applies to gays, abortions, and all that other stuff that isn’t government’s business in the first place.

    Nice post, as always.

    • Thanks Tawn.

      It’s human nature I believe to think that just because something has endured for some time that it is automatically something sacrosanct. This is seldom true but changing does not come easy for most of us.

  4. “I would add too that it is the neo-style of both conservatism and liberalism that puts more emphasis on wealth and material acquisition purely for some self-fulfilling reason rather than how their rewards were more a result of their effort to improve life for a greater number of their fellow citizens. ”

    Now that is well said….more people need to understand the concepts in play….

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