Thomas Sowell today concludes his three-part series of articles on the “Fallacy of Fairness.” In this installment, Sowell exposes the weaknesses of the arguments of those that believe fairness to be results-oriented and not a matter of equal treatment under the law.
People like philosopher John Rawls call treating everyone alike merely “formal” fairness. Professor Rawls advocated “a conception of justice that nullifies the accidents of natural endowment and the contingencies of social circumstances.” He called for a society which “arranges” end-results, rather than simply treating everyone the same and letting the chips fall where they may.
This more hands-on concept of fairness gives third parties a much bigger role to play. But whether any human being has ever had the omniscience to determine and undo the many differences among people born into different families and cultures– with different priorities, attitudes and behavior– is a very big question. And to concentrate the vast amount of power needed to carry out that sweeping agenda is a dangerous gamble, whose actual consequences have too often been written on the pages of history in blood.
Disregarding criteria in the interest of “fairness”– in the sense of outcomes independent of inputs– adds to the handicaps of those who already have other handicaps, by lying to them about the reasons for their situation and the things they need to do to make their situation better.
For those interested in a more thorough and enlightened contrast of the philosophic foundations serving as the basis for competing political schools of thought, Sowell’s Conflict of Visions is a must read.