Jewish World Review May 10, 1999 /24 Iyar 5759
The new "fairness"
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
AT ONE TIME we all understood what was meant by a "fair fight." It meant
that both fighters fought by the same Marquis of Queensbury rules. It did
not mean that both fighters had equal strength, skill, experience or other
factors that would make them equally likely to win.
In today's conception of fairness, only when all have the same prospects of
winning is the fight fair. It was not in "The Nation" or some other
left-wing magazine, but in the neoconservative quarterly "The Public
Interest" that we find opportunity equated with "the same chance to succeed"
or "an equal shot at a good outcome" -- regardless of the influence of the
individual's own social, cultural or family background.
This confusion between the fairness of rules and the equality of prospects
is spreading across the political spectrum. Regardless of which of these two
things might be considered preferable, we must first be very clear in our
own minds that they are completely different, and often mutually
incompatible, if we are to have any hope of a rational discussion of policy
issues ranging from anti-trust to affirmative action.
To add to the confusion, when prospects are not the same for all, this is
then blamed on "the system" or "the rules of the game," as Brookings Senior
Fellow Isabel V. Sawhill does in the Spring issue of "The Public Interest."
Rules and standards are the creation of particular human beings, but
circumstances need not be. Ms. Sawhill herself includes "good genes" among
the circumstances which affect economic inequalities, and we might add all
sorts of other geographic, demographic, cultural and historical factors that
were not created by today's "rules of the game" or by "the system" or by
anyone currently on the scene.
It makes sense to blame human beings for biased rules and standards. But
who is to be blamed for circumstances that are the results of all sorts of
conditions of the past and present, interacting in ways that are hard to
specify and virtually impossible to disentangle? We need to stop the
pretense that somebody is guilty whenever the world does not present a
picture that suits our desires or fits our theories.
This new kind of "fairness" has never existed anywhere at any time. The
real world has always been astronomically remote from any such condition.
Nor are the costs and risks of trying to achieve this kind of fairness
Crime rates soared when our courts began to concern themselves with such
things as the unhappy childhoods of violent criminals or the "root causes"
of crime in general. Those who paid the highest price for these excursions
into utopian justice were not the judges or the theorists whose notions the
judges reflected, but the victims of rape, murder and terrorization by
The same preoccupation with this special kind of "fairness" has often
turned our anti-trust laws into ways of penalizing those whose lower
production costs enable them to sell profitably to the public at lower
prices than those of their competitors who are struggling to survive. Here
again there is often a pretense of villainy enshrined in rhetoric about
"predatory" pricing or "domination" or "control" of the market. And here
again there are third parties who lose -- the consumers.
Equating an absence of utopian justice with villainy has become common in
employment law as well. Companies whose employees do not statistically
mirror the ethnic composition of the local labor force can be found guilty
of "discrimination," even if no one can find a single employee or job
applicant who has been treated unfairly by having different rules or
standards applied to his or her work or qualifications.
Do we as individuals and as a nation wish that others less fortunate had
our blessings? We should and we do. But our blessings as a nation did not
consist of having other nations give us foreign aid. The blessings of
individuals who have achieved in life have seldom taken the form of having
others accept mediocre performances from them or make excuses for their
Almost as mushy as the quest for utopian justice is the notion that the
alternative is to "do nothing" about the gross disparities in prospects that
are common around the world. There has never been a moment in the entire
history of the United States when we have done nothing.
innumerable things that still need to be done, but spreading confusion is
not one of
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©1999, Creators Syndicate