The Folly of "Economic Fairness"

In his April 14th column, Washington Post writer Steven Pearlstein attacks the Republican approach to the debate, claiming that the Republicans refuse to engage on the subject of “economic fairness”. He writes:

“One of the more comical features of the budget debate is to watch the ways in which Republicans refuse to engage on the issue of economic fairness.”

The column can be found here:


Mr. Pearlstein goes on to describe the cruel and heartless Republicans ignoring the plight of malnourished mothers and all the other downtrodden, helpless folks who would be bereft of all sustenance were it not for the benevolent fairness of federal assistance programs. He writes:

“If it’s legitimate to decry the immorality of leaving our grandchildren a legacy of crushing debt, which Ryan and the Republicans do ad nauseam, then it is no less legitimate to talk about the immorality of reducing deficits by cutting nutritional support for pregnant women and infants rather than raising taxes on millionaires.”

Mr. Pearlstein is wrong when he accuses the Republicans of refusing to engage in the issue of Economic Fairness. Certainly his overly generalized blather about the finanical wherewithal of small business owners is ridiculous on his face, as is the violin-in-the-background lament about the plight of the dusty, huddled masses of government dependent children. However, there is a deeper misconception that Mr. Pearlstein exploits in his column, which is the very thing at the core of everything wrong with statist thought. He is wrong because the issue of Economic Fairness isn’t an issue at all. “Economic Fairness” is a pleasant way of describing the forced redistribution of wealth based on the whims of a small, powerful group of people. “Economic Fairness”, as Mr. Pearlstein describes it, might sound like a noble and worthy goal, if you don’t mind having some politically connected desk-jockey deciding who wins and who loses, in the name of “fairness.”

What is missing from Mr. Pearlstein’s logic is conveniently located in the Preamble to the Constitution: We The People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice…

Justice. Not fairness. Justice. It’s a simple word, one that requires no modifier in order to be understood. The word has several definitions, most of which include words such as “honest”, “rightful” “impartial”, but there are two that stand out when viewed in the context of government. Justice, according to Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, is the use of authority and power to uphold what is right. In the second, and even more important definition, justice is the administration of law.

In the context of government, justice cannot exist without impartial law. To abide by laws that were created by representatives of the people upon whom those laws will be applied is the foundation of a just and civil society. Justice demands that these laws be applied equally to all people, regardless of their race, their gender, or any other arbitrary classification used to separate one group of people from another. If, as Jefferson boldly wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal”, then the only manner this fundamental truth can be honored is by enacting laws that apply equally to all. To enact and abide by such laws would constitute the establishment of justice described in the Preamble.

Mr. Pearlstein’s idea of “Economic Fairness” tosses the idea of justice out the window in favor of an arbitrary system that punishes some and rewards others based on a set of criteria that shifts much more quickly than the ponderous bureaucratic machine can respond. For example, there is a natural inclination among those on the left to raise taxes on a certain, group of Americans known as “the rich”. However, the constantly changing value of fiat currency means that it is impossible to define who is rich and who is not, and so anyone classified as rich and taxed a greater proportion of his wealth is the victim of arbitrary government. By the same token, the purchasing power of a dollar changes almost daily, as well as varying according to where one resides, and so determining how much money will provide adequate nourishment for pregnant women and infants must also be the work of arbitrary government.

F.A. Hayek sums it up far better than I can:

“From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefor not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time.” (Taken from “Broke” by Glenn Beck, page 235)

Mr. Pearlstein’s notion of “Economic Fairness” is either woefully naive or intentionally misleading. Bandying about moral falsehoods like “Economic Fairness” distracts us from the real pursuit of justice, such as securing tax reform that requires each citizen to contribute the same proportion of their earnings, and a Balanced Budget Amendment, to protect those citizens from the depredations of an unrestrained government.

Mr. Pearlstein would better serve his readers by calling things by their proper names, instead of covering up the obvious holes in his logic with band-aids made from “Economic Justice”.