Arthur Brooks new book, The Road to Freedom, is causing quite a stir, and hearing an interview of Brooks this week reminded me of an essay last fall that was inspired by Brooks previous book. The essay dwelled on the philosophical difference in the way the concept of fairness is viewed by Conservatives and Liberals.
There are basically two ways to define “fairness” in an economic sense where there is mal-distribution of income. One is “redistributive fairness” which President Obama and other liberals in and out of congress favor. The idea is through taxes or financial favoritism to take from wealthier Americans and give to less wealthy Americans and thereby to even out, to some degree, the income people have regardless of whether they have earned it.
The other definition is “meritocracy fairness” which holds that people should receive monetary compensation based on hard work, ingenuity, and innovation – i.e. the money that people make should come as a result of merit.
In his 2010 book, The Battle: The Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future, Arthur Brooks states that inequality is “fair” if it is based on merit and equality would be “unfair” if what someone has earned on merit is redistributed to others who have not earned it. There should be penalties, not rewards, for corruption, stupidity, laziness, and incompetence. Where does the public come down in this? According to a comprehensive survey, 89% of Americans believe in “meritocracy fairness” and only 11% opt for “redistributive fairness.” People in the past, our ancestors, came to the United States for economic opportunity, not for redistribution of wealth.
Those numbers, to me, are staggering, and just completely belie the notion by nearly every Liberal who has ever posted here that they are in the mainstream of American political thought, and it’s Conservatives who represent the kook fringe. It’s generally accepted that Liberals account for about 20% of the U.S. population, so almost half of those who self-identify as Liberals don’t even agree with redistributive fairness.
I think almost everyone who is paying the slightest bit of attention to this election cycle agrees that it’s one of the most important elections in generations, perhaps, as some contend, the most important since 1860. November 6th will, I believe, be a referendum on how we as a people view not only the concept of fairness but the overall role, size and scope of government. We are at a fork in the road, and this election will, I also believe, determine whether we take the road to serfdom or the road to freedom.