Equality vs. Fairness

Socioeconomically, a populist mantra mosh-pitting across the frenzied crowds of left-wing media is so-called “income inequality”–as if there’s something inherently wrong or immoral about that, as if everybody should have the same income regardless of talent, ability, motivation, experience, skill or value of work. Ridiculous!

“Income inequality” is a problem if John and Jane are doing the very same work at demonstrably indistinct quantity and quality, with comparable experience and seniority, and Jane is making substantially greater or less money. That’s a rare situation. It’s really a huge problem if one is consistently doing more and better work than the other, yet earning fewer sixpence. That’s uncommon but not rare, and cause for a legitimate gender discrimination complaint by Jane or John–whomever is on the raw side of that deal.

However, barring such unusual situations, we are not equal. If we were, we literally would be clones. We’re not, so we’re not, and that’s that. No matter how much I train, how hard I try, I simply cannot sprint like Usain Bolt. He cannot predict and research violent storms like I can, at least not anytime soon. That’s just the truth. The truth is hard for some to accept, under the Utopian delusion that the “rich” (whatever that means…seems to change by the minute and from person to person) should make less, and the “poor” (ditto the last parenthetical) should be paid more.

Okay, let’s grab that dubious premise and run with it for the sake of argument. How much less for the “rich”? How much more for “the poor”? More importantly for each: in what way, decided by whom, and based on what standard that’s free from any vagueness?

What is the single, objective, consistent, reproducible definition of “rich” and “poor”? Who has the authority to decide that, and on what basis? What is the single, objective, consistent, reproducible definition of “enough” for how much more the “poor” should earn, and how much less the “rich” should keep? Who has the authority to decide that, and on what basis?

The answer to the last four questions is the same: there is none. As such, trying to force a round notion of equality into the square hole of unavoidable, interpersonal inequality is doomed to failure. Demolished morale, disincentive, subterfuge, corruption, and even ugly revolt, are natural consequences. Human nature dictates that.

The opposite of “income inequality”–income equality–taken to its logical and literal end, would pay everybody the same regardless of type, amount, extent, quality or difficulty of work performed. That idea is not only unacceptable and ludicrous in a market-based, capitalist democracy, but simply batshit crazy! What’s the incentive for a doctor to bust his tail for years in pre-med, med school, internship and the debt and insane hours that go therewith, if he can make “equal” salary dispensing Frosties at Wendy’s?

Strict equality can be patently unfair, undesirable, and even damaging. Anyone who has been a parent–in particular, tried their best to be a good one–knows exactly what I mean. My kids are different as night and day in many respects. Their personalities, motivations, responses to stimuli, and overall psychological makeups are worlds apart. I love them both just as much, but to treat them equally is to invite utter disaster. In order to raise those kids in a fair manner, they could not, must not, have been treated alike (equally) most of the time. And I told them, for example, “David, I don’t treat you the same as Donna because you are not the same kid. You are not clones, therefore, you will be treated individually.”

Yet I was the same dad with the same basic rules of conduct, right and wrong, for each. I’m not equal in every little application but I strive to be consistent and fair as a whole and equal in respect and love. As such, I can avoid hypocrisy while still treating people differently. The key isn’t in the playcalling, whose goal is always and consistently touchdowns, but instead in the execution of the play. One can score touchdowns (or commit fumbles) on all sorts of plays!

The same ideal applies professionally too. Say I have a nasty sunburn under my shirt and Jim-Bob Johannsen, my collaborator on the same project, doesn’t. We both get our work done excellently, we win the contract and the Big Bossman likes it a whole lot. Big Bossman slaps Jim-Bob on the back and says, “Great job, Jim-Bob.” No problem there. Jim-Bob feels like a superstar, and deservedly so, at least for a little bit. Then Big Bossman tries to treat me exactly the same. I’m screaming in pain before he ever gets to the verbal accolades! Equal treatment, equal reward, different result. In fact, for fictional me, it was an excruciating outcome, which illustrates three points:

  1. I should have worn SPF-45 while push-mowing that acre of lawn shirtless yesterday,
  2. Good intentions still can do lots of damage,
  3. The main one here, that equal does not mean fair!

For simplicity of argument I used a physical example of the fallacy of equality; but in other professional aspects I could cite dozens, maybe hundreds more, if this space and your time would allow. Alas, neither will, because you’re reading a BLOG instead of some trendy, 200-page “leadership” tome for which you forked over $29.99 to some smooth-talking suit-and-tie on the corporate motivational circuit.

When deliberating “equality” of anything (income, tax burden, social responsibilities, rights, you name it) we instead should be deliberating fairness instead. This is because people are not clones. Preferably, such dialog will include clear, consistent, reproducible, justifiable, written standards for what constitutes “fair” instead of merely somebody’s pulled-out-of-rectum opinion.

Ambiguity is the enemy of understanding. Fairness is not necessarily equality, but it must be well-known and communicated with crystal clarity to be truly fair for all involved.


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