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Why what’s fair is no longer a fair go


Political debate has completely mangled the concept of what’s fair.

Fairness was once playing by the rules. Now it’s the game’s result.

Fairness has become all about who’s got what. It’s all about the distribution of wealth and income. It’s no longer about the rules by which we agree to live.

A fellow figures out how to build a better mousetrap. He risks everything, borrows up to the hilt and builds his new mousetrap.

People love it. They flock to buy his mousetrap. And so he makes a lot of money. He has a nice house, another at the beach, a boat and holidays overseas.

“Not fair!” we now cry. “Look at us. We have none of that.”  

It doesn’t appear to matter that we love his mousetrap. That we flock to buy it. That the fellow through his better mousetrap makes our lives better. We forget all that.

We are blinded by envy and jealousy. It’s what he has compared to us that counts. We have no regard to how he acquired his wealth and income.

He never took any money from anyone. No one was forced to buy his mousetrap.

He respected everyone’s rights. People chose to work for him. He paid them a mutually agreed price.

But sticking to the rules is no longer the definition of fairness or justice. The outcome is everything. He’s got things that we haven’t got. That’s now not fair.

State-sponsored academics can be relied on to give our basest instincts a scholarly veneer. Rubbish articles are churned out declaring the more equal a society the happier, the more stable, the better educated, and so on, are the people.

And so we can pretend our concern is out of concern for society as a whole, not envy and a power lust.

To achieve a fairer outcome requires brute force. The man with the better mousetrap must be robbed. His beach house and boat must be taken and the proceeds distributed to those with less. That’s now fairness.

It’s robbery in the very sense that his property is taken from him by force. It doesn’t change the nature of the transaction that the taking is done by the government and the theft is made legal by parliament.  

And there’s the unfairness and injustice. A man is robbed simply because of his success at providing what people want.

The mousetrap shows that we should be clear about our definition of fairness and justice. Is it adherence to the rules of a just society? Or a desired distribution of wealth and income?

It can’t be both.

But quietly, and with stealth, politics has morphed justice and fairness to become synonymous with redistribution. Distributive justice was once properly regarded as oxymoronic and the focus was on the rules by which to live a good and just life.

We can all readily agree on these rules. Respect other people’s lives. Their freedom. Their property. And their pursuit of happiness.

But respect for these principles is now gone. The government must ride roughshod over the principles of good conduct to achieve distributive justice.

There can be no respect for people’s lives, property, freedom or pursuit of happiness if the government is taking property in a vain attempt to achieve “fairness”.

And there is no fair or just distribution. There’s no established principle on what is a fair distribution of income and wealth. There’s no consensus on it, either.

There’s an incessant political demand for “social justice”. But no one is able to tell us what it is. It’s just a catchcry to justify state-sponsored theft.

We have allowed politics to mangle the concept of fairness and thereby to destroy it.

In its stead, we have bloated government arbitrarily robbing the rich and successful without regard to principle or popular consent.

More by Rodney Hide

Comments and questions

Right again!
Keep it up Rodney.

While I can see how you would come to this conclusion Rodney, I disagree. The reason why is that for most people extreme wealth has come from exploitation of either people - ie, low wages, the casualisation of the workforce, which is NOT fair, and/or environmental degradation, which is also not fair. And all the while governments and officials are on the side of big business, not the environment and not the people.

There is also the knowledge that a lot of people have got to where they are by undermining what is fair - by having conflict of interests, having govt buddies to get them contracts. Government consultants now take a bigger piece of the pie than ever, and most of them are inside contracts.

But basically people feel generally ripped off - and the truth is they are: low wages, longer hours, expensive food grown right here, high tax, GST - and on it goes. And a government that fails miserably at creating jobs - a govt that has little human agency except for those with money. There is still very much a class system here in that those with money have value and those without do not - witness beneficiary bashing - and this also underpins why people are feeling the way they do, which inspired you to write your piece. But you miss the point, typically.

So your idea, and it is simply your idea, that people are envious of someone's hard work has some merit. But you miss the overwhelming reality/reason of why the 99% are looking at the 1%.

"Fairness was once playing by the rules". Which rules are these and who made them? Perhaps you should read Rawls who wrote extensively on Justice and Fairness. It's a good starting point for trying to understand what social justice actually means. It's not as one sided as your column.

Rawls! Perhaps you should check out your Hayek. I wonder how long it will be now before the Reserve Bank's OBR is initiated to give every account holder a "haircut" on their savings.

Hi Raf, I have read Rawls. The problem is he rides roughshod over individual rights and while his theory of distributive justice through an ahistorical veil of ignorance and social contract is interesting -- and clever -- it hasn't exactly caught on. Once gain, Rawls ultimately demonstrates the point that there is no accepted or defensible principle to guide distributive justice.

Thanks Rodney. Distributive and social justice are not exactly the same. I would also ask what you mean by "individual rights". Rights to what exactly and granted by whom? I would argue that nearly all moral and political philosophers are supportive of a basic subsistence (and yes that includes Hayek Anon, as well as Mill. Smith, Paine and the rest). It seems to me that the question you are asking is what exactly is fair. What is fair (and I would argue that Rawls' difference principle is a very reasonable account) may well be different to what is believed to be a right. Where do you stand on a universal basic income to replace the welfare state?

Rodney, you are right about private companies, but there is a problem with public companies and SOE's paying massive salaries to people who do not perform. Some CEO's deserve every penny they get, but a lot bluff their way up the slime trail. ALL staff should contribute to the review of a CEO then we could see better results.

I look forward to your articles every week- well done

I don't see the logic of SOEs. And you are right -- there is a huge problem of governance with them.

No doubt too there's problems in governance with public companies but then we don't have to invest in them or buy their products or service.

The finance companies situation and David Ross tell you everything you want to know about who are the supporters of Act and the National Party.

It's not that black and white Rodney. Fairness would require that everyone should have exactly the same chances and opportunities to create that better mousetrap as anyone else. Luck in life, from being born with genes predisposed to success in this age, having good health, having good parents to instil on you work ethics and life skills, having good education that fosters problem solving skills, having good mentors and friends that support you etc. Many of these things people in NZ just don't have and mostly through no fault of their own.

Even simple little choices like making a prank call to a hospital have unforeseen consequences sometimes…

Anyway, I think society should instil on us that if any one just happens to be lucky in all those things and becomes successful then it should be their responsibly to try and help those that fall by the wayside "the unlucky" (and not necessarily financially either – hand up, not hand out).

You may be surprised Rodney - sometimes it feels good helping others and .who knows maybe they will get off welfare and your taxes may come down.

Oh I agree and I apologise if I gave that impression. Of course, we should as human beings do our bit for each other. I hope I have never suggested or implied otherwise.

Of course, we are all born different and in greatly different circumstance. That's a biologic, sociologic and economic fact.

The best response to that is to have a system that provides for the maximum wealth for everyone and maximises everyone's chances in life. That's the free market.

The other virtue of the free market is that it has the smart mouse trap makers busy working for us -- that's the only way they can make money.

In a socialist or command economy the smart (and more especially the violent types) end up getting ahead by bossing everyone around and ripping us off.

The ravings of an angry man camouflaging resentment at perhaps a friend's abuse though one suspects it is personal. The privileged idealist balking at the strange idea that someone else deserves a hand up. Ethnics morphed by ignorance and poverty eventually become their own nemesis. There are however exponential consequences. This is the realpolitik Rodney Hide lacks the historical perspective to grasp.

Walsingham -- I have wrapped a wet towel round my head, read your words again and again, meditated upon them, and still I don't know what the heck you are saying.

I will raise it with my therapist next week.

Thank you Mr Hide. Honesty and a sense of humour have their place!

Well written Mr Hide , there are creators and there takers in this world , creators are the producers that give the ability for the takers to take something .WITHOUT CREATORS THE TAKERS HAVE NOTHING , BEST WE REMEMBER THAT WHEN THE CREATORS ARE ALL GONE AND THE TAKERS ARE CRYING NOT FAIR !!!!

Two shearers come into the shed with the supporting gang. One shears 300 the other 100 and are paid accordingly.

Hey hang on, we have inequality so we take the payment for 100 sheep off the 300 man and give it to the man who has shorn 100. Thats fair.

You dont have to be a rocket scientist to foresee what happens the next day

A simple analogy but thats what over half the population vote for.

Rodney another excellent article. What a sad loss to parliament with you out of the decision making.

Yet how few who have built mousetraps seem to care about their fellow neighbour less fortunate that themselves to have had a rich inheritance to fund that mousetraps r&d.
I am thankful that the poor in this country don't have to constantly rely of the charity of a few (begging) but through taxation compel him to give.
In reality what was 'robbed' (taxed) from him is less that if he had it all and had a continence to care for the poor and less fortunate than himself.
Rodney, had you been born into a family of 6 children in south Auckland you might be an advocate of levelling society so that all have a chance of success regardless of circumstance not just the rich's children only.

Why would the truth and reason depend upon where I was born and my number of siblings? Beats me.

The above explains the first two sentences of my original comment.

Your expressed simplicity typifies the entitled personalities who are currently supporting the government. Your article, "Why what’s fair is no longer a fair go" is merely one symptom of a hemoraging hepatoma in the New Zealand racial body-politic.

Put into the language of the street: "Burn bro, burn!"

Inevitable? No! There are always choices, alternatives, kiwi matesmanship. Housing, jobs, education, health and prison reform. Yes and a sense of humour Mr Hide just not of the 'Let them eat cake' variety.

#9 has correctly made the correlation between large family size and being poor. It's an expensive business, bringing up children. Having children is not mandatory. People have to be responsible for the decisions they make, particularly on matters like family size. It is immoral, and selfish, to force those of us who do plan our lives to fund the stupid and irresponsible decisions of the clueless, especially when funding them encourages the null, unthinking lives being led.

I'm sick and tired of having my life disrupted, the fist of Peter Dunne destroying my privacy so he can have his thieving hand permanently in my wallet, cleaning up after the unthinking dumb and heartless ... and I mean that on every level. Look at the last post on my blog, re my idiot neighbour and their poor dog, which I and my wife now have to try and rescue at what will be considerable inconvenience to the mobile lifestyle we had deliberately planned for ourselves, with our responsibilities cared for.

One of the problems with our society, the reason why it is yet another slave state, is people like #9 emoting about life, not thinking about it. And that observation was one of Maggie Thatcher's most astute.

Charity was once something people would only take in the most dire circumstances.

You would have to look your benefactor in the face and say "thank you" knowing that he had worked hard for his privilege to be charitable.

The problem now is that it comes from state. Faceless, soul-less state and it's meaning and the culture around charity has changed to the point that people feel it is their right to be handed down to.

It is middle hard working kiwis trying to get ahead that suffer the most in this current state of affairs ... earning 80k does not classify you as rich

If you ask a lot of people to define social justice you’re going to get many different definitions. Definitions will be based on a variety of factors, like political orientation, religious background, and political and social philosophy. If you ask a postmodernist about this concept, he or she is likely to tell you it’s a fairy tale that is not in any way achievable in any form of society.

A general definition of social justice is hard to arrive at and even harder to implement. In essence, social justice is concerned with equal justice, not just in the courts, but in all aspects of society. This concept demands that people have equal rights and opportunities; everyone, from the poorest person on the margins of society to the wealthiest deserves an even playing field.

But what do the words “just” or “fair” mean, and what defines equal? Who should be responsible for making sure society is a just and fair place? How do you implement policies regarding social justice? Alternately, should you legislate for justice in society or merely rely on the moral compass of society’s members?

I've yet to have a politician define for me fairness in relation to the tax system.

Well written once again Rodney. Keep it up.
The politics of envy will do nothing for the betterment of this ecountry.

Whenever I see a politician or alike aspouse social justice, I'm interested in what they mean by that and it always turns out to be redistribution of wealth for the "greater good".

I'm sure that is not what social justice (doesn't it just sound so nice, by the way) started out to be but that is what it is now.

Progressives just love it.

Don't people have a choice to have or not have kids and how many of them. So to those from a six kids family, make sure that you tell your parents that their decison "reduced" their opportunities. And make sure that you only have the number of kids you can provide yourself.

If society were to implement the same fairness doctrines of the tax system into the world of sports, perhaps there would finally be an outcry to the ridiculousness of it all. Can you imagine the uproar that would come from starting a player based on ethnicity, gender, physical or mental challenges, or perhaps even sexual orientation? The public would never stand for diminishing the high level of accomplishment and skill that is now given by the hardworking and dedicated players--many of whom are naturally gifted.... For the life of me, I cannot see why a successful businessman is looked at any differently than an accomplished professional athlete.
I am a Yank from California and it breaks my heart to see NZ falling into the same abyss that we have here in the US....

Ineptocracy, noun. In-ept-ocracy.

A system of government in which the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a deminishing number of producers.

See also; demonocracy, socailism, the Greens.

As Sir Winston Churchill one said - democracy is not a perfect system, but it is better than all the others.

One said, two said ...

And the irony of quoting the governor of a wartime command economy, what amounts to a tempoary totalitarian state, to defend de-mock-arsey is most amusing Padster.
Perhaps a course in critical thinking, rather than mearly typing 'democracy quotes' into Goggle, would help?

A long hot summer over 2012/13 is approaching and will hit Act/National supporters like the proverbial brick out of nowhere in the head. Wake up!

Urban riots in working-class and racialized communities like Auckland, the largest Polynesian city in the world! This will be an expression of high rates of joblessness, poverty and a government that appears unwilling to address community grievances. This is to say nothing about historical Maori land grievances. Wake up!

Poverty, inequality, chronic unemployment, segregation, ethnic transition, an unravelling social welfare system, are the combustible grouping of the urban riot. That tight combustible grouping of elements is increasingly present in Auckland. Wake up!

As Martin Luther King once said, "a riot is at bottom the language of the unheard." Economically with planning and preparation this is preventable.

Such social upheaval is bad for business, expensive to clean up and has associated consequences in politicised racial gangs and prison riots. Bad for the stock market, exports and tourism. And with consequential thinking is avoidable. Wake up!

Allan Hubbard visited me from beyond the grave last night and asked me to tell you he completely agrees with you Rodney.

He thinks it was extremely fair for your mate John Key to orchestrate the seizure and sale of all of his assets, with no court order, no trial and no balanced media reporting – just accusations and allegations alone.

He agrees with you that John Key's redistribution of his wealth, largely to private sector insolvency firms, was completely fair.

It was also fair that this was done under the guise of "protecting his investors".

Of course, Jock Hobbs also visited me from beyond the grave last night, too.

He just wanted you to know that he thinks it was equally fair for him to be spared all of that – given that he was 30 years younger than Allan Hubbard and had leukemia, as opposed to Allan Hubbard's dialysis treatment, which was much fairer to ignore...

My point is, your article is a load of complete and utter self-serving bollocks, which amounts to selective use of memory, morality and facts.


Rodney, that is complete rubbish ... stop jumping to extremes and passing them off as real analysis. Look for the balance ... much more difficult than dichotomising everything like you do!

Seriously, are you kidding me? There is a new mousetrap and the guy who made it is already loaded?

No, seriously, you just described the Jones (of whom we must keep up with) and it's ironic you're doing this at Xmas time. Did Harvey Norman put you up to this? How unconscionable of you and him. I saw David Dutchoveny's film Keeping Up with the Jones, which is all about the terrors of life's pressures above described poorly. I am sure the readers on here will not relate to this, given that Australia is doing so well, so most interested in the review will be like, 'What's he talking about, we're doing fine, thanks'. Not to mention all the options available for expansion, including the latest tax breaks for low-income workers, which is a major incentive for participation in the workforce - something people in business will be happy about. Nothing like a robust pool of help to choose from to make your mousetraps, especially one as well trained as the Australian labour pool. Productivity placements anyone? Excuse me, but please report for blood tests so we can clear you of the suspicion of smoking xxxx before writing again.

Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities. Oscar Wilde