Child: But Daddy – that’s not fair!
Daddy: Well, son, life’s not fair. Whoever said it is lied to you. Fair is where you go to ride rides.
Anyone who’s ever been in one of my CFP® classes has heard me use this expression, and indeed I picked it up in one of my own CFP classes. Yes, the practice question you’re trying to answer may not be fair, but the CFP® Board tests you with questions like this, so toughen up.
I’ve been thinking about fairness lately, along with justice and equity, and the different shades of meaning in the words. I think of fairness in terms of fair play, i.e. the referee applies the rules even-handedly to both teams with no partiality. Justice, on the other hand, speaks to issues of right and wrong in our relationships with one another. Right behavior is just behavior, and wrong behavior toward another is unjust. Equity in my professional world is an ownership stake. Common equity refers to common stock. The Miami Dade Mayor frequently uses the word equity in her public communications, usually in the context of ensuring that County resources are distributed in an equitable manner. A laudable goal to be sure.
I see justice as a moral term, as it ultimately is a measuring rod against some moral standard. Have my actions measured up to this standard? Fairness, on the other hand, speaks to an even-handed application or distribution across the board. But equity, as I observe current usage, comes from a political ideology, i.e. society is unjust and unfair so we enlightened ones need to tell everyone else how to live so that we have an equitable society.
This kind of thinking scares me. In fact, it leads ultimately autocracy. Who will do the job of ensuring equity? A politician? A government bureaucrat? And how? By redistributing income, of course. And the opportunities for corruption in this redistribution process are limitless.
Think about this: I need money. You have some. Is it moral or just or fair for me to knock you over the head so I can take it from you and produce an equitable distribution of resources amongst us? Of course not. Extend the logic. Is it moral or just or fair for me to elect politicians to take money away from you and give it to me to assure an equitable distribution of society’s resources? No one wants to see other people homeless or hungry. We agree as a society that there should be a safety net. It is the extent of that safety net, and the coercive element of contributing to it, where the political left and right disagree.
Now back to the beginning: Life still isn’t fair. Fair is where you go to ride rides. I grew up in a home with a mother and father who were married to each other. You might have grown up in a fatherless household. Life’s not fair – you play the cards you're dealt. There’s nothing any government can do in this particular situation to bring about equity in terms of a missing parent.
We all have different abilities, and in different areas. A few people are brilliant, most are average, and some are dull. It just is the way it is. If a politician pursues equity, i.e. not equal opportunity but equal outcome, that’s Marxism, socialism, - whatever you want to call it. Because who does the enforcing? A government elite brings about equity. Irony of ironies.
How should I respond to life’s inequities? Repent of my white privilege? Atone for the advantages in life that my family worked hard to provide for me? Nonsense! But what I can do and what I believe I am obligated to do is to realize that I am my brother’s keeper (see previous post) and do what I can to look after him.
My very favorite Scripture verse, from the prophet Amos, 5:24:
But let justice roll down like waters,
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.