Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Another Counterfeit

It would have been more insightful for me to have divided Monday’s post, Counterfeits, into two parts, with this being added as a third part. That would have made a neatly planned week of posts. Unfortunately, I don’t always organize that far ahead what I will say. So, less neatly, here is another example of a tyranny/southern-hemisphere counterfeit.

As Americans, we have practically born in us a sense of fairness and equality. We don’t have an aristocracy—a class of people who receive special privileges and immunity from various laws based on their parental heritage. We honor our government leader, our President (even the current one) based on the position. But we expect that person to be subject to the same laws as the rest of us. If he robs a bank, he goes to jail. If he murders his secretary, he suffers the weight of the law. If he lies before Congress, he is prosecuted for perjury.
That is what we mean by Blind Justice. The law doesn’t look to see who the accused is—what their wealth, position, race, religion, gender, ethnic heritage, or other special interest category may be—before weighing the evidence. We are equal before the law.
Blind Justice, Alabama
photo by Scott
We don’t have a class system—a stratified society based on arbitrary, permanent conditions. The concept of avoiding people who are beneath us seems unpleasantly foreign. We don’t call one another “uppity” for “trying to rise above our station.” Rather, we have the American Dream, where hard work and brains put to good use in a free marketplace offer the opportunity for rising above current conditions for anyone.
The southern hemisphere counterfeit for equality is something else altogether—equal outcome. “Leveling the playing field” is the lie. It is the claim that, if someone else has more than you do, it is because they had some unfair advantage, that their level of work and yours are irrelevant. There’s an unspoken claim that, just one time if we redistributed the wealth and started fresh from the same starting line, then everything would be fair.
But outcomes will always be different—because individuals are different. I used to see this clearly in relation to my children’s education. When we moved to our current school district, and I attempted to continue their gifted education, there was a lot of resistance from the teachers. They seemed to believe that every child deserved the same input from them. But if the goal of education is to help each child gain the education that will help them reach their potential, then every child’s education is different—customized. Some teachers seemed to think, if a child was already reading well and doing the required level of math, then the teachers' duty was done, and they could turn their attention to students still struggling.
That meant that bright students spent hours every day sitting around waiting, often bored, rather than engaged in learning. “Fairness” in this common classroom setting means paying attention to some students while ignoring others—in an effort to make the outcome of the education the same: the limit of the slowest learner.
The elementary school report card actually said, “performing at grade level” or “not performing at grade level.” When my daughter showed up there a couple of grade levels above her age in several subjects, the report card practically implied she was getting stupider by sitting in that classroom—and that was OK as long as she wasn’t slipping behind the slower learners. As a mama bear, I never said, “Oh well, I’m sure the professionals know best”; I got her the heck out of that non-learning environment and saw to her education myself. Some might say I unfairly unleveled the playing field.
Fairness in economics is likewise not holding some people back to keep anyone from getting ahead. Even if you could start everyone at the same level, some people work hard, use their creativity, save up resources to invest in capital improvements, and come out ahead before long.
You can see this historically in frontier America. Homesteaders would start out with a few tools and basic belongings. They would clear the land, build shelter, plant crops, raise animals, and move ahead, if they could, from subsistence to prosperity. Sometimes misfortune got in the way—a hailstorm, a fire, an accident, a drought. Sometimes a family would have to move on and start over multiple times. But eventually some people prospered. Was it because they were given an unfair slice of the overall economic pie, thus depriving otherwise deserving individuals? No. It was a combination of hard work, mental and physical, along with some good timing.
Equalizing outcomes isn’t about fairness; it’s about coveting, that last of the Ten Commandments that tells us it’s wrong to be jealous of our neighbor’s good fortune.
The southern hemisphere counterfeit of “equality” is about using the covetousness we’re trying to rid ourselves of, nurturing it, and using it to persuade us to give power to some entity that promises to take from someone we’re envious of. Maybe to give to us, maybe not—it’s often enough for them just to stick it to the person with more. And for doing so, they get an unequal portion of power/control over the people.
Which is better?
·         Subjecting ourselves to a controlling force that takes from the prosperous and uses the spoils as it chooses? (southern hemisphere controlled economy)
·         Allowing individuals to prosper from their hard work, ingenuity, and frugality, with the possibility that any of us, even all of us, can prosper? (northern hemisphere free enterprise)
Next time someone says it has to be equal or it isn’t fair, ask whether equal relates to equality before the law or equality of outcome. There’s a hemisphere of difference between the two.

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