Stossel on “what is fair?”

What is fair? It’s a timely question, as President Barack Obama has made this question a theme of his campaign for re-election. This week John Stossel took up this question in an episode of his weekly television show.

In his closing segment, Stossel summed up what was learned on the show:

The idea that government can make life more fair appeals to people. At least it does until they really think about it. So, I’ll try to help. The president says fairness requires higher taxes. But, is it fair that the richest ten percent of Americans already pay more of the nation’s income tax than the richest ten percent in every other industrial nation, even Sweden?

Is it fair, as Art Laffer said, that American corporations pay the highest corporate tax rate in the world?

And beyond taxes: the president says school vouchers aren’t fair because they’ll take money from government schools. But is it fair that the president sends his daughters to elite private schools, while denying other kids that opportunity? No, I would say.

Clearly the term “fair” can be spun lots of ways. Politicians, for example, like to compare peoples’ incomes. But do equal incomes make life fair?

Think about this. Who’s happier: this good-looking Florida surfer dude? He hangs out at the beach all day. I assume he’s popular with the ladies, but doesn’t make much money. Versus: This computer geek. This is Bill Gates when he was younger. He’s much richer, but he spent hours of his life hunched over a computer screen. I don’t presume to know whose life is better. …

It seems reasonable to want government to make life more fair. But when government takes your money and freedom to try to do that, government makes life worse. It makes everyone poor. And the biggest threat is not just that government makes us poor, it makes us less. As government gets bigger, individuals get smaller. What’s really fair is to have limited government. That means the same rules for everyone. No special favors, no handouts.


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