OK, raise your hand if you believe in fairness. Ha! I tricked you. I haven’t yet defined what fairness means.
Everyone has their own definition of fairness. But here’s how Haidt defines it:
Fairness/Cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
So Haidt’s system is measuring fairness in terms of proportionality, not equality. In other words, fairness is the requirement that people are treated equally, not that the outcome of such treatment is equal.
That seems reasonable, but it’s not a definition of fairness that we all use in everyday life. To apply rules impartially and senselessly may lead to injustice. That’s why we don’t require ten year olds to race against 16 year olds on school sports day. It’s why we have specially-reserved parking spaces for disabled people. It’s why we have different rates of tax and why some employers apply positive discrimination in job interviews.
But where do we draw the line? When does a universal rule lead to injustice? When do special cases themselves undermine the principle of fairness?
Everyone has a different answer.
The economist Milton Friedman saw any deviation from universal rules as state interference with the freedom of individuals to enter into voluntary agreements with each other. Such interference has the effect of suppressing such voluntary agreements, to the detriment of all. He further argued that so-called positive discrimination is no different to negative discrimination, such as Hitler’s Nuremberg laws. After all, who is to be the judge of whether discrimination is positive or negative? Throughout history, democratic majorities have shown themselves to be capable of adopting all sorts of prejudices. Morals change with time and in the long run only impartial neutrality is guaranteed to be fair.
But while unambiguous laws that apply universally are the holy grail of justice, in practice almost none of us would accept such indiscriminate blind laws.
Liberals tend to be swayed by the Care moral foundation, which means that they are more likely to “bend the rules” and apply special cases. Conservatives, whilst equally caring, value the principles of Loyalty and Authority just as much as Fairness, and so are less likely to shift the goalposts and change the rules.
These factors change our perception of what fairness means. Is it fair that hardworking people subsidize the lifestyle choices of those who don’t work? Is it fair that one person earns more than another for the same number of hours? Everyone has a different answer it seems.
So, let me ask again. Raise your hand if you believe in fairness.