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The New Fairness

Posted By Matthew Spalding, Ph.D. On January 24, 2012 @ 10:27 pm In First Principles | Comments Disabled

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In his State of the Union, President Obama has once again donned the mantle of progressivism, but this time rather than the radical argument that it is he claims it to be the core American tradition.

At Osawatomie, Kansas, Teddy Roosevelt at his most progressive, and so was Obama, who said the choice was between “you’re-on-your-own economics” and the view that “we are greater together-when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share.” The word “fair” recurs in various forms throughout the Osawatomie speech, with reminders along the way that things have to be made fair-and that means ever more government authority, programs, and regulation.

Tonight, he tried to take the moral high ground with this “fairness” argument, sounding more reasonable and moderate, and putting it in the terms of American values.  But the main thesis is still there, and the whole opening of the State of the Union is from the Osawatomie speech.  Here is how he put it in his pre-speech briefing: “We can go in two directions — one is towards less opportunity and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few.”  Here is how it came out in the final text:  “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by.  Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”

And as before government is just the tool for that job.  In his view, “fairness” flows not from opportunity and freedom of the individual, but from more government power, federal education programs, economic regulations, and infrastructure spending.  And, of course, raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for these “investments” would only be fair.

Such policy prescriptions lead to a governing class that insists on enforcing political and economic ‘fairness’ rather than letting us govern ourselves, choose our own vocations and earn our own success.  The idea that the government can and should step in to guarantee economic fairness is contrary to the founding principles that make America so great-and that enable its citizens to achieve success.  It is contrary to the very meaning of the American Dream.

Americans believe in equality as a principle – as in we are all created equal and are all equal before the law.  They support equal opportunity for everyone-a deeply American concept that makes no appearance in Obama’s speech.  That’s because equal opportunity for all also leads to vast differences, great diversity and much inequality in many things-which is the natural outgrowth of liberty and human flourishing.  What Americans oppose is a vast government trying to make all outcomes equal-regardless of individual effort.

 


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