photo © 2011 Theodore Lee | more info (via: Wylio)
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's! Sorry for the Canadian slant for my American friends, but I think you'll understand anyway:
Before children understand the birds and the bees; before they can make their beds or tie their shoes or choose clothes that match; even before they venture forth to school, they have already grasped one simple concept: fairness. If Jimmy gets cake, everyone should get cake. M&M's should be shared equally, as should jelly beans and gummy bears. In fact, it's this attempt at fairness that's usually the impetus for many children learning how to count beyond ten.
Yet as they grow, their definition of fairness often changes. If one child saves his allowance for months so that he can buy a new video game, and one child squanders money on chocolate, it’s not fair that the first child should have to let the second child play said video game. If one child practices piano, and one never does, it's not fair that both get to watch equal amounts of television. If you don't follow the rules, you shouldn't get the rewards.
Thus, fairness can be defined in different ways. It certainly can mean that everybody gets the same number of gummy bears, but it can also mean that people receive rewards commiserate with their effort. When people work and study harder, they get more. When they work less, they get less. And interestingly, the two definitions of fairness are ultimately diametrically opposite. Tell a child who has just purchased a packet of M&M's with her chore money that she must share them with her sister who goofed off and didn't get any allowance and she'll cry, "That's not fair!" But tell a union leader that seniority should be based on merit rather than just years of service, and he or she will cry, "That's not fair!", too. We may use the word "fair", but we mean entirely different things by it.
So which definition of fairness do you agree with?
That's essentially the debate that our country had last week. The difference between left and right usually boils down to concepts of fairness. The left thinks everybody should have equality of outcome; we should all have basically the same amount, and it's not fair for some to have much more. The right, on the other hand, thinks that people should get what they put into something. We should be responsible for our own actions.
Looking at the new map of Canada, surprisingly divided into blue and orange with only dots of red, it's interesting to see where the colour lines are. The one province of the country that is always clamoring for the government to do more--Quebec--is almost completely orange. The one province of the country that just wants the government to leave them alone so they can work hard and grow, all on their own--Alberta--went pretty blue.
Perhaps I'm being too simplistic in drawing the political lines like this, but I think the difference between left and right isn't just about spending; it's about philosophy. What is the role of the government? And what is the role of citizens? Personally, I think the more government does, the less citizens do. We start relying on the government too much, and it distorts family relationships, economic decisions, and even, in my view, the moral health of the community.
The problem the Liberals had was that nobody was quite sure what they stood for. In the next few years, the Liberals are going to have to pick a side: which vision of fairness do they stand for? Do they want everyone to have the same, so they stand for higher taxes, more regulation, and more government, or do they want people to be responsible for their own outcomes? And the rest of us should ask the same question, too. It's only fair.
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Labels: columns, politics, social issues