The Richmond Register


September 17, 2012

Who gets to decide what’s ‘fair?’

“Fairness” is a term getting thrown around during the current campaign season more than a football at a Cards vs. Cats game.  

President Obama has even made it the centerpiece of his reelection campaign, using rhetoric filled with talk of “fairness” but nothing about “freedom.”

One of his standard lines pines for “an economy where everyone gets a fair shot” and “everyone does their fair share.”

But the question I have is: Just what is it that makes a government edict fair or unfair?

For instance, is it “fair” to Kentucky citizens for Gov. Steve Beshear to accept $67 million from Washington in order to set up a government-run health exchange in the commonwealth without legislators’ consent?

Is it “fair” to Americans to market Obamacare as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” when it will not protect the most vulnerable among us, and actually makes health care for most responsible Americans less affordable?

Is it really “fair” to force everyone in the commonwealth to purchase health insurance at a price that cannot be influenced by either existing health or personal lifestyle choices?

To some, this may seem intuitively fair – especially to those chronically ill patients unable to pay for their own care.

But for Obamacare proponents, such “fairness” should be decided willy-nilly on a case-by-case basis.

They claim it’s “fair” to implement policies that are “unfair” to healthy Americans who neither need nor want such high-cost coverage. Instead, this coverage is forced upon them to subsidize those who, in many cases, have made irresponsible decisions that have resulted in their current predicament.

Spreading the costs of unhealthy behavior offers incentives to otherwise healthy individuals to throw caution to the wind. Is it “fair” that healthy behavior is punished for the sake of making unhealthy choices less costly to the individual?

Don’t we want just the opposite?

When it comes to pollution, many environmentalists point to Kentucky’s coal industry as one of the culprits infringing on social equity. They hail the Environmental Protection Agency as a bastion of fairness to keep the commonwealth’s ecosystems and public lands from being polluted.

But what’s “fair” for the radical greenies may be completely “unfair” for the Appalachian communities throughout Kentucky that rely exclusively on the black rock for economic well-being.

What if we consider the jobs drawn to Kentucky from the aluminum, steel and automotive industries because of some of the lowest energy rates in the nation — all because of Kentucky coal?

How is it “fair” for the costs and benefits of Kentucky coal to be determined by unelected bureaucrats in far-off Washington D.C. when the effects of our energy sector are most felt right here at home?  

Who gets to determine what’s “fair” when it comes to tax policies?

Apparently, it’s a no-brainer that 1 percent of Americans holding 40 percent of the national wealth is “unfair,” but expropriating this group’s legally acquired property for the sake of equity isn’t? Just how did the Occupy Protestors calibrate their moral compass to arrive at that gonzo conclusion? Am I the only one lost here?

There’s an assumption that if we raise taxes on the “wealthy,” somehow or other the only consequence will be more money flowing into government coffers.

But what we’ve found is just the opposite. Such “fairness” policies reduce economic activity, which, in turn, reduce the amount of money available for public service.

Some want to anyhow, claiming such tax hikes ensure “equity.”

That seems “unfair” to me. And why shouldn’t my understanding of “fairness” count just as much as anyone else’s?

Jim Waters is acting president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

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