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

Text Only
  • 06.29 CrystalFarewell.jpg Starting over at Head Start

    All I ever wanted to be was a journalist. Having worked on my high school and college newspapers, I knew it was the career for me.
    I love talking to people, listening to their stories, being creative every day and experiencing new things. But as you know, news happens outside the hours of 9 to 5, and my job here at the Register rarely stayed within that time frame.

    June 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • Ike Adams They don’t make strawberries as they did back in the old days

    I’m not inclined to go through my archives at the moment, but it almost feels like the column I’m about to write has almost become an annual thing over the years.
    At least I know for sure that that this is not the first time that memories of picking strawberries there on Blair Branch on hot days in June has triggered this keyboard about this time of year.
    I grew up on a little subsistence, hillside farm deep in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, among the coalfields near the Virginia line.

    June 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Baby boomers have let technology rob their grandchildren of the joys of youth

    When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to see fathers and sons along creek banks fishing together or in the woods hunting squirrels or pitching horse shoes or even shooting marbles late in the afternoon in the cool hours before dark.
    Dads were teaching kids to play the games they grew up with. Little girls, learned from mothers,how to skip rope, play with jacks or play hopscotch.

    June 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg No Lincoln or Douglas in this debate

    Remember the famous slap-down in the 1988 vice presidential debate when Republican Dan Quayle compared his youth and limited government experience to those of John Kennedy’s when Kennedy ran for president?
    His Democratic opponent, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, acidly replied: “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

    June 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Senate campaign already in full bloom

    Any hope for a respite in the U.S. Senate campaign following Tuesday’s primary disappeared immediately.
    Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes came out swinging in victory speeches which sounded like campaign kickoffs.
    McConnell commended Matt Bevin on “a tough (primary) race” and appealed to Bevin supporters to unite behind his re-election bid. That will be hard for Bevin and those who backed him.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG ‘Taxpayer-eaters’ meet ‘self-serving politician-eaters’

    What some candidates could gain in this year’s election – beyond just winning office – is a stark reminder of how wrong political leaders were when declaring last year they had adequately addressed Kentucky’s public-pension crisis.
    Instead, legislators with serious courage deficiencies failed to agree on reforms beyond what they believe are “politically feasible.”

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Step Out, Step up for Diabetes Association

    Six weeks ago when I wrote here announcing the 2014 Edition of Team TKO’s American Diabetes Association, Step Out Walk Team, several dozen of you readers sent generous donations to sponsor grandson Tyler Kane Ochs (TKO) and me in the walk that takes place, rain or shine, in the mud or not, at Keeneland on the morning of May 31.
    Another several dozen of you either called, emailed or dropped a card in regular mail and asked that I remind you again “after the holidays” (Easter and Mother’s Day).

    May 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Hitting the campaign trail

    The most watched race in the country ? the battle for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell ? has so far produced a bevy of charges and not much substance.
    We haven’t seen that much of McConnell or his likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes out on the campaign trail.
    McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin has been much more active and visible, but his performance hasn’t enhanced his chances.

    May 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case of the scary black cat

    If Margie didn’t believe that black cats were the harbinger of bad luck, she certainly believed it when a black cat brushed against her leg while she was leaning over a large trash can burning garbage one late afternoon.
    Startled by the sudden appearance of the feline, Margie opened her mouth wide and let out a blood-curdling scream that could have awakened Count Dracula himself.

    May 10, 2014

  • Ike Adams Basking in the spring sunshine

    If you had asked me, as recently as two weeks ago, to make a list of things I expected to see on the first Monday in May of 2014, two of the things that I actually did see would not have been on the list, even if you’d required that it contain at least 500 items.
    I’d have been a bit skeptical about Ralph’s purple asparagus and his gorgeous snowball bush, both of which came through most admirably. And I would have had my doubts about the poppies that have been in our back yard for several generations and the bearded German Iris that Jeanette Todd gave us more than two decades ago. It faithfully stuns us there at the corner of the front porch every spring, but there they were, basking in absolute glory as the sun set Monday afternoon.

    May 8, 2014 1 Photo