This Way and That Way: Fairness

A major debate we as a society have been having in one form or another for the past 200 years is whether or not we ought to redistribute some wealth from the rich to the poor. At the risk of caricature, the left argues that it’s unfair for the rich to have as much money as they do while there are people dying of starvation in the streets, while the right argues that it’s unfair to take the rich’s hard-earned money to give to some lazy bums who’ve never worked a day in their lives. A key thing to notice is that both sides frame their arguments in terms of fairness, but are they really talking about the same thing when they say “fairness”? I don’t think they are, and this is the key to understanding their disagreement. In this essay, I will not try to defend any particular conception of fairness, but rather try to make clear the core motives each side has for seeking fairness, how that leads them to their conception of it, and why each side has some valuable insights on this debate.  Continue reading