Russell Taylor – In praise of fairness

One of the abiding frustrations of being on the political Right is finding yourself playing on the Left’s terms. Such is the state of public discourse in this country that left-wing assumptions about how the world works have become the stuff of common sense, making them difficult to contradict without looking obtuse. It’s like trying to play rugby when football is the only game anyone understands. The moment you pick up the ball and run with it, everyone cries foul.

Take the Left’s definition of ‘fairness’, according to which no one should be able to exploit an advantage that enables them to steal a march on anyone else. Whether you’re smarter, wealthier, harder working, more talented, better looking or better connected than anyone else, it shouldn’t make any difference to your prospects in life, because these advantages are unearned privileges of birth and it’s wrong for others to be denied them on account of being born into unfortunate circumstances. The privileged should have their wings clipped and the disadvantaged given a leg up, until they meet in the middle as a rainbow alliance of Labour-voting equals.

The fly in the ointment is that when people are free to express what qualities are important to them, they ruin the Left’s shiny-happy egalitarian vision by discriminating against the idiots, the layabouts and the misfits. That’s why leftists don’t like consumer choice: because they don’t trust the public to make the ‘right’ decisions. It’s why they like governments receptive to the sophisticated opinions of left-leaning metropolitan types. What we the public want doesn’t come into it, because we lack the laser-guided decision-making skills of the experts, bureaucrats and media bods who live under the liberal big top. Much better that we shut up and do as we’re told by our betters.

Leftists rarely spell this out so explicitly, because claiming to know what’s best for people without bothering to consult them involves a troubling degree of cognitive dissonance, and tends not to go down well with voters. Instead, they blame corporate fat cats and their right-wing cronies for hoodwinking us into wanting all the wrong things. But for their malign influence, we’d all be caring and a-sharing, and working selflessly for our ‘commoonidees’. We’d be spending our money in ethical ways, rewarding the ‘right’ values and the ‘right’ people, and paying prices that ensured a fair outcome for all.

False consciousness theories such as these advance the idea that society is divided into ruthless predators and helpless prey, necessitating the intervention of a third group to protect the former from the latter. It’s this group of self-appointed guardians who dominate the modern Left, and who concoct fanciful theories to justify their own empowerment and exaltation. This isn’t to say that the Left is automatically wrong in its definition of fairness, because fairness is a subjective idea (although to nit-pick, the word ‘fairness’ is normally used when ‘justice’ is meant). Personally, I find equality of outcome profoundly unjust because I believe that reward should be commensurate with the benefits we bring to others, and that benefits should be judged by their beneficiaries. But maybe I’m a dupe, who’s been tricked into that way of thinking by Tory propaganda and sneaky advertising. Perhaps I am the unwitting victim of a system that requires me to feed the capitalist machine in exchange for a shrivelled, dehumanised existence. Maybe I should wake up and smell the Fair Trade coffee.

Fascinating though this theory is, it’s fundamentally flawed. If these capitalist bogeymen are after our money, wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier for them just to give us what we want, instead of persuading us to act against our interests? If they are really blessed with the Rasputin-like ability to charm us into buying their wares, why do they go to the trouble of innovating new products? Why invent calculators or computers when the mesmerised masses would be content to dribble over a slide rule? Why create supermarkets full of exotic products if we’d be happy gnawing on a hunk of stale bread? If there’s really nothing to choose between people, why do capitalists bother discriminating in favour of certain qualities? After all, the fewer people they can choose from, the more those people can afford to demand. And anyway, if corporate mind-control is so powerful, what makes leftists able to resist its effects? Is it because their brains are so much bigger than the walnuts rattling around our dimwitted skulls? And if so, how do they reconcile that with their belief that we’re all equal?

If false consciousness can be discounted as crank theory, so can the Left’s understanding of fairness and equality. The idea that we are a nation of fundamentally unselfish creatures, who are naturally committed to wealth redistribution, is self-evidently untrue, otherwise there would be no need for income tax. We would all voluntarily donate money to the government to support collectivised provision. The fact that we don’t and that we freely reject the people, values and qualities we consider inferior makes a mockery of the Left’s beliefs. Moreover, it demonstrates that its attempts to impose an arbitrary definition of fairness on society are not acts of compassion but of tyranny.

Clearly then, what people claim to consider fair is different to what they want when they have to bear the cost. When we make egalitarian noises, we’re wistfully envisaging a world in which our shortcomings are not held against us, and making cheap gestures of sympathy towards those who have fallen short. But when our money and contentment are on the line, we happily discriminate against the things that don’t meet our standards, because we can’t afford to pay the price of other people’s inadequacy. When this principle is scaled-up to a national level, it doesn’t suddenly become acceptable to prefer an idealised concept of justice over a realistic one. Pretending that all things are equal and dumping the costs of that untruth onto others is an indulgence and a disgrace, not to mention a sure-fire route to economic decline. If you want to know what unfairness really looks like, it’s right there.

15 comments on “Russell Taylor – In praise of fairness

  1. Rob
    August 28, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    I demand my right to replace Wayne Rooney as Man Utd’s number ten. Never mind that I am 57, overweight, and wasn’t ever much good at football, (even when I could still run around a bit), surely it’s discrimination not to give me the chance…..oh, and the 200 grand a week would come in handy too……..
    This article is spot on…clearly equality of outcome is completely unnatural, and goes against all human instincts. Most would be committed to equality of opportunity, and a little tinkering with outcomes to protect the less fortunate, but the current obsession with “equality” for the masses, particularly when glaring exceptions exist in the political and media elite, and sporting and entertainment “slebs” is enough to turn the stomach…………

  2. Anthem
    August 28, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Superb as usual Mr Taylor.

    The lure of the left is that, deep down, most people like a freebie and the thought of getting a share of the unearned is to hard to resist for most.

    But by it’s very design, while you’re busy trying to grab a piece of the cake from your betters, there will always be someone below you trying to grab a piece of yours.

    Capitalism is often accused of encouraging a “dog-eat-dog” society but I would suggest that this collectivist/redistributionist type philosophy creates it in spades and it’s a far uglier version to boot.

    Not only is almost everyone always scheming away trying to concoct ways of grabbing a larger share of someone else’s cake, we’re actually encouraged to report those who we feel are unfairly grabbing too large a piece for themselves in the hope that by curtailing their “greed”, it will lead to a larger slice for themselves.

    It’s ugly, it’s inhuman and it’s as far from “fair” as it is possible to imagine. That’s the left for you, though.

    • therealguyfaux
      August 28, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      I will take a chance here and guess that, by your username, you are familiar with Ayn Rand.

      People can say what they like about her on a personal level– she may not have been the perfect vessel of her own message– but they cannot say that she did not take an idea and try to work it out to an ultimate conclusion based on what the underlying assumptions were.

      In her novel Atlas Shrugged, in a part many seem not to be as familiar with as with the remainder of the book, she details how an American “company town,” Starnesville, had its social fabric completely torn asunder after the family who owned the firm, in a presumably non-cynical effort to live up to the “To each based on need, from each based on ability” ethos paternalistically imposed such a system.

      Needless to say, it all ended in tragedy, as it was not the workers who ultimately really determined either one– need or ability. And when a “veteran” of Starnesville (read: “refugee/survivor from”) tells the heroes of the story what happened, he recounted that (my paraphrasing): “We all thought it was a good idea at first. No, that isn’t it, really– what we really thought was that we were supposed to think it was a good idea…”

      “[quote] And if anybody had any doubts, he felt guilty and kept his mouth shut. Because they made it sound like anyone who’d oppose the plan was a child-killer at heart and less than a human being. They told us that this plan would achieve a noble ideal. Well, how were we to know otherwise?”

      Sound familiar?

      • Rocco
        August 28, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

        Man, if anyone has forgotten Starnesville you’re doing your best to remind them, on Bogpaper at least! 😀
        But you’re spot on. That story on the train is one of the best parts of the book, for my money. (That and Francesco D’Anconia’s discourse on money.) So vivid, so informative. Anyone reading it, even without any knowledge of economics, can learn how monstrous such a system is.

      • Rocco
        August 28, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

        *Francisco d’Anconia

  3. Simon Roberts
    August 28, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    You’re quite right about the view that seems to be pervasive today. It’s all reletavely new though.

    We didn’t really have this until 60’s and 70’s. Up until then, self-reliance and hard work were the most common values.

    When I was growing up in the 70’s, the idea of “scrounging” from others was looked down on, but how long now since you last time you heard anyone on benefits described as a scrounger?

    I’ve watched this change in attitutes at first hand. My uncle was a Young Conservative in the 70’s and fretted over the advance of the Left. He has changed progressively over the years until now he believes in the welfare state and even that healthcare is a human right – yet he believes that he is still right of centre politically.

    My point is that this all ties in to Margaret’s pieces on Cultural Marxism. The political landscape has been deliberately moved to the left over the decades to the point where anyone who voices sentiments that were common forty years ago is now an extremist.

    Sadly, too few people are actually able to think for themselves (despite thinking that they do) and this is why the “march through the institutions” has been so successful.

    • Rocco
      August 28, 2013 at 10:02 am #

      Simon, you’re mistaken about this being a recent thing. What about “the peoples’ budget” of 1912? My dad knew Lloyd George, and all that? The popularity of Churchill (the real driving force behind the Welfare State); the Labour landslide?
      The popular belief in redistribution has a much longer history than you suppose, my friend.

  4. Rocco
    August 28, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Russell, you’ve fallen into a “leftist” trap yourself. There is nothing whatsoever ‘unselfish’ about redistribution, quite the opposite. A, voting for B, so as to get his hands on C’s wealth, is about as selfish (in the bad sense) as it gets.
    Also, I must disagree with you over your point about the “need for income tax”. (Don’t worry. I shan’t go on an anarcho-capitalist rant.)
    Imagine two would-be prime ministers, Mr Just, and Mr Fair. Mr Just says “tax, though obviously necessary, should be kept to a minimum. The state should do very little: protect person and property, and mediate disputes, where neccessary punishing offenders. Everyone has the right to his own money.”
    Mr Fair says “you deserve more. More of everything. The rich have got too much anyway, so we’re gonna take loads from them. Bankers bonuses. Bankers. Bonuses! Bankers! Etc etc etc”.
    Now, who will be elected? To ask the question is to answer it.
    We have Social Democracy in this country for one reason, and one reason alone. The public want it. They tell politicians they want it, and politicians tell them they’ll give it to them if they vote them in. And all politicians say this, because otherwise no one would vote for them.
    As David Hume says, opinion is the origin of government. If we want less government, we will have to change peoples opinions.

  5. Rocco
    August 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Having thought about it, Russell, one could go further. In fact, your argument is self-contradictory, my friend.
    You point out, rightly, that it is nonsense for the left to talk about false consciousness regarding products. People buy the things they buy because they actually do want them, not because shadowy forces operating behind the scenes are manipulating them. This is well and good.
    But, you deny this, you argue the opposite, when it comes to politics. Here, apparently, the simple folk are tricked into voting (buying) for politicians (products) they don’t actually want, by sinister intellectuals (advertisers).
    To resolve this contradiction we must abandon the idea that voters are dupes, Russell. We must freely admit that people have not been brainwashed into voting for Social Democracy, any more than they’ve been brainwashed into wanting a better settee. Politicians are governed by, so to speak, market forces. They, like the businessmen, survive and prosper only by giving people what they ask for.

  6. Ian W
    August 29, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    What I find more fascinating is the hypocrisy. Those advocating fairness never seem themselves to subsist on the median wage. One would have far more respect for these people if they literally put their money where their mouths are and gave all income greater than median to the Exchequer. However, as you say what they really appear to want is for everyone but themselves to be leveled down into the proletariat. This can be seen in ‘microcosm’ from the left in the UK but in larger terms in the dreams of UN Agenda 21 and the wish for the cognoscenti to form a global governing elite while the proles are kept in their place working to support the elite. Strangely, this leftist dream seems to be similar to the medieval monarchists and can be seen in North Korea as a working model complete with its hereditary ‘monarchy’.

    • Rocco
      August 29, 2013 at 11:19 am #

      An interesting example of such hypocrisy, Ian, is the doctors’ and nurses’ unions. They don’t want the NHS privatised because apparently “greed” leads to lower standards of care. Yet, at the same time, they campaign for higher wages to ensure rising levels of care! If they were serious about ‘caring’, they’d be asking for less money.

  7. Rocco
    August 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Russell Taylor, come on dude! Those are legitimate, polite, not to say moderately expressed, criticisms. Why no reply, man?
    Even if you don’t accept that there is a fully fledged contradiction, you must at least accept that there is a tension, no? A dissonance between the belief that false consciousness is not an explanation of consumer behaviour, and the belief that false consciousness is an explanation of political behaviour?
    Also, from a purely practical standpoint, there are problems. If someone told you that you didn’t really want all the stuff you own, but that you’re just a rube and some huckster gulled you, would you be inclined to like that person? To see him as someone you could learn from?
    But if you tell a person that his belief in social justice, nationalisation, employment law, etc, are not what he actually believes, just what some conman named Gramsci tricked him into parroting because he’s such an idiot and he’ll believe anything – do you think such a man will be more or less inclined to think of you as a fellow he could learn a thing or two from? After such an introduction, how likely is it he will even listen to your arguments for liberty?
    (As always if anyone else wants to jump in, I’m more than happy to debate this with them.)

    • Russell Taylor
      August 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

      Sorry, Rocco, I’m on holiday at the mo, but I’m sure others will argue the point on my behalf!

      • Rocco
        August 29, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

        Oh, my apologies Russell. I didn’t wish to interrupt you. I do hope you’re well, and enjoying yourself. Later.

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