Speaking from the U.S. Capitol, President Barack Obama laid out his vision for the future during his State of the Union address. In a curious, perhaps unintentional, manner the president offered his position for a progressive course for the nation with the emphasis on fairness. “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules,” he noted.
But what does fairness mean and how does it influence the future course of events? Will the government be placed in the position of adjudicating fairness? Will fairness emerge from bureaucratic coercion? And is the casualty of fairness limitations on liberty?
Traditionally, fairness to the extent it was a precedent in our history was tied inextricably to opportunity, creating those conditions that give all people from any background a chance to succeed. Very often this claim existed more in the breach than in reality, but it was part of a vision that brought millions of immigrants to our shores and accounted for the success of uncounted citizens.
Occasionally the government played a role in this matter when arbitrary obstacles were placed in the way of opportunity, e.g., Jim Crow laws. But more often than not the heavy hand of government was unnecessary as long as the freedom of the individual was preserved. Freedom means, in effect, the ability to rise and to fail, the chance to seize the moment or let it slip by.
If one relies on government in order to achieve fairness — a somewhat dubious concept in the first place — a class of bureaucrats will enforce the rules of economic engagement. These people will decide who gets and who gives. Power will be centralized and absolute. Moreover, the tax system becomes an instrument for imposing redistribution arrangements.
Obviously the rich will pay more than the poor when it comes to taxes. That is self-evident. But how much more should they pay and how progressive should the system be? At the moment, the top one percent pay more than 40 percent of federal taxes. That is certainly disproportionate. Is it fair? Who is to say? And how much more would make it fair? It is also obvious that extortionate rates will drive many out of our tax system as they seek more reasonable rates abroad.
Abraham Lincoln once argued that you cannot make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor. This axiomatic position seems to be lost on President Obama, who continually quotes Lincoln in his speeches. The hope for the national future cannot rest on a powerful and intrusive government manipulating the economy in the name of egalitarianism. In fact, the road to serfdom begins with the belief you can overcome natural differences to create a tie at the finish line of life.
American success came from and continues to rely on entrepreneurial activity, an activity that requires incentive, both financial and emotional. If you remove those incentives by taking away the fruits of one’s labor or you treat success and failure as merely conditions of chance, entrepreneurship will die as it has in every socialist nation that attempted to impose equality on its population.
Sure, it sounds good for everyone to get his fair share. It has the rhetorical ring of good faith. Rarely do people ask, what is my fair share and, even if defined, how is it achieved? From an Orwellian perspective, “fairness” is a way to cloak the basic premise of the Obama presidency — class warfare. In doing so, President Obama is not calling for unity, but disunity. He is not proposing new economic initiatives, but old failed ones. And he is not advocating for a revitalized economy, but instead is committed to exacerbating debilitating economic prospects.