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Thomas Sowell
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The 'Fairness' Fraud


During a recent Fox News Channel debate about the Obama administration's tax policies, Democrat Bob Beckel raised the issue of "fairness."

He pointed out that a child born to a poor woman in the Bronx enters the world with far worse prospects than a child born to an affluent couple in Connecticut.

No one can deny that. The relevant question, however, is: How does allowing politicians to take more money in taxes from successful people, to squander in ways that will improve their own reelection prospects, make anything more "fair" for others?

Even if additional tax revenue all went to poor single mothers — which it will not — the multiple problems of children raised by poor single mothers would not be cured by throwing money at them. Indeed, the skyrocketing of unwed motherhood began when government welfare programs began throwing money at teenage girls who got pregnant.

Children born and raised without fathers are a major problem to society and to themselves. There is nothing "fair" about increasing the number of such children.

A more fundamental problem with the "fairness" issue raised by Beckel and many others is the slippery vagueness of the word "fair."

To ask whether life is fair — either here and now, or at any time or place around the world, over the past several thousand years — is to ask a question whose answer is obvious. Life has seldom been within shouting distance of fair, in the sense of even approximately equal prospects of success.

Countries whose politicians have been able to squander ever larger amounts of a nation's resources have not only failed to make the world more fair, the concentration of more resources and power in these politicians' hands has led to results that were often counterproductive at best, and bloodily catastrophic at worst.

More fundamentally, the question whether life is fair is very different from the question whether a given society's rules are fair. Society's rules can be fair in the sense of using the same standards of rewards and punishments for everyone.

But that barely scratches the surface of making prospects or outcomes the same.

People raised in different homes, neighborhoods and cultures are going to behave differently — and those differences have consequences. The multiculturalist dogma may say that all cultures are equal, or equally deserving of respect, but treating cultures as sacrosanct freezes people into the circumstances into which they happened to be born, much like a caste system.

While talk about "fairness" may provide a fig leaf to cover politicians' naked attempts to grab more and more of the nation's resources to spend, there is no assurance that raising tax rates on "the rich" will result in any more tax revenue for the government. High tax rates have too often simply caused wealthy people to put their money into tax-free securities or to send it overseas.

Four years ago, TV interviewer Charles Gibson pointed out to candidate Barack Obama that raising capital gains tax rates had on a number of occasions led to less capital gains tax revenue being collected — and, conversely, lowering the capital gains tax rates had on other occasions increased the amount of capital gains revenue collected by the government.

Obama readily admitted that. But he said that "fairness" justified a higher tax rate on "the rich." Yet how does a higher tax rate on paper, without a real increase in the amount of taxes actually collected, promote fairness?

However, raising tax rates on "the rich" pays off politically, even if the government loses revenues when the rich put their money into tax shelters.

High tax rates in the upper income brackets allow politicians to win votes with class warfare rhetoric, painting their opponents as defenders of the rich. Meanwhile, the same politicians can win donations from the rich by creating tax loopholes that can keep the rich from actually paying those higher tax rates — or perhaps any taxes at all.

What is worse than class warfare is phony class warfare. Slippery talk about "fairness" is at the heart of this fraud by politicians seeking to squander more of the nation's resources.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



8 Comments | Post Comment
"Fair" has nothing to do with the argument. Unbalanced is the term. The system is unbalanced.
The poor and middle class don't stand a chance, especially if they have no assets or interest to write off at tax time. We take the hit every single paycheck and have no write offs to speak of so you know we're being crippled while the rich and wealthy maybe will feel a pinch, but with their write offs, like Romney, they're paying a lower rate. Taxing 25% of 40K does more damage and is more of a financial burden than taxing 25% of 400K reduced to only paying 15% of 400k.
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury,
and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.
And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.
For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
(Luke 21, NT)
The poor is hated even of his own neighbor: but the rich hath many friends.
Proverbs, OT(don't recall which one)
Comment: #1
Posted by: demecra zydeem
Tue Feb 21, 2012 2:57 PM
Bad analogy. Jesus called for the rich to give to charity, NOT government. Like Thomas said, government wastes money like nobodies bussiness. They have no accountability how they spend the money. They take money from everyone, waste half, then give it back to who they see fit. If we collected less in taxes from everyone, then more money could be freed up to give to charitable organizations.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Wed Feb 22, 2012 9:19 AM
This is off-topic but @Chris McCoy, I leave it to every thinking person to recognize your statement "...Jesus called for the rich to give to charity, NOT government..." as outrageously false. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Gospels of Jesus Christ and the New Testament will recognize this: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."
"..The synoptic gospels state that hostile questioners tried to trap Jesus into taking an explicit and dangerous stand on whether Jews should or should not pay taxes to the Roman authorities. The accounts in Matthew and Mark say that the questioners were Pharisees and Herodians, while Luke says only that they were "spies" sent by "teachers of the law and the chief priests".
They anticipated that Jesus would oppose the tax, as their purpose was "to hand him over to the power and authority of the governor" (Luke 20:20). The governor was Pilate, and he was the man responsible for the collecting of taxes in Roman Judea. At first the questioners flattered Jesus by praising his integrity, impartiality, and devotion to truth. Then they asked him whether or not it is right for Jews to pay the taxes demanded by Caesar. In the Gospel of Mark (12:15) the additional, provocative question is asked, "Should we pay or shouldn't we?" Jesus first called them hypocrites, and then asked one of them to produce a Roman coin that would be suitable for paying Caesar's tax. One of them showed him a Roman coin, and he asked them whose name and inscription were on it. They answered, "Caesar's," and he responded: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." The questioners were impressed (Matthew 22:22 states that they "marvelled", and satisfied with the answer, they went away.
Having spent many years studying non-profit churches, charities, and hospitals, I can tell you before those tax exempt tithes and contributions are spent in service to the needy, they are designated to improving and growing the buildings and grounds of the Church and the Minister; investing in high tech electronics, new robes, prayerbooks, advertising, and on and on. Many churches tend to it's flock but excludes those outside the flock. The church can and does exclude and cherry pick who they will help.
The majority of non-profits are money making machines. Tax exempt hospitals: More than 80% of profit is devoted to growing the hospital and it's administrative costs and new equipment, very little trickles down to pay for charity patients. The facts are all out there, but you don't even have to look them up, just wonder, "how is it a not for profit hospital can have so many branches and so much? They must have lots of money, so why are they complaining about the cost of treating the uninsured and under-insured? Did they really need to buy yet another or remodel yet another wing simply because the rep has a deal with the purchasers and the CFO? Charities are no better. Google how many$$ of any charity actually get to those in need and how much goes to "administrative costs and misc." Why do you think there are so many warnings about giving to charity?
Because they too .."take money from everyone and anyone, waste half, then give it back to who they see fit". And they do it under the non-transparent cloak of non-profit. Power and greed are the only masters that get any respect.
I have more faith in God and our government than I do a church caring for it's flock or a charity showing charity to all in need without first demanding an ID card or permanent address.
Comment: #3
Posted by: demecra zydeem
Wed Feb 22, 2012 12:05 PM
Wow, thats a really complex and long-winded explaination. The Obama administration is squeezing God out of this country. I have faith in God, not government. Everything I know of Jesus tells me that He would not approve of this oversized, corrupt government that wastes so much of our hard earned money.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:02 AM
Typical inaccurate, misinterpreted, drivel from Liberal sheep Demecra Zydeem. Show me where Jesus said we should pay outrageous amounts of taxes to a corrupt and inefficient government? It is quite a stretch to gather that from anything in the bible you ignorant fool.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Thetruth
Fri Feb 24, 2012 8:30 PM
Re: demecra zydeem
As people argue how do you propose to help those around you deal with their financial lives? No its not easy but personal responsibility is a must for every American. We all have the ability to read and learn new skills in order to live the lives we want. However, there is the concept of Free Will, which if I remember correctly God does give us, the choice to live accordingly to our beliefs and values.
Akili King
Comment: #6
Posted by: Akili
Sun Feb 26, 2012 4:42 PM
Re: demecra zydeem
The difference between charity and extorsion is freewill.
Comment: #7
Posted by: SCOTT
Wed Feb 29, 2012 4:30 PM
Re: demecra zydeem
You didn't miss the point he said both did you? To pay Caesar's thinks to Caesar and when he spoke of helping the poor, elderly, sick, orphans, and depressed was it through Govt. Caesar that he said it was to be done? Forced or via free will?
Comment: #8
Posted by: Paul Winker
Sun Mar 10, 2013 8:10 PM
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