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John Stossel
John Stossel
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Making Life Fair


When my wife was a liberal, she complained that libertarian reasoning is coldhearted. Since markets produce winners and losers — and many losers did nothing wrong — market competition is cruel. It must seem so. President Obama used the word "fair" in his last State of the Union address nine times.

We are imprinted to prefer a world that is "fair." Our close relatives the chimpanzees freak out when one chimp gets more than his fair share, so zookeepers are careful about food portions. Chimps are hardwired to get angry when they think they've been cheated — and so are we.

Filmmaker Michael Moore took this notion about fairness to its intuitive conclusion during an interview with Laura Flanders of GRITtv, saying of rich people's fortunes: "That's not theirs! That's a national resource! That's ours!" As is typical, Moore was confused or disingenuous. In our corporatist economy, some fortunes are indeed made illegitimately though political means. The privileges that produce those fortunes should be abolished. But contrary to Moore, incomes are not "national resources." If he's concerned with illegitimate fortunes, he should favor freeing markets.

Fairness is related to justice, the recognition of people's rights to their own lives.

A free market will create big differences in wealth. That wealth disparity is simply a byproduct of freedom — vastly diverse individuals competing to serve consumers will arrive at vastly diverse outcomes.

That disparity is not unfair — if it results from free exchange.

The free market (which, sadly, America doesn't have) is fair. It also produces better outcomes. Even "losers" do pretty well.

A more astute observer than Moore might show how unfair government intervention is. Licenses, taxes, regulations and corporate subsidies make it harder for the average worker to start his own business, to go from being a "little guy" to being an independent owner of means of production. Most new businesses fail, but running your own business is the best route to prosperity and — surveys suggest — happiness, too.

I once opened a dinky business called "The Stossel Store" in Delaware, hawking hats, books and other goodies on the street.

It was hard to open this store. I chose Delaware because it's supposedly the state that makes that easiest — but "easiest" didn't mean "easy." I still required help from Fox's lawyers to get the permits, and the process took more than a week. In my hometown, New York City, it would have taken much longer.

By contrast, in Hong Kong, I started a business in one day. Hong Kong's limited government makes it easy for people to try things, and that has allowed poor people to prosper. Regular people benefit most from economic freedom.

What makes it hard for people to embrace markets is that anti-market zealots, with their talk of Americans pulling together to take care of one another, remind us of the coziness of village life. Instinct tells us that's where we'll find trust — and fairness.

But our intuition fools us when it leads us to think that government models that institutionalize what resembles village life must be good. Assuming that government can foster togetherness better than our own voluntary associations, businesses and private charities leads to coziness of the bad kind: back-room dealings between the well-connected and government.

If we're going to have a large-scale, modern society, we need relatively simple rules that respect individual rights and that can be applied to all sorts of new situations without having to put global commerce on hold until the hypothetical village elders come up with a plan.

Since most human beings still lived as farmers two centuries ago, the idea of stranger-filled cosmopolitan life outside the small, close-knit village is still novel. It was only around the 18th and 19th centuries that the ideas we now think of as classical liberalism, libertarianism, anarchism and laissez faire began to be articulated. As Westerners became accustomed to living without the rule of kings, aristocrats and village elders, they began, for the first time since the dawn of writing, to imagine living ungoverned lives.

Sure, it's scary, but surrendering your fate to politicians and bureaucrats is a lot scarier.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="" <>></a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




3 Comments | Post Comment
Mrs. Stossel apparently
Was sometime once upon a time
A liberal, she used to be -
Thought libertarian a crime
For wanting markets free to do,
So anyone could become rich.
And yes more would become poor - true!
But Mrs. Stossel chose to hitch
With a guy who would make big bucks
Selling souls on free market life.
So he converted her - aw shucks!
Living high as hubby and wife.

From liberals 'twas no laughter,
Mrs. S. gone ever after.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Ima Ryma
Thu May 17, 2012 2:03 AM
I've been trying to find out how to e-mail you.
On your show the other night you had a MD who said that before medicare the three "Cs" governed medicine. He conviently left out a significant element of medicine. The Public Health Service took care of the indigent and low income. There were public health hospitals in the east. I understand they were torn down after 1966. All teaching hospitals were public health facilities where you traded time for money. I was treated at UCLA for Iritis. They asked how much I earned and I was charged $2 for the series of treatments. My normal waite was 2.5 to 3 hours no matter how early I got there for my appointment. All county general hospitals were public health facilities. This system worked. Granted some of the facilities were not up to par. In 1966, when the AMA stepped up to the tough and stuck there snounts in everything went down the tubes. Medicare started out paying 100% of standard fees. I had an optometrist who told me that when they got picked up he raised his rates up to the governments "standard fees".
I'm basically a libertian. We are a compasionate people. I don't want anyone to die due to lack of funds. The public health service worked lets clean it up and bring it back. All physicians are subsidized while going thorough medical school. In exchange when they get out they could serve a year or two, with pay, in the public health service. It would benefit them in the diverse cases they would see and the country in general.
Comment: #2
Posted by: dpaulbuckley
Thu May 17, 2012 7:30 PM
I have always had a sympathy for the Louis Blanc slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". A compassionate sociey in my view should cater if possible for the health needs of the poor - as in the UK. Is this compatible with Stossel, whose views I find very stimulating? N.B. the compassion need not be dispensed by the State or states. It could be, for example, a voluntary club which most people would happily support like the British Legion around Armistace day.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Dr Garry Gibson
Sat May 19, 2012 11:34 PM
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