Articles are available for reprint as long as the author is acknowledged: Domenick J. Maglio Ph.D.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fairness is an Unobtainable Concept

By Domenick J. Maglio PhD  Traditional Realist

Parents have told most American children that life is not fair. These words are uttered when someone plays by the rules to obtain a goal, successfully achieves all the stated objectives and is still denied the prize he felt he had earned. The best student, dancer, athlete, employee, does not always receive the accolades and rewards she deserves. Reality oriented people understand adversity will strengthen their children for the hard knocks of life.

Too many parents have gone to the opposite extreme. They protect their child from the consequences of his lack of effort that will make him a loser. They are advocating that academics and sporting events should not be judged by not having winners or losers. . They want no grades or inflated ones at school, do not want to keep score in sporting events and everyone has to play regardless of his effort or skill. These are attempts to deny the reality that certain people are better than others. They do not realize it is unfair to the individuals who excel to rob them of the recognition they deserve, which will lead to loss of motivation.

Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses making each one unique. Some people take their God given talents and abilities and hone them to become extraordinary individuals. Others choose to allow these innate skills to wither on the vine. When we ignore excellence we foster mediocrity.

The exploitation of the fairness issue has been used by power seeking individuals to gain support of the people throughout the ages. Pitting one interest group against another creates unrest. This political pandering allows a charismatic leader to unite dissatisfied coalitions to gain power. There will always be people claiming and promising they will establish a utopian society where everyone will share power and be treated equally and fairly.  All of these experiments have created dystopia and not utopia.

This political formula has been used successfully over and over again to foment revolution. It can only work with ignorant, dissatisfied people. These unaware people give up their independence and freedom to a demagogue who supposedly will miraculously change human nature. They hope the change will create a more fair, safer and prosperous life for them. It does not.

Even a totalitarian government does not have the ability to engineer a level playing field. There is no way a government can control all the actions of its people or make citizens robotically equal. Humans are obviously unique and seek their own advantage.

Using the communist cliché, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” does not solve the problem of treating people equally. Regardless of what the government dictates, people will find ways to connive to eat forbidden foods; consume too much or too little; sleep too much or not enough; exercise too much or too little, abuse drugs, alcohol, or gambling; work too hard or be lazy and spend the little they are given by the government on vices rather than that for which the money is appropriated. The punishment of recalcitrant citizens, exiling and reeducating them in a gulag does not seem like a viable solution or a humane way to administer a society. Fairness has not and will not flourish in a centrally controlled government.

The use of government waivers to circumvent a central government’s own regulations or arbitrarily picking winners or losers or giving some citizens a mortgage forgiveness while adding to the burden of other citizens is not fair.  Exempting 50% of the people from paying federal income tax and giving many of them “earned” income tax credits while forcing the other 50% to pick up the tab will eventually cause a chorus of taxpayers to yell, “Political Favoritism” or “Government Gone Wildly Unfair.”

Fairness, like love is in the eyes of the beholder. When a government policy is advantageous to an interest group, they will believe they deserve it by using some rationalization.  The interest group that is raided becomes alienated. Government social engineering of the lives of citizens usually winds up being less fair than free individuals competing freely with others to get their fair share of the economic pie.

People making their own choices in a free society are far from perfect but result in a more fair system. Government interference in the free market not only ends the free market but also creates cronyism and a far greater disparity between the rich and the poor.

Government promises to eliminate unfairness. Many parents desire to eliminate any suffering their child may experience by being judged. Both unfairness and judgment will continue to exist. In reality, some of us will be smarter, faster, braver, stronger and more creative than others. There will always be winners and losers in life no matter who sets the rules.

Absolute fairness is unobtainable in the world. We are all different and imperfect individuals who for our own positive mental health, need to appreciate those times when life goes fairly. It is wonderful but a rare state of affairs.

When we are hit by a dose of unfairness we should fight to correct the injustice. If we lose our case, we should not fall apart. Life is bittersweet. Tomorrow will offer us another opportunity to taste the exhilaration of victory against all odds.

Dr. Maglio is an author and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program. You can visit Dr. Maglio at


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