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Author Topic: What is fair?
philnotfil
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Everyone knows what fair is, but when any two people start talking about what is fair, they always seem to disagree.

I came across a great discussion of fairness in the book Policy Paradox by Deborah Stone. She uses the example of sharing a chocolate cake.

Obviously the fair thing to do would be to split it into enough equal-sized pieces for everyone sharing the cake to get one piece.

But what about the people who weren't there to share the cake? Some of them chose not to be there, some of them made that decision not knowing there would be cake. Some of them weren't able to make it to the cake-sharing for reasons outside their control. Is it fair to them that they didn't get a piece of cake?

What about the people who helped make the cake? Should they get more cake since they did more work?

Would it be more fair if we were to divide the cake evenly between groups of people, for example, gives the guys and girls each an equal amount of cake, and then split it within those groups.

What about the people who just bought a piece of cake at lunch and already have some cake? Is it fair to give them the same amount of cake as the people who couldn't afford buy a piece of cake at lunch?

That brings up the people who don't like cake. Is it fair to force a full piece of cake on them if they don't want it?

We could always just pass out forks and let everyone at the cake, wouldn't that be fair?

What if it something that we can't split up, a cupcake instead of a full cake, then what do we do? We could have some kind of a lottery where everyone got an equal chance at the cupcake, but only one person got the actual cupcake, would that be fair?

What if we voted on who got the cupcake, would that be more fair?

Many flavors of fairness, each one is fair in some ways, and each one is unfair in some ways.

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aupton15
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When I was young, my sister and I often argued with each other and with my mother about fairness. In answer, my mom once had us write the word on a piece of paper. We then tore up the piece of paper and threw it away. She said, "Fair does not exist." My adult brain with its amazing capacity for nuance has decided to complicate that lesson only slightly. Fair is often so complex (as you have pointed out) that it frequently is of no practical use to even consider. Better to throw fairness aside and let norms or the moral system(s) in place or the person with the biggest stick decide how to divide up those cupcakes. None of those will be fair, but they will ensure that someone gets to eventually eat the cake. Otherwise it just becomes an endless debate on the nature of fairness while a perfectly good cake dries up.
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Colin JM0397
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Thomas Sowell talks about that a lot, as well, albeit from a very conservative angle.

Nevertheless, he brings up the same point that we can never begin to agree when the basis of our language isn't even the same.

For example, what "fair" means regarding health care, taxation, freedom of speech, right to bear arms, and so on. Or what’s “the right thing”?

For me, this is why I lean towards libertarian - anything else means I have to tell someone what to do or think. IMO the only "fair" thing is to leave people to their own devices, so long as they don't hurt, abuse, or mess with another person's life or property. Of course, even that isn't so cut and dry. For example, you can argue that the man who lives free and buys no insurance does indeed take from our collective property when Medicaid has to pay his doctor bills.

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kmbboots
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Aupton15, I pretty much agree with your mother. I have found that this works pretty well as a way to think about it: Fair is how you would design the world if you didn't know who you were going to be. How would you divide up that cake if you didn't know if you had made the cake or you were the one with the big stick or one of the people who got there late?
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cherrypoptart
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> Colin JM0397


> For me, this is why I lean towards libertarian
...

Libertarian: Bring your own gosh darned cake if you want cake.

If you can't afford it, you shouldn't be eating cake, you should be eating beans and rice, and then getting back to work!

Communist: You make the cake and bring it and I'll help you eat it.

Capitalist: If you want some cake, I'll be more than happy to sell you some. Mmmmm... cake...

Tyrant: Hey, nice cake. Now get outta here. I don't like anyone watching me eat.

-------------------------------------------

Our basic rule was whoever cuts it or splits it choosese last. Nowadays though people are always fighting over the smallest piece. Everyone's on a diet. [Smile]

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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by cherrypoptart:
> Colin JM0397


> For me, this is why I lean towards libertarian
...

Libertarian: Bring your own gosh darned cake if you want cake.

If you can't afford it, you shouldn't be eating cake, you should be eating beans and rice, and then getting back to work!


And too bad if you don't have beans and rice either and can't get a job...and too bad for your children, too.

And it is completely "fair" for people whose grandparents made (or stole) a lot of cake to keep all of it even if it ends up going bad.

[ September 29, 2009, 05:43 PM: Message edited by: kmbboots ]

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cherrypoptart
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Solution?
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Dave at Work
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Government: The imposition of what is fair according to those in power.
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kenmeer livermaile
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Fair is moral relevancy. being such, there is no such thing as a universal 'fair'. even the Golden Rule fails: I would hardly have a masochist do unto me what he would have others do unto him.

I would have him ask 'what would you prefer I do/not do'? Which brings it down to specifics that won't sit under any rubric of 'fair'.

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TommySama
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As my mother would always say if I protested an arbitrary rule or treating me worse than my sisters, "nobody ever said life was fair". WOOOH COMMUNISM!!

[ September 29, 2009, 07:48 PM: Message edited by: TommySama ]

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cherrypoptart
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My mother always told me that she loved me best, but she made me promise to never tell my siblings.

It took a long time for us to figure out she told all of us the same thing. I guess that's fair...

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edgmatt
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The one solution, divide it all equally among everyone certainly wont work, because there won't be enough for everyone to get an enjoyable piece. Even if the government declared cake a right for everyone, that wouldn't solve the underlying problem which is there isn't enough cake for everyone. Sure we could break the cake down into such small pieces, atoms even, to spread it out "fairly", but then what good is it?

I'm in for whomever provided something that helped create the cake should get a perportianatly fair share. If I brought just the eggs, but TommySamma brought the sugar, milk, and oil...his piece would be bigger.

Once they have their piece, they can do what they want with it...eat it themselves, give it away, sell it, or throw it out.

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PSRT
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How do you determine the percentage of the cake that a person produced?
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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by cherrypoptart:
Solution?

Stop worrying about fair and think about good.

How would you decide to divide the cake if you didn't know who you were going to be? Edgematt, let's assume you didn't have anything to bring to the cake. Or that you brought some eggs, but they used someone else's better eggs.

Why are we so sure that there isn't enough cake for everyone? Who says?

[ September 29, 2009, 10:20 PM: Message edited by: kmbboots ]

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cherrypoptart
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I don't even like cake. More of a pie guy.

But the other choice would be to just make enough cake for everyone. Make more cake. Make so much cake that we're exporting cake, so much cake that people are sick of cake, they're fat on cake, getting heart disease because of cake coming out of their ears. Sounds like America to me.

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edgmatt
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I was under the assumption that there was one cake, not multiple cakes?

*Everyone* in my post means everyone that exists. Like I said, in this hypothetical, if the government made law that everyone (that exists in that governments jurisdiction) must have some part of that cake, it would sound fair (and nice) but the underlying reality is that there would not be enough cake for everyone to have a piece they could enjoy.

If I didn't bring anything to the cake, or the stuff I did bring wasn't used for whatever reason...no cake for me.

I'm with cherry, lets create incentives to make more cake possible so there's puh-LENTY of cake for all in the future instead of fighting over the little bit of cake that exists now.

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kmbboots
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Again, why in this metaphor do you think that there is necessarily too little cake?
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Aris Katsaris
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There's enough cake for everyone.

Nowadays economic crises tend to be crises of *overproduction*, not underproduction. Something suddenly loses "value" (by capitalist ideas of value) by becoming too available. In a rational universe greater availability of goods would benefit all -- in the capitalist system however, value depends on scarcity. If you increase availability of something (e.g. houses) you reduce the wealth of those who depend on the thing's lack of such.

In a logical system *nobody* would lose buying power because of greater production somewhere else, but our system is such that it often becomes a zero-sum game for the participants.

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edgmatt
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I'm confused kmb, I think I explained how there is not enough cake twice now...one cake...thousands if not millions of people to share the cake.

Aris - "In a rational universe..." are we living in an irrational universe? Seeing how your next two statements are of the most irrational I've ever read, there's a chance I guess.

It's not the capitalist system that makes value depend on scarcity, its the basic laws of economics.

Increasing the availability of any product does not effect the wealth of anyone anywhere. What I think your trying to say is that increasing the amount of a product available would reduce the price of that product, therefore possibly reducing the profit one would make if one were in the business of producing and selling that product. This is a little more accurate than your initial statement, but still not entirely true.

It is a completely logical system in which prices go up and down (that buying power gets lost or gained). There is not enough of everything for everyone to have as much as they want of everything they want. Prices don't cause this, they reflect this reality.

The system your hoping for is one where there is plenty of everything for everyone. This is heaven or utopia, and doesn't exist on Earth, despite us wanting it to very badly. And we can't force it to exist by behaving that it does.

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kmbboots
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Edgematt, you have asserted that there isn't enough cake for everyone. You haven't said why you think that is true. I am assuming that we are using "cake" a a metaphor for world resources in general. You may be right but I haven't seen any evidence of it.

Also, by "enough" I am not saying that everyone gets all they want. I am saying that they get enough.

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kenmeer livermaile
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Somehow we've segued from what is fair to what is enough. Oh well: fair enough.
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kenmeer livermaile
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edgmatt: I urge you to consider what is meant by "liquidity crisis". It is a scarcity of arbitrarily created monetary units. Hence Aris' mention of "overproduction".

Perhaps you've heard of this thing called the Great Depression, where the problem was too much stuff and no money with which to buy it?

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Aris Katsaris
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Look up Overproduction, edgmatt, in wikipedia, if you want.

Or hell, let me just quote from there:
quote:
Overproduction is the accumulation of unsalable inventories in the hands of businesses. Overproduction is a relative measure, referring to the excess of production over consumption. The tendency for an overproduction of commodities to lead to economic collapse is specific to the capitalist economy. In previous economic formations, an abundance of production created general prosperity.

However in the capitalist economy, commodities are produced for profit. This so-called profit motive, the core of the capitalist economy, creates a dynamic whereby an abundance of commodities has negative consequences. In essence, an abundance of commodities disrupts the conditions for the creation of profit.

The overproduction of commodities forces businesses to reduce production in order to clear inventories. Any reduction in production implies a reduction in employment. A reduction in employment, in turn, reduces consumption. As overproduction is the excess of production above consumption, this reduction in consumption worsens the problem. This creates a "feed-back loop" or "vicious cycle", whereby excess inventories force businesses to reduce production, thereby reducing employment, which in turn reduces the demand for the excess inventories. The general reduction in the level of prices (deflation) caused by the law of supply and demand also forces businesses to reduce production as profits decline. Reduced profits render certain fields of production unprofitable.

So, as I said, the problem isn't that there's not enough for everyone. The problem is that our system of economics is such that having enough for everyone becomes catastrophic by itself, as people are dependent on the jobs that the productive industries give.

In short, in our system, producing enough for everyone means there's no longer a need to produce more, thus there's no need for jobs, unemployment rises, etc, etc.

I think this shows the limits of capitalism where prosperity is concerned.

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Mariner
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I'm gonna have to call "citation needed" on that bit about overproduction being a net benefit in noncapitalist systems. I see no reason for it to be true.

Look, suppose, for some reason, lots and lots of farmers decided to grow apples. We now have more apples then we could possibly want. I'm getting sick of eating apples, applesauce, apple pie, apple everything. You are too. So here comes Farmer Joe with another whole truckload of apples. That leads to "general prosperity"? How? I don't want any more. You don't want anymore. Farmer Joe certainly doesn't want them? How is that a good thing? Even in a perfect ideal noncapitalist world where no one cares about money and Farmer Joe is happy to grow apples even if no one eats them, there's no net benefit to this overproduction. And in a non-ideal world, this means there's not enough land and not enough farmers to grow oranges or chickens or whatever. So we still have shortages of oranges while we're all sick of apples. That's an increase in "general prosperity"? I don't think so.

What examples of overproduction in noncapitalist systems have ever led to an increase in general prosperity? My guess is any example is one where actually the "base case" was an underproduction, and the "overproduction" actually brought things closer to the full demand. A bonanza of wheat in a feudal system brought general prosperity not because of overproduction, but because the serfs were half-starved and not getting enough wheat to begin with.

[Edit]
In short, in our system, producing enough for everyone means there's no longer a need to produce more, thus there's no need for jobs, unemployment rises, etc, etc.

That's only true if the produced goods are permanent. Most aren't. Therefore, we have to replace them. Hence, more jobs. It's true that there's no need to produce more than enough for everyone, but that just means there's jobs free to create more of some other type of good no one thought of until everything balances out again.

[ September 30, 2009, 06:49 PM: Message edited by: Mariner ]

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cherrypoptart
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That's the law of diminishing marginal utility you're talking about there. Good point.

http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/law-of-diminishing-marginal-utility.html

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