• April 21, 2014

Hey, Wait a Minute!

Biological roots of today's anger

Fair or Not 1

Mark Wilson, Getty Images

Enlarge Image
close Fair or Not 1

Mark Wilson, Getty Images

No fair! No fair!

"No fair" must rank among the loudest and most readily evoked complaints. Nor is the din of inequity limited to children. Consider the widespread anger generated by the Wall Street and AIG bailouts: Regardless of whether they were justified as national policy, those and other departures from perceived evenhandedness have a long history of rousing departures from citizen complacency, and even from civility. Ditto for outrage over executives getting outsized bonuses and golden parachutes while the rest of us are left to soldier on as best we can.

In evolutionary terms, what's going on here?

Another way of asking that question is to turn it around. Why do we feel so violated? Lixing Sun, a professor of biology at Central Washington University, thinks we have a "fairness instinct." And he may be right. He maintains that high on the roster of human propensities is a "Robin Hood mentality" that characterizes our species and qualifies as one of those "mental modules" that evolutionary psychologists consider part of our likely biological inheritance. If so, our fairness instinct goes far beyond the pleasure we take in romantic tales of medieval Merry Men adventuring in Sherwood Forest. Sun believes that despite the fact of our specieswide social and economic disparities—perhaps in part because of them—human beings are endowed (or burdened) with an acute sensitivity to "who is getting how much," in particular a deft attunement to whether anyone else is getting more or less than one's self.

In a much-noted laboratory experiment several years ago, described in the report "Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay," the primatologists Sarah F. Brosnan and Frans B.M. de Waal trained capuchin monkeys to perform a certain task for which they received cucumber slices. The monkeys performed just fine, until they were permitted to see others being rewarded with grapes, a higher-value payment. Previously acquiescent, many of the cucumber-receivers promptly stopped participating, sometimes even throwing those measly, unfair cucumber payments out of their cage. Aversion of that sort is well established among Homo sapiens as well—even though, at first blush, it appears irrational and, thus, paradigm-busting for economists trained in the Homo economicus model whereby people are considered to be "rational and utility-maximizing" creatures. Behavioral economists call it "inequity aversion"—the tendency to turn down a perfectly good offer if others are getting a better deal.

Inequity aversion makes sense for a social species like capuchin monkeys, which sometimes engage in cooperative hunting, with food rewards to be distributed when the hunt is successful; if a participant's payoff is not commensurate with his or her effort—and if others receive a disproportionately generous return—then further participation may well be personally counterproductive. What looks superficially like spiteful grudge-keeping could thus be adaptive equity-insistence.

In the "Ultimatum Game," a laboratory setup favored by social psychologists and behavioral economists, human beings insist upon fairness, even at the apparent cost of their immediate best interest. In this simple game, one individual is given some money—say $10—and then is instructed to propose a take-it-or-leave-it division with another individual. Thus, Player 1 may propose an equal split ($5 for each), or $9.99 for herself and one cent for Player 2, and so forth, whereupon the other player accepts or rejects the ultimatum; no second chances.

Logically, Player 2 should accept any offer, regardless of its seeming equity, since even a penny is better than nothing. There is considerable cross-cultural variation in the actual responses of individuals on the receiving end of such ultimatums, and yet to the surprise of many scientists, there is a widespread tendency to reject offers in which the recipient gets less than about 30 percent of the total. Most people would prefer to abandon the whole deal, so that no one gets anything, rather than be on the receiving end of an unfair distribution.

In fact, in most cases, the individual who gets to determine the division actually proposes something not too far removed from 50/50, almost never demanding a strongly asymmetric distribution. A generous interpretation is that, in addition to a fairness instinct that generates aversion to being presented with an unfair situation, people are also predisposed to be fair. Alternatively, maybe they are simply being selfish realists who intuit the fairness instinct of others and realize that a blatantly unfair ultimatum is liable to result in getting nothing. It is always possible that people are less predisposed toward genuine fairness than they are to the appearance of fairness, all the while secretly hoping to obtain an unfair share for themselves. Those yelling at political meetings may be angry at large banks receiving millions while small businesses go begging; or they may want the government to bail them out, too. Those incensed at the prospect of federal relief for people upside-down on their mortgages often yell "No fair, No fair!" since they have been paying their debts without comparable assistance. Similarly, anger over proposed immigration reform often revolves around a perceived asymmetry: Why should "they" get leniency when "my people" played by the rules?

For a fairness instinct to have evolved by natural selection, those who possessed it must have been disproportionately successful in projecting their genes for it into the future. How might that have happened? Wouldn't each individual be more fit taking whatever he or she could get, rather than turning down opportunities simply because they were unfair and thereby sometimes getting nothing at all? Why bother yourself with what others are getting—i.e., with fairness—instead of just trying to maximize your own payoff?

There are several possible answers. For one, consider that in some circumstances, one's payoff is very much a function of what others are getting ... and giving. That is particularly true of so-called reciprocal altruism, misnamed because it isn't based on altruism at all, but rather on a selfish exchange whereby the donor is subsequently repaid (and then some) by the recipient.

As emphasized by the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, who first brought reciprocity to the attention of biologists, such systems are vulnerable to exploitation by cheaters who accept the beneficence of others but fail to reciprocate. Systems of would-be reciprocation can therefore evolve only when the participants do their part, which is to say, when they behave fairly. One intriguing, albeit unsavory, example occurs among vampire bats. Successful nocturnal foragers regurgitate blood to those whose efforts have been less well compensated; in exchange, when the recipients strike it bloody rich, they are likely to repay their benefactors. But bona fide examples of reciprocity—aside from vampire bats and human beings—have been very difficult to identify.

Perhaps one reason for the evident rarity of nonhuman reciprocity is that the ability and inclination to police interactions for fairness (vampire bats and capuchin monkeys aside) may itself be rare outside the human context. But once most of the necessary conditions for reciprocity have been met—sociality to set the stage, brainpower to permit memory of who has been initially helpful as well as who has met his or her reciprocal obligation, opportunities to render aid as well as a high probability of the tables being turned in the future—then selection could well favor a keen eye for fairness, if only to discriminate between who plays by the rules and who does not. Reciprocity requires fair play; thus, adaptations for reciprocity may well involve adaptations to detect fairness.

Another biological basis for fairness probably derives from the fact that natural selection doesn't operate by absolute reproductive success but by relative measures. Fitness is most meaningfully described as a fraction, with the numerator being the abundance of any gene(s) in question and the denominator being that of all alternative forms of the same gene. Thus it isn't simply a matter of how successful you are, but how you stack up relative to others. As in the joke, "How's your husband?" Answer: "Compared to what?" The key evolutionary question isn't "How am I doing?" Rather it's "How am I doing compared to everyone else?"

The pursuit of fairness is widely perceived to be admirable. And yet there is something unappealing about monitoring the payoffs of others and seeking to restrict what they get simply because the self-appointed whistle-blowers aren't getting a comparable return. Isn't it more laudable to go about feathering your own nest, or at least, minding your own business, rather than complaining that the nests of others are getting unfairly overstuffed?

But since evolution favors whatever maximizes relative fitness, it smiles not only upon those who do well, but also upon those who frown on competitors poised to do better. One way to achieve the approval of natural selection, therefore, is not only to strive to maximize one's own payoff but also to monitor that of others, and to complain loudly if it seems too high, especially if such a complaint is at all likely to better the situation of those who act as Robin Hood or who cheer him on in the name of fairness.

The jockeying of genes has direct parallels in the arena of human behavior, especially with regard to conflict. Forty years ago, the political scientist Ted Robert Gurr wrote an important book titled Why Men Rebel, which he explained in terms of "relative deprivation." Gurr (whose work was in no way predicated upon biology) pointed out that at the time of the French Revolution, for example, the absolute level of citizen poverty was less than at any previous time in French history. What drove the sans-culottes was the perceived relative level of deprivation—in our terms, the extent to which things weren't so much bad as unfair.

What relative deprivation implies for society, relative fitness does for biology. Fairness is the perception that relative deprivation is relatively under control, leading to the prospect that relative fitness, too, will not be grossly unbalanced. It may well be that when things are fair, most participants aren't doing terribly well, but at least they can have some confidence that relative to others, their circumstances aren't terrible, and are better than might otherwise be expected.

In the arcane mathematics of game theory, people occupy a "Pareto equilibrium," whereby all parties are capable of improving their situations, but any improvement necessarily comes at the expense of others. As a result, such an equilibrium is bound to be a nervous one, whereby everyone is selected to be finely attuned to any departures from fairness; hence, the widespread concern for a "fair coin," "fair match," "fair play," "fair exchange," a level—which is to say a "fair"—playing field. Fairness rules (in the sense of being all-powerful), and therefore it is no coincidence that most rules (in the sense of guidelines for legitimate behavior) are developed with the goal of maintaining fairness.

A focus on fairness points, interestingly, to a contradiction in free-market systems: On the one hand, it is only fair that people be given a chance to better themselves, and patently unfair if they are prevented from doing so. But on the other, given the inherent differences among individuals, as well as their socioeconomic discrepancies, the outcome of freedom is certain to be unequal, and thus unfair.

Although most people agree that fairness is a good thing, they disagree as to how it is to be achieved. Hence most of the controversy—and anger—over domestic politics. For the political right wing, it isn't fair for society to impose taxes, to use one person's hard-earned money for the betterment of others, to restrict personal freedom (including the freedom to pursue unfettered private enterprise and even, in some cases, the freedom to pollute and destroy the environment). Yet it is fair for government to restrain malefactors. For those on the political left, it goes without saying that equal opportunity is fair. Moreover, for many it is necessary but not sufficient: Equal outcome is the holy grail of social fairness, to which the political right responds that it is unfair to insist on equality of outcome when individuals are not identical, whether in their biology, their effort, or their luck.

Consider next the slogan, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," made famous by Karl Marx. Its practicality has long been debated, especially given the presumed human penchant for both greed and laziness. Less discussed is whether this communist shibboleth is fair, or desirable. Interestingly, however, the two descriptors "fair" and "desirable" are really just one: Whatever is adjudged fair is likely, ipso facto, to be seen as desirable. How many cases are there when a proposition, after being identified as fair, is then rejected as not worthwhile? Inhabitants in George Orwell's Animal Farm chanted "Four legs good, two legs bad." We insist, "Fair good, unfair bad."

The fairness maven Lixing Sun—who is writing a book about the possible biological underpinnings of fairness—points out that merit bears a complex relationship to fairness. It is widely acknowledged that differences in merit can legitimize differences in payoffs, both material and social. Yet the outcome may appear—and to some extent, actually be—unfair. Differences in merit are indeed often exaggerated by those seeking to justify departures from fairness; after all, many mammals have evolved systems of social hierarchy, within which it may be adaptive for participants to accept their positions and thereby avoid wasteful struggles, but also to be alert for any departures from fairness, which is to say, aware of circumstances that offer them at least some prospect of self-advancement.

Many things elicit anger, which, after all, is simply a biological mechanism that induces people to respond vigorously—sometimes violently—to circumstances in which such a response is generally adaptive. (Or at least, has been adaptive in the past.) We get angry when frustrated, when we experience pain, when defending ourselves or others, and not merely because our genetic sense of fairness has been violated. Like many, for example, I am currently very angry at BP, not so much because that corporation has been unfair as for what it has done to the Gulf of Mexico. Anger, like Walt Whitman's sense of himself, is large. It contains multitudes.

Although not all anger derives from unfairness, we might want to look further into whether people have a fairness instinct. It could help us understand why certain policies are embraced and others resisted, why self-righteous anger is sometimes so easily elicited, and whether that anger is itself fair.

David P. Barash is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. His most recent book, written with Judith Eve Lipton, is Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy (Bellevue Literary Press, 2009).


1. agpbloom - July 12, 2010 at 12:13 am

Here's a thought...maybe human beings have a hidden instinct to write research articles about the hidden instinct for fairness. And maybe there's even a hidden instinct behind that one. What do you think?

2. raghuvansh1 - July 12, 2010 at 07:45 am

If you are insulted and injured without any fault or any mistake or say any offence,you are terrifically anger, whenever you saw this kind of injustice you are ready to fight with the culprit or at least you express your anger. I think it is natural human tendency . It arise from your self respect. Self-respect is Base of man`s living.Self respect only give meaning to life.Without self respect how can man survive?.

3. honore - July 12, 2010 at 09:32 am

You ask..."Without self-respect how can man survive?"
Come to Madison, WI and see how it is done.

4. jack_cade - July 12, 2010 at 10:10 am

Best part about this whole piece, raghuvansh1's earnest attempt to arm chair philosophize and honore's two sentence editorialized summery of all such discussions.

5. raghuvansh1 - July 12, 2010 at 11:22 am

Every man is unique.What I wrote is my experiences.What other think it is their problem.Why I anger looking injustice that I wrote if some have no self-respect what can I do?

6. mbelvadi - July 12, 2010 at 11:29 am

This is an interesting essay, but it misses the issue of how some, particularly the MSM, can use (or leave out) pertinent facts so as to lead the reader/viewer to a conclusion of fairness or not as desired by editorial policy.

For example, I give this sentence from the first paragraph: "Ditto for outrage over executives getting outsized bonuses and golden parachutes while the rest of us are left to soldier on as best we can." It would be more factually accurate to re-write this as: "Ditto for outrage over executives getting outsized bonuses and golden parachutes while the rest of us pay the tax bill that saved those executives their jobs but are left to soldier on as best we can in our own."

Given the later discussion in the article about merit and acceptance of the fairness of unequal outcomes in some cases, the original sentence leaves much more ambiguity for interpretation over whether the outraged is justified, whether the outcome is "fair", than the revised sentence.

7. performance_expert2 - July 12, 2010 at 11:47 am

I don't know about you, I pay my taxes. Where do they go?
U.S. Presses Pentagon Contractors
Fuel Suppliers to Afghanistan Are Accused of Stonewalling Investigation by Masking Ownership


"U.S. congressional investigators have upped the ante in their confrontation with two top Pentagon contractors who have received billions of dollars supplying fuel to troops in Afghanistan but have refused to reveal their owners."

8. twclark - July 12, 2010 at 12:33 pm

"Equal outcome is the holy grail of social fairness, to which the political right responds that it is unfair to insist on equality of outcome when individuals are not identical, whether in their biology, their effort, or their luck."

Since the non-identity of individuals is strictly a matter of luck, not merit, why is it fair that these differences be reflected in differences in outcomes? The right might respond that life is unfair, to which liberals reply that we're trying to make it fairer. If, as Barash suggests, more fairness is generally thought of as a good thing, then liberals win this argument.

9. jonelm - July 12, 2010 at 01:30 pm

To TWClark: Equity theory suggests that rewards/outcomes should equal inputs which probably best captures and explains "the Right's" viewpoint, if one wants to be political. It's not parity of outcomes; it's correlation between inputs and rewards, which is why the Right is more about self-reliance, survival of the fittest (with some safety nets but not enough to entice people to lose their work ethic), etc.

"Since the non-identity of individuals is strictly a matter of luck?" Is that how you feel about yourself? That your inputs have no identity; that YOU have no identity; that your outputs are a matter of luck?? Just look at the tenure system. Should everyone get tenure, regardless of who does anything, who publishes, who teaches well, who shows up for work? With your viewpoint of the desirability of equal outputs, everyone should get tenure regardless of what they do. And all students should get equal grades, regardless of what they do. I doubt you could defend either.

10. prje8199 - July 12, 2010 at 01:47 pm

Fair is for kindergarten and fairy tales. To one of my students it is not fair that I gave her a "C" even though she "tried her best." To me it is not fair that the administration doesn't pay me more.

But the reality is that "fair" in only in our minds. We need to be talking about justice and what is just.

11. athensbrit - July 12, 2010 at 02:38 pm

In my experience, dogs may also exhibit a sense of justice. This hierarchically minded species may not insist upon equality, but they do have a sense of what is appropriate. I suppose that the survival of the pack depends upon all its members getting "fair", if not equal, access to the available kill.

12. kquinn - July 12, 2010 at 04:16 pm

David: There is nothing at all "nervous" about a an equilibrium that is Pareto-efficient. If an equilibrium, efficient or not, no one has any reason to change what they are doing, given what others are doing.

13. sjavik - July 12, 2010 at 04:22 pm

To jonelm: When I read the comment made by twclark, I had a feeling that Rawls' idea of the original position was hovering in the background. I come into the world different from other human beings not because of something that I have done or merited, but simply because of some sort of contingency. As I go through life, however, I may seem to make better choices than others, but what is it that really and truly enables me to make those choices? Doesn't my ability to make "better" choices than someone else stem from the way I was when I entered the world (through biological inheritance, etc.)? So, why do I deserve more than someone else? It seems to me that the best way to deal with inequality is to just get rid of it, and not worry too much about whether one has gotten one's fair share.

The example of grading is an interesting one. If one student has come into the world with a greater talent for math than someone else, it would be reasonable to expect that student to get better grades in math than a student who has, say, a greater talent for learning Swedish. The problem comes when we confuse a talent for math (or Swedish) with the kind of merit that justifies different material rewards.

14. jweinheimer - July 12, 2010 at 05:26 pm

If you want proof, just try giving to one 4 year old 3 lollypops and nothing to another 4 year old. See what happens.

Of course, people want fairness. There is nothing strange about this. History is replete with examples. It's just that you want fairness in relation to "your own class." So, if someone far above you, outside of your immediate experience, e.g. a king, or a "professor" gets somewhat more, that may be accepted, while if someone you consider to be your equal gets more, you become angry.

So, it turns out that the "uppers" need to hide how much more they get, so that people below them do not understand what is happening. So long as people do not understand, they may accept it as the normal situation, but in times of crisis when people are losing everything, it is only natural that they get angry. And they get especially angry when someone comes along and tries to convince them that they shouldn't be angry because after all, they more or less "deserve" to have very little while those above them "deserve" to have more than they can even imagine.

While this may have been acceptable in a dictatorship or in medieval society, we have what is supposed to be a "democracy" now, i.e. rule by the people--with everything that implies.

I think it would be very strange, and even horrifying, if people just quietly accepted their degradation, because that's "just the way it is".

15. twclark - July 12, 2010 at 06:48 pm

@jonelm: As sjavik suggests, personal endowments and the circumstances in which they get developed (parents, communities, schools, etc.) are completely contingent, not something for which individuals can take credit. This doesn't mean that such things as ambition, work ethic, knowledge, quickness, reliability, etc. aren't virtues, only that that they are unequally distributed because of circumstances beyond the control of the individuals concerned. This is what conservatives often want to deny, claiming that persons have some self-constructing capacity which they exercise (or not) as a matter of uncaused free will, something non-contingent. But there's no evidence for such a capacity. As sjavik points out, there's a causal explanation for inequality of inputs that completely transcends the individual, which means inequality of outcomes can't be justified by saying the individual ultimately deserves his rewards. Of course we still have to incentivize good, productive, responsible behavior, but all the while remembering that luck swallows everything: http://www.naturalism.org/strawson.htm

16. performance_expert2 - July 12, 2010 at 08:07 pm

sjavik, you seem to have left out the class system caste part about having excellent medical care, peace and quiet, and nutrition when you were formative, prior to your blessed well reasoned existence.

17. trishjw - July 12, 2010 at 08:54 pm

Fairness may seem to be the idea some citizens and/or Tea Party people yell about but if you have read articles listing their demands and what they want changed or dropped, it is anything but fair. The US government is supposed to keep all social security and medicare as is for them but drop all the health care for the OTHER PEOPLE that are added to the new bill. WHY?? What makes them so much more equitable that they are to receive the Social Secerity and medicare benefits given by the 1% from each worker's pay check yet those that work for minimum wages are not supposed to gain anything and the hospitals are supposed to cover anyone not covered by insurance. None seem to realize that their taxes pay for all those and would not have to if everyone paid for healthcare for all. Animal farm at its hilt--All are equal; some are just more equal than others. A lot of the problem--about 50%--is racism and ageism if one looks at the skin tone and age of 80% or more of the people at the rallies for the Tea Party. (I'm white and over 65) Neither Fox TV and News nor the ultra right have figured out what to push toward the tea party people. The ideas pushed by those two groups are also criticized by TP. Since they call the health care "obamacare" they set their ideas immediately. Most of those arguing against adding anything and find all the money going to balance the base of Wall Street have little involved there but don't realize that if the banks don't work, nothing else does either. A lot of what they yell about has settled down with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico since many of the workers there are out of work without jobs related to fishing--oysters to whales. Yet there has been some jobs given for cleaning, the money for losses have begun to come and the finance bill--with 60 votes 7/12--should finally be voted on this week and the rules will be in place for who can do what to whom--to a point!!
Some politicians--esp. Barney Frank--have asked the tea party groups that visit his office what they will do with the country they want back once they get it. The response is one of two--either expletives not printable or dead silence!! Just like the women on CNN a few weeks back when she was asked what she wanted for the improvement of education--she claimed it was not her place to say. She wasn't qualified. No one in the parties themselves are experts in anything but "YELLING" from what I have seen or read. Keep track of what they do and say so there is a repartee but the only ones that need to worry are those politicians who don't have specific plans going forward. Sen Brown from MA was stopped since he voted for earlier unemployment yet didn't have plans as to what his next plans were for the finance. He just got there and they expect immediate results. SURE!!??!!

18. performance_expert2 - July 12, 2010 at 09:53 pm

trishjw, Those tea partiers do not understand specific issues or even know the meaning of terms but they know they're getting ripped off so they're angry. Have you looked at the deficit lately? It is something like $45,000 for every citizen in the US.

19. vernaye - July 13, 2010 at 09:13 am

It's stupid to call this an instinct for fairness. It's a desire for power and prestige. Take the example of the monkeys working for food. If they started out working for grapes, and saw others working for cucumbers, do you think they would protest at this sign of unfairness? Of course not.

20. etenner - July 13, 2010 at 10:38 am

Just a nonprofessional 2 cents: to me, fairness is a cousin to a cooperative mentality. I think human survival is predicated on cooperation, not competition.

21. n2n_0131 - July 13, 2010 at 11:02 am

From the article: In the arcane mathematics of game theory, people occupy a "Pareto equilibrium," whereby all parties are capable of improving their situations, but any improvement necessarily comes at the expense of others.

If life is a zero-sum game, then the concept of fairness is key to successful social groups. If there is percieved plenty and no sense that improvement comes at the expense of others, then I would argue that fairness more locally focused - fairness within a family, a work group, a community.

22. dank48 - July 13, 2010 at 11:06 am

And another $.02 worth. At Jamestown, John Smith instituted a new rule for the colonists: "Those who don't work don't eat." This caused a considerable amount of displeasure among the aristocratic colonists, who expected the same support from the lower orders that they were accustomed to.

The tables are turned when it comes to modern times. When Ned Flanders's daughter asks him what we get for taxes, he tells her, "Well, gee, honey, just about everything: police, fire fighters, parks, . . . and of course people who choose not to work; can't forget about them." [grossly inadequate paraphrase from memory]

So, if my biological, sociological, whateverological background makes me disinclined to bestir myself from my leisure, is it fair to penalize me for this? After all, is it my fault I'm this way?

Fairness, like justice, is an ideal objective, meaning we want it but aren't overburdened with it in practice. And I don't really feel that the cooperation-competition dichotomy is valid. We all compete in some areas. We all cooperate in some areas. We are all unequal in our abilities. Equality of opportunity is one kind of "fairness." Equality of outcome is another.

23. gahnett - July 14, 2010 at 01:04 am

I think I know why people offer at ~50% and reject at ~30%.


24. archercenter - July 14, 2010 at 11:14 am

Excellent article. Very incisive and insightful. Thank you.

25. physicsprof - July 18, 2010 at 09:43 am

There s always an optimum: too little fairness and human society will be disrupted by anger and violence, too much fairness and it will become stagnant from its members being disinterested in their individual endeavors.

26. jc4545 - July 19, 2010 at 03:37 am

That was an atrociously written article. Too verbose and trivial.

27. goxewu - July 19, 2010 at 07:41 pm

Re #25:

Just curious--what's "too much fairness" in a society? And conversely, what would the ideal amount of unfairness be?

28. physicsprof - July 21, 2010 at 10:00 am

#27, That's a $1bil question. Unfortunately, very few social issues allow justified quantitative approach, leaving too much room for qualitative bs. Good for social sciences though.

29. goxewu - July 21, 2010 at 07:23 pm

Re #29:

There was, I admit, a little tweaking in my question, so I'll be obvious:

I wasn't equating economic egalatarianism--say, paying janitors at least fifty grand a year and CEOs no more than half a mil--with "fairness." Nor, ipso facto, some people able to earn lots of money and some able to earn only a little with "unfairness."

Fairness is fairness, no? Each baseball team getting nine innings at bat, every voter getting one vote each in an election, everybody taking the same state law boards, every student at the school eligible for the free flu shot, etc. Isn't "fairness" like "health"? I mean, how can you have too much health? Likewise, how can you have too much fairness?

Conversely, what's the right amount of "unfairness"? Two OJ-type verdicts a year, or one a decade? Twenty city managers of 40,000 pop. cities getting annual salaries of $800,000 or just a half-dozen, or one?

How can "too much fairness" cause anybody but an overprivileged jerk (e.g., pick your favorite sports team owner who inherited the franchise) to be "disinterested" (uninterested?) in their individual endeavors enough to stagnate the society? Finally, is there a society around these days that's being hurt by "too much fairness"?

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.