Throwing a Fit for Fairness

Fairnessby Deana Chadwell
Picture this: a 3-year-old throwing a temper tantrum, kicking and screaming and rolling on the floor. His lower lip is pooched out in a prize-winning pout, his fists clenched. What does he say? “It’s not FAIR!” Now, we’re only watching this; we don’t know what terrible injustice he’s suffering, but we suspect he’s overplaying things a bit. Perhaps his big brother got a bike and he didn’t. Maybe his sister ate her vegies and therefore is slurping on a Popsicle. It doesn’t matter; what is important here is his undeveloped sense of justice. He thinks fair means equal.

I’m beginning to realize that this is the one of the big differences between liberal and conservative viewpoints. I hear Democrats constantly talking (read that whining) about fairness. Our president has made the issue the cornerstone of his administration, but he doesn’t really mean fair as in just or unbiased. He means, like our red-faced 3-year-old, equal. Those terms are not interchangeable, tangential maybe, but not synonymous.

Equal is an absolute mathematical concept: A = A. Granted, we use it more loosely, but maybe that’s the problem. For instance, it may be possible to get equal pay, mathematically, but only if the salary was for exactly equal work, equal dependability, equal devotion, and that’s hard to measure. I used to teach across the hall from a charming man who, like myself had a master’s degree, and like myself had years and years of experience, but unlike me, he mostly showed videos – pretty much all the time. Pop in the cassette, turn on the TV and that’s called teaching. We were paid equally, but you can’t call it fair.

Fairness involves action; equality doesn’t. If Orville builds an airplane, he has to buy the parts, and the tools. He must secure a place to work, and then he must spend hours and hours applying the knowledge and expertise that he had previously spent years and years attaining. When he goes to sell this plane, if the market is good for handcrafted airplanes, he will get a price that will not only recompense him for the parts he had to buy, but also for the effort and expertise he put into it. If Wilbur buys the plane from Orville and then flies it across the country and sells it to Amelia, it is fair for him to charge more than his purchase price because he’s taken the risk of buying it from Orville and the trouble to make it available to Amelia. Not equal, but fair.

Fairness has nothing to do with need; it has to do with effective effort — I’ve been interested lately in watching the fast food walkouts. Thousands of employees, who originally agreed to work for the minimum wage (at a job that requires a minimum of intelligence, education and training) have walked out on their jobs now demanding they be paid double. Double! They aren’t offering to double their efforts on behalf of Mickey D or The King. (In all fairness, I have no idea what that would look like. No matter how fast you flip that burger, it still takes time to cook.), but they want double the pay. I find that mind-boggling.

These folks – whose predicament I don’t envy – are basing their demands on their needs, which is inherently unfair. Now, it would be awful to try to live on $8.95 (Oregon) an hour. That would be tricky, though no one is limiting anyone to just one place of employment; no one wants anyone to stay in a low-paying job.

A wage is based on the employer’s need, not the employee’s. If I’m going to open a restaurant I have to consider how many workers I’ll need to accomplish the work, what level of expertise they will need to have, and what price I can successfully charge for my food. The higher the profit margin and the higher the level of workers I need – a sommelier as opposed to a busboy – the more I can pay those workers. It has nothing at all to do with what the workers’ needs. If it did, then I would have to pay the young, single mother more than the high school kid who still lives at home, or because the cleaning lady’s husband has a bad heart, I’d have to pay her more than the chef who’s young, healthy and has a working wife. Doesn’t that just open a can of tapeworms? What you need has no connection to what you are paid.

If Vera is smart and talented, has a college degree, and ten years of experience in textile design, then she has something to market, something to exchange for money. If, however, she dropped out of high school, has never developed much interest in anything, let alone any specific skills, then all she has to market is her time, and it may take a great deal of her time to earn enough to live on.

Is that fair? Mostly. Theoretically she could have learned something and graduated from high school. I’ve watched way too many students just choose not to. During my high school teaching days I dealt with close to 6,000 students. A few were slow enough to make school obviously difficult, but I never had one student who couldn’t learn. I had many who found life thoroughly boring – at 16! – but none who were fundamentally unable to earn a living. True, many came from horrible homes, had suffered terrible traumas, had health issues – but none of those things affect the price of labor in the economy. That young people live in homes where their parents mistreat them, or stumble into the world of sex and drugs long before they know what they were doing is just tragic, but it is not up to Wendy’s to rectify that situation.

Part of the frustration for these unskilled people is that we no longer have available a plethora of jobs that don’t require an education. Twenty years ago I’d have students who would say to me, “Why do I have to learn this? I’m just going to go work in the mill.” Then the spotted owl stopped the woodcutting and the saw mills closed. What do those unskilled workers do for a living wage? That’s a problem, but not one that Taco Bell has to subsidize.

The strikers are also furious that the CEO’s of these companies are making 6 and 7-figure salaries while they make less than 9 dollars an hour. Mentally return to our fit-throwing toddler – “That’s not fair!” No, it’s fair; it just isn’t equal. CEO’s may be obnoxious, golf-playing, promiscuous manipulators, but they have college degrees, managerial skills, drive, determination, and are generally high-risk personalities. Not only that but each of these restaurant chains has only a handful of CEO’s and thousands of burger-flippers – even if you divvied up the salaries of the hot shots and passed them out to the workers, it wouldn’t make life financially comfortable for anyone. The men at the top are being paid what their companies think they are worth, not what anyone thinks they need. The companies pay their cooks what they are worth as well.

Fairness is not about having a Popsicle every time your sister has one. It’s not about having what other people have. It’s not about having at all. And equality is a myth. If we all behave ourselves we can all be socially equal. If we follow the Constitution we can all be legally equal – one citizen, one vote, but we are each so unique that absolute equality, absolute parity is not possible, nor is it desirable. They only way to be equal is to be identical which destroys everything.

The only way to be fair is to be as much like God as we can be – He knows what is going on – has complete information; He is love – cares so much about us that He became a man and took our punishment on Himself; He is perfect goodness and is incapable of doing anything evil.

If we are as informed as possible, as loving as we can be and as good as we know how to be, and if we are immersing ourselves in God’s Word so that we might be even better, then fairness, justice, will happen around us. And – news flash – barring our raising of children, we can only make ourselves fair; we have no control over the fairness of anyone else.
Deana Chadwell blogs at • (1013 views)

Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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12 Responses to Throwing a Fit for Fairness

  1. Kung Fu Zu says:

    Having lived overseas for many years in many countries, it has been my experience that Americans bring up the “it’s not fair” trope more often that any other nationality. And this is nothing new.

    It’s as if we have been brought up in Never Never Land and think that life’s inequities and problems can be solved by some meaningless blather.

    When they hear Americans repeating this whine, whether on TV or in person, many foreigners scratch their heads (figuratively) and wonder what the hell Americans are talking about. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard foreigners ask, “who ever said life was fair?”

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I long ago realized that I would never be rich (barring phenomenal luck in the lottery, and we almost never get tickets) — because of lifestyle choices I made. Many people make similar choices, and they won’t get rich either; but some (I don’t know how many) then complain about the results.
    One thing the fast-food strikers ignore is that many work in franchised eateries, where the owner is not some rich CEO. But I will note that CEO salaries are set by boards of directors, which in the case of very large corporations are often made up of CEOs from various corporations. They have a natural inclination to pay each other very good salaries, perhaps exorbitant ones. The proper answer to that is some sort of shareholder control over issues on which their interests (as the actual owners) differ from those of the top management, such as CEO pay.

    • MarkW says:

      If the Board is handing out exhorbinant salaries, the shareholders can fix the problem by voting them out.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The board largely controls the election of their members, so that still requires some sort of reform of the process. My own view is that the shareholders should have the right to veto certain board decisions, but it would probably require an outright majority to do so. If a decision is sufficiently egregious that will be possible. (A friend of mine once pointed out the Time-Warner mergers; they could have been bought out themselves, benefiting shareholders but not the management; or they could buy out another company, giving the management more power but burdening shareholders with massive debt. Naturally, they chose the latter.)

        • Kung Fu Zu says:

          A similar situation was when Mercedes “bought/merged with” Chrysler. In only a few years the thing fell apart but the CEO of Chrysler, I think his name was Eaton, made something like US$300 million.


        In theory, yes, but the fact is that representative organizations often don’t properly carry out the wishes of those they’re supposed to be representing (I made this point recently in Mission: Take the GOP), and corporate boards may not represent shareholders’ wishes any more than school boards represent parents’ wishes. Therefore, I’m with Tim on this. Nonetheless, Deanna’s broader point is correct: salaries represent the free choices made by consumers, and aren’t supposed to be “fair”, nor is it government’s job to make life more fair – a point we Conservatives have to be good at making if we’re to fight the Left, which is always making such fallacy-ridden “fairness” arguments.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I agree on salaries. If the shareholders think the CEO really is worth $30 million, who are we to say they’re wrong?

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            That’s totally common sense, Timothy. What the hell’s wrong with you?

            I have a buddy who fixates on these corporate salary issues. I don’t really know where that comes from. Otherwise he lives his life as a conservative (he has his own business).

            Is it the competitive instinct surfacing? Jealousy? Too much MS-NBC? I honestly don’t know. But as long as decent, hard-working Americans buy into this Marxist crap, we’re doomed.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    So very penetrating Deana……I would have loved to have been your student.

  4. MarkW says:

    In my experience, “It’s not fair”, can usually be translated as “I’m not getting what I want.”.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      So true. Normally parents eventually (but not completely) wean their children off of that type of thinking by not giving in to it.

      But in our society at large, we now have the government and politicians actually feeding it. This is why it is true that socialism and this nanny brand of statism produces an extended juvenilism in people.

      The politicians want to make us dependent. As Rush just now said, it’s like they want to make us pets dependent upon their masters.

      “Fairness” is just a learned response. It’s the temper-tantrum words of those who have learned that they can get something by simply proverbially balling up their fists and screaming.

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