Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Economist comes out against fairness

Bad language: Against fairness | The Economist: "Yet the fact that everybody believes in fairness is a clue to what’s wrong with the notion. Like that other warm-blanket word, “community”, it signals limp thinking. What exactly is “fair” about restricting trade, for instance? Or “unfair” about letting successful people in business or other fields enjoy the fruits of their enterprise without punitive taxes?

“Fairness” suits Britain’s coalition government so well not just because its meanings are all positive, but also because—like views within the coalition—they are wide-ranging. To one lot of people, fairness means establishing the same rules for everybody, playing by them, and letting the best man win and the winner take all. To another, it means making sure that everybody gets equal shares.

Those two meanings are not just different: they are opposite. They represent a choice that has to be made between freedom and equality. Yet so slippery—and thus convenient to politicians—is the English language that a single word encompasses both, and in doing so loses any claim to meaning.

Fairness is fudge. This newspaper will have none of it.

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