There’s a pointed quote in George Packer’s mostly negative New Yorker profile of hi-tech financier Peter Thiel: “The libertarian worship of individual freedom, and contempt for social convention, comes easiest to people who have never really had to grow up.”
While Packer’s observation may apply to Thiel and certain other self-made one-percenters, it doesn’t seem fair to paint with this brush the libertarians I know, who are regular middle-class folks of an entrepreneurial bent.
But then I thought: Do we have to be fair to libertarians?
Fairness doesn’t figure much in their philosophy, whether it’s economic fairness or Rawlsian “justice as fairness.” Margaret Thatcher said that “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” Absent a society, who or what can arbitrate what’s fair? (Rawls, by contrast: “Without the ideas of society and person, conceptions of the right and the good have no place.”)
Yet fairness seems to be a deep-rooted human value. What does a small child wail when feeling slighted? “It’s not fair!!!”
The catchphrase of Fox News, albeit a frequently mocked one, is “Fair and Balanced,” suggesting a journalistic deference to the ideal of treating all sides equally.
A poll about the tough new immigration law in Alabama “finds Alabamians sharply divided over the [law's] fairness.”
And President Obama practically wallowed in the fairness trope earlier this month, telling an audience, “We are greater together when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share.” A Washington Post reporter counted 15 mentions of the term “fair” or “fairness” in the speech.
While in partisan discourse the idea of fairness often gets conflated with accusations of socialism and the like, it’s still baked into American governance; witness the name of a bill just passed almost unanimously by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives abolishing a percentage quota that set unequal immigration barriers for IT workers from different countries. The title: “The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act.”
Seems while there are a lot of immigrants we don’t want, those we do should get a “fair” shot at entry.
A Fox Business column today delivered a red-state call for fairness. “Everyone running for president has been talking about what’s fair in this country,” writes David Asman in “How About What’s Fair for the Middle Class?” “The Democrats claim that the rich aren’t paying their fair share. Republicans say that it’s not fair to burden small businesses with an even higher tax load…How about the folks in the middle?…A system in which public servants are paid a lot more than the taxpayers who fund them is not only unfair…it’s unsustainable.”
Everywhere we look we find a yearning (or at least a yawping) for fairness – everywhere, that is, except in the libertarian camp. In a classic All in the Family episode, Archie Bunker demanded equal time and appeared on the local news. That happened under the FCC’s old “fairness doctrine,” which met its demise under President Reagan. To quote a poorly written but strongly worded libertarian blog post: “The Libertarian ideology utterly opposes the mislabeled ‘fairness doctrine’ and urges you to protect your freedom by joining it.”
Joining the ideology, they mean. Not the doctrine.