The Fairness Principle

We are always changing our systems. Every new law changes something. Why do we make these changes? The easy answer is to make things better. Better for whom? Ideally better for everyone. But often the changes made are designed, consciously or not, to make things better for some individuals or for some class or classes of people with no consideration as to what the change does for the system as a whole, and no consideration as to whether there are any benefits for everyone else.

We need a new principle to be used when designing and considering changes to our economic and political systems. This principle should be something like: No change should benefit one group at the expense of everyone else or at the expense of other individuals or groups. This principle should be applied especially to the production and fair distribution of the human necessities. We can call this the Fairness Principle.

The human necessities are those goods and services every person needs to develop fully as a human person. Specifically these are: Food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, opportunities to associate with, cooperate with, work with other people, maximal individual freedom consistent with the well-being of others, and non-violence. And this production and fair distribution of these human necessities must be done within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources and the preservation of the natural world.

If there are many people whose basic human needs are not satisfied, then these people cannot contribute as much to the production of the goods and services we all need. We want a just system. We don’t want a system where there are a lot of freeloaders — people who get the benefits of cooperative work but who don’t do their fair share. This is one side of justice. The other side of justice is that the system must assure that those who work have all the resources they need to do the work they do. This is why we want every person to have the human necessities.

The principle that no changes to our system should be made which favors particular individuals or groups over others is a kind of Fairness Principle. Why should we accept this principle? Because it seems unfair to change our system so that it takes away (or does not provide) goods and services from some people to give them to other people. This is more unfair if the goods and services taken away are human necessities. Then those whose necessities have been decreased become less able to contribute to the whole and the system works less well and everyone may be affected. If it is not human necessities that are taken away, then maybe it does not matter. So fairness in the distribution of human necessities is what matters most.

There could be rather immediate benefits if the above fairness principle were applied to the crafting of new laws. We can imagine a constitution where it would be required that laws conform to the fairness principle. Then courts could review laws and void them on the grounds of unfairness with respect to human necessities. Or maybe the courts or some new institution (maybe a part of the legislation system) would analyze and say yes or no to proposed new laws.

So special interest legislation could be reduced greatly. There already is some rule that is aimed at preventing legislation naming a specific individual, corporation, locality as the beneficiary of a law. Our legislators go around this rule by adding enough conditions so that only the desired individual or corporation or location qualifies for the benefit. But clearly the legislators could decide not to allow such fakery. The legislators already make all kinds of rules for themselves that the laws they write must conform to.

We all know our legislators are not going to make these changes any time soon. But don’t dismiss the idea just because it will not be implemented soon. I am exploring how things could be, not how they are likely to be next month or next year.

Many people recognize that our legislators have been bought and paid for by the rich, the 1%. Legislators write and pass legislation favoring those who contribute to their campaigns, their party, or who do favors for their family and friends. It is proposed that if we could only “get money out of politics” we would solve this problem, get our democracy back, and then start making the progressive changes we all want. It is more complicated than that. There has to be a revolution not only in the minds of the voters but also in the minds of those who are supposed to be our representatives.

What kind of different ideas must our legislators acquire? One idea is the Fairness Principle.

How can we help them change their minds so they make new laws to change our systems to systems that are better for everybody? For now we must continue thinking, researching, and writing.



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