Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Different Views of “Fairness”

One of the arguments given by Republicans in North Carolina for new legislation that rolls back “early voting” is to make it more “fair,” because people who voted early tended to favor one political party over another.

Apparently, Democrats were more successful than Republicans at getting voters to vote early and this new law is meant to erase that advantage through power rather than hard work.

Generally, in Republican lexicon, success such as this is the reward for initiative but apparently not when it comes to politics.

Sounds a bit socialist to penalize success and initiative in this way until you look at how differently Democrats (predominately moderate) and Republicans (predominately conservative) view fairness as well as equality.

I’ll explain, but first…

To me, as a moderate Independent, It seems important to bone up on these differences, because even if voters throw out those members of the General Assembly who are clearly sleaze balls, the way voting districts have been draw to their party’s advantage is probably going to guarantee that Republicans are in power for some time to come.

Even if the Independents who brought them to power swing away, the best case scenario is that we can replace sleaze balls with more honorable, thoughtful Republicans in many districts.  And believe me, they do exist.

A role model is Representative Chuck McGrady, a moderate Republican and former Henderson County Commissioner who also served a stint as national president of the Sierra Club.

Moral psychology researcher, ethicist and author of the book The Righteous Mind, Dr. Jonathan Haidt explains the different ways people along the ideological spectrum view what’s fair and what’s not fair.  But he provided a “short course” on these differences a few months ago in a quarterly issue of Democracy, a journal I read to keep abreast of how progressives think.

Don’t panic conservatives!  If anything, he seems to lean right in his book while ideological moderates keep up with thoughtful analysis at all points of the spectrum.

Even more than I remember from reading his book, In the Democracy article, Haidt zeros in more on research about the varying views of what’s “fair.”

There are two views of “fairness;” procedural and distributive (benefits and burdens.)  Democrats and Republicans hold both definitions to heart but Republicans seem a bit hung up on “procedural.”

Thus they can rationalize cutting back on early voting in some areas so it is the same across the board, even though that penalizes early-adopters and innovators in the other party.

It also explains their obsession with photo IDs, even though it is discriminatory to many who vote Democratic and what voter fraud truly exists is in absentee voting, an area where Republicans benefit.

There are two subtypes of distributive “fairness,” equality (everyone gets the same) and  proportionality (all receive rewards in proportion to inputs.)  Democrats, Independents and Republicans all endorse proportionality but those on the left simultaneously endorse equality.

According to Haidt’s research, “the right has no interest in equality for its own sake.  Conservatives prefer proportionality, even when it leads to massive inequalities of outcome.”

To put this in context, this is why Republicans felt comfortable requiring voter IDs but making no concerted effort to help those who have difficulty obtaining one, many because they don’t have birth certificates or there are inconsistencies on their birth certificates, or because they don’t trust the government not to misuse it.

For most Americans, “equality” means a “fair shot.”  To conservatives, however, “fair shot” is procedural, a belief that - “If you work hard, you’ll succeed.  If you don’t, you deserve to fail.”  Unfortunately, some elected officials are special interest “ne’er-do-wells” who seek to rig government as a means to gain success.

Democrats see a “fair shot” as not just procedural, but also a question of distributive fairness.  In my experience, some don’t worry enough about procedural fairness or how much fraud or laziness undermines whether the distribution itself is fairly administered.

In the just published 2013 Economic Values Survey, a majority of Americans believe one of the biggest problems in this country is that we do not give everyone an equal chance.

This includes nearly 69% of Democrats and 54% of Independents but nearly 60% of Republicans and Tea Party members think this really isn’t a problem.

This is a real divide in America and it strikes at the heart of the American Dream.  By ethnicity, white voters are split 47% to 44% on the issue but 77% of black Americans and more than 6-in-10 Hispanic Americans think equal opportunity is a big problem.

Related is that more than half of Americans now don’t believe that hard work and determination are any longer a guarantee of success.  More worrisome is that 56% of Americans, including 63% of whites, 39% of blacks and 36% of Hispanics, now think they can get ahead without working hard and making sacrifices.

Apparently, this includes special interests, lobbyists and elected officials who seek to rig the system in their favor.

Partisan politics aside, for anyone who ran for elected office to truly govern and to represent all of the people, not just self or petty or special interest, this has to be alarming.

If we are going to collaborate across partisan divides, we need to have a dictionary of terms handy.

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