Democrats and Republicans agree that Justice & Fairness are about Equity, not Equality or Impartiality

I was browsing CNN today and I decided to expand my moral imagination by watching Glenn Beck Speak at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting.  I was surprised how reasonable his message sounded to me, as I my previous impression of him was not good.

I believe that people should be able to get what they deserve too. I don’t begrudge small businesses who succeed through hard work. I appreciate hard work as much as anyone. Does that mean that I should switch parties?

None of my posts would be complete without a graph, so I decided to look at some of our data on justice and fairness from Below is a graph of how various ideologies would view changing a hypothetical allocation of a reward from ambiguous toward the use of some specific type of justice or fairness.

Equity concerns giving more to those who contribute more.  Equality concerns making the distribution more equal.  Need concerns giving more to those who need it more. Open information concerns making sure everyone understands the process. Equal voice concerns allowing everyone an equal say in how to make the allocation. Retribution concerns giving less reward to those who violate some relevant group norm. Higher bars indicate that making a change toward that principle is more desirable.

Democrats Republicans Fairness Justice Equity Equality Need

What did I learn from this graph? Liberals do care more about equality and need than conservatives and conservatives do care more about equity and retribution.  However, both liberals and conservatives (and libertarians) find an equity based distribution (e.g. “Suppose the company instituted a way of quantifying each employee’s contributions, and it then adjusted the bonuses up or down accordingly”) to be more desirable to an equal distribution (e.g. “Suppose the company divided the money such that each employee received an equal share.“)  This somewhat captures how I feel about things.  I care about people getting what they deserve, but perhaps I am willing to consider equality and need in some situations as well.

Below is another graph using different participants, which concerns endorsement of abstract principles rather than hypothetical allocations and again, we see that the proportionality principle (e.g. “Whether or not those who contribute more are rewarded more”) is deemed most important.

The take home message for Democrats? Stop letting Republicans define policy as choices between equity and equality/need. Nobody is trying to stop small businesses from succeeding…few people want a completely equal society.

Rather, let’s see if people are really getting what they deserve in life.  Do investment bankers really deserve million dollar bonuses?  I don’t think they necessarily produce much more than many, and obviously in the past few years, their collective output has been negative. So I see taxing banks to recoup losses as a matter of equity/proportionality, not equality.

How about the working poor who work hard and then are bankrupted by a single medical expense? What percentage of Americans actually make enough money to pay for a chronic illness? We all need health care that doesn’t go away when we get really sick and need to use it. So maybe health care isn’t a right, but how can one argue with making sure the working poor and children all have health care? Does Glenn Beck’s father, who owned a bakery and therefore would have immense trouble buying health care without a large risk pool, deserve health care less than those investment bankers who drove the economy into the ground with high risk derivatives?  If not, maybe we should do something about that.

Democrats should welcome a debate about how to really give people what they deserve in life.

- Ravi Iyer



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