February 17, 2011

On Fairness

Fairness is a central defining political concept of our current government and a key issue of political debate across the spectrum, from the unfairness of leaving debts to our children, to the unfairness of private equity managers paying less tax than their cleaners, to the unfairness of a child’s life chances being largely set by the time she reaches school.  However, though invoked all the time, what politicians and journalists mean by the term “fairness” is unfortunately vague, and the UK debate, to this point, has run the unfortunate risk of making the term “fairness” into a vacuous, Humpty-Dumpty-esque “fairness is whatever I believe in”.

In this paper, by contrast, we offer a concrete, simple and intuitive notion: that being fair is a special kind of being proportionate, with particular application in respect of equality, proportionality, and desert.  This concept is related to justice, but not the same as it, for while justice is a moral concept and an ethical/normative obligation (one always ought to be just), fairness is a technical concept and an ethical consideration.


Dr Andrew Lilico

Chief Economist, 2009-2010

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