Too much fairness
The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“Opportunities will be equal, procedures fair and results righteous […] My heart is hot with passion to create a country that has never been experienced,” President Moon Jae-in said in his inauguration address in May 2017, making fairly clear the ideological direction of the new government. The wording was borrowed from dissident-turned president Kim Dae-jung’s famous catchphrase, “Freedom will bloom like wild flowers, and justice will flow as in a stream” from the campaigning in 1992. The difference is that Moon left out “freedom,” which has been adroitly exploited by mainstream liberals.
There is a similar citation in the Old Testament, Amos 5:24, “Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Equality, fairness, and justice are universal and sacred values persistently strived for by mundane human beings. The concepts may be as transcendental and utopian. They may also be an illusion politicians peddle to win votes.
Ordinary lives are weighed down by the mantra of “equality and fairness.” People are stifling their humble dreams of moving to a bigger house by saving up and eventually owning a home. Instead, they live in insecurity about their old age, envying others who hit the jackpot in redevelopment projects. Parents wanting to move to a better neighborhood for better schools for their children, employers struggling to sustain profits and convenience store owners taking home less income than their part-time cashiers should hide their disgruntlement. Public enterprises have come under fire for losses after doing the bidding of government bigwigs. Corporate executives must be ever-watchful of their behavior in the office so that they are not accused of bullying or sexual harassment. Everyone earning income pays more taxes than in the past, but they don’t know where the money goes to. They cannot complain even if they suspect much of their money is spent on lazier people. They are confused about that promise of equality: for whom was it intended?
They are forced to feel guilty and don’t know why they feel as if they are living in the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible. They are unsure whether it is their fault for living so fearfully or the ruling power’s. The common people with innate greed and selfish hopes go through different pains every five years under a new president.
Their lives have become muddled by the ironies of “fair capitalism.” In “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” Max Weber argued the relationship between the ethics of Protestantism and modern capitalism. He believed Calvinists played a critical role in giving birth to the capitalistic spirit. Calvinism, with its belief in predestination, justified profit and material success as signs of God’s favor and changed the tide in economic activity, which had been repressed by the medieval Catholic Church.
The capitalistic spirit — the bloodline of the modern economy — has become sacrificed to the fairness ideology. Policies forced under the sacred design of ensuring more equality — as seen in minimum wage hikes, upgrades of contract workers to the permanent payroll or greater security for part-time lecturers, and multiple taxes on people with lots of real estate — have only ended up hardening the lives of ordinary people. Aren’t Koreans living in a mature capitalism with per-capita income over $30,000? In an essay looking back on his 90-odd years of life, Germany’s former chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, concluded that politics should be the practice of “pragmatism” for moral purposes.
American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argued in his book “The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” that too much emphasis on fairness and equality is like forcing a diet of sweets and salt. He compares morality to the five gustatory senses. He likens extreme morality to a restaurant serving food aimed at stimulating only one of the five tastes. For instance, the metaphorical “Utilitarian Grill” only serves sweeteners (welfare) that can have the most immediate stimulating effect.
Asked whether the shop is doing well, a restaurant owner says no but that he is better off than the Deontological Diner that only serves salts (rights). Through his empirical study, Haidt found that liberals valued care, fairness and liberty most out of six moral categories, which also include loyalty, authority and sanctity. Conservatives placed greater weight on the six moral categories. He concludes that a good meal must satisfy all five taste receptors.
The pursuit of fairness and equality is understandable. Yet the goal must be achieved through an innate understanding of human nature. A utopian society blindly adhering to fairness and equality can “never be experienced.”
JoongAng Ilbo, May 7, Page 31
More in Columns
A war needs a commander
Betting against Big Business
It’s the economy, stupid