I often laugh when someone declares a thing to be fair. Fairness is a funny illusion. It’s one of our most useful illusions, but it’s an illusion nonetheless.
Imagine trying to “fairly” divide ten identical marbles between two kids. You could give five marbles to each kid, wave your arms and declare it fair. The kids would probably agree with this arrangement. The illusion of fairness works.
Is five marbles apiece actually fair?
Don’t you need to know how many marbles each kid already owns? What if one kid has a thousand and the other has none? The marginal utility of an extra marble is much higher for the marble-poor kid.
Doesn’t their different level of enthusiasm for marbles come into play? If you think about it, you’re trying to be fair with their happiness, not their marbles. What if one kid loves marbles five times more than the other? In that case, the fair thing to do is give most of the marbles to the kid who doesn’t enjoy them as much. He needs more marbles to obtain the same level of happiness as the marble lover gets with one. Of course that solution would cause one kid to melt down because it wouldn’t have the illusion of fairness.
Even the simplest example of fairness falls apart when you put it under scrutiny. Luckily, people are morons, so they imagine fairness where none exists. Otherwise nothing would ever get done.
I was thinking of fairness the other day when considering my next car purchase. I figure I need to do my part to conserve energy. I considered buying a fuel-efficient car that would give me no joy whatsoever. It’s the fair thing to do. We all need to pitch in.
Then I remembered I’ve never procreated. That’s a huge energy savings. When you create new humans, they start leaving the lights on, driving, eating, pooping, and doing all sorts of energy-inefficient things. By not creating any new humans, I’m saving a huge amount of energy!
I walk to work. That saves a lot of fuel too. If you consider my total energy drain on the planet, I could own a small fleet of gas-guzzlers and still be greener than 95% of the citizens of the United States. That seems fair to me.
If you were the judge in this decision, and considered all the facts, would you give me a Hummer?