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The whole system is out of order!

Posted: May 1, 2012 at 3:00 am   /   by

In a post yesterday, we discussed the subject of fairness in the context of this WSJ piece about the special powers and privileges the UAW enjoys (at taxpayer expense, and at the expense of other unions), because of their support of and special relationship with certain power-players in government. I find myself with more to say on the subject . . .

Recently, I found myself compelled to paraphrase that famous scene from And Justice for All where Al Pacino shouts, “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” Increasingly, while watching the news, I feel that way. Our system has strayed so far from any rational resemblance to its intent that it can only be described as broken—as out of order.

The situation that precipitated my comparatively quiet mini-rant, while driving down our suburban street, was a discussion (with my amazing wife, as it happens) about school taxes.

School taxes aren’t paid by everyone, either in equal measure or proportionally based on their means.

School taxes are not paid only by people with school-age children.

No, school taxes in most jurisdictions are paid by people who own houses.

People who have five kids and rent their home don’t pay them. People who own a house but have no children pay, and in some states, pay through the nose. And they’re not just paying for other people’s kids to go to school, they’re also paying for teachers whose unions have negotiated pensions that will allow them to retire in their 50s. Many of us, in fact, will be working until we’re in our 70s to pay for the retirement of government employees who retired 20 years earlier.

Now how does any of that make sense from a “fairness” standpoint? You may argue that kids need to get educated and that some people cannot afford to pay. Fine and true . . . but there are other ways for society to be constituted. One cohort of society need not be made to pay for something it doesn’t receive. We can do things differently, in a way that is truly more “fair.” Barack Obama loves to bandy that word about. The Democrats and the political left, writ large, have been dining out on the word “fairness” for a century. And yet nearly everything they do involves the unequal treatment of people.

Think about this for a moment . . .

You are living in a state of nature, among a tribe of about 100 families, cooperating for mutual ends but only very loosely organized. (Before you say, “Oh no, here goes Chris with more social contract stuff,” please think about this. It’s fundamental.) 

So there you are, among the rest of the families, and finally, you hold a tribe-wide palaver and decide that it’s time to get more organized. You want better security and third-party adjudication of disputes. Everyone wants to be able to concentrate more on productive cooperation, specialization, and commerce and less on security and the executive of primitive justice. Essentially, you are agreeing to form a government.

So along comes a guy—we’ll call him Farmer Gray—with a bright idea:

First, everyone put on a hat. Now, we’re gonna line everyone up and paint a number on your hats—a 1, 2, or 3. Every 4th person will get a letter G; he or she will work for our new government.

1s: You will give up half your crops, and everything else you produce, most of which will be given to the 3s and the Gs.

2s: You will give up a quarter of what you produce. It will be given to the 3s and the Gs. The Gs will earn more than you and will be allowed to retire earlier. You will have to continue producing for 15 extra years and giving up 25% of your crops to the Gs, their spouses, and their children.

3s: You will be given crops and other products from the 1s and 2s.

Gs: You will be provided a higher wage than the 2s but lower than the 1s. You will be empowered to make rules and regulations that affect the lives of the 1s, 2s, and 3s.

Now who would agree to that? There’s a reason that societies don’t start out this way: natural law. People have an innate understanding of natural law, and they understand that equal treatment under the law is essential to any “fair” society. That is why they are more likely to prefer a system based on the philosophy behind these 55 words . . .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

 . . . than they would be to choose the scenario laid out by Farmer Gray. They understand that they have natural rights, and that the only way that natural rights make any sense at all is if everyone has them equally. The instant you start making one person surrender more of the fruits of his labor than another person, making one person pay for another person’s stuff, you have violated this equal claim to natural rights. Whatever justification may be offered for the violation does not change the fact that it is a violation.

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook


  1. […] couple of days ago, I laid down a marker on the subject of fairness and how it ought properly to be defined: Recently, I found myself compelled to paraphrase that famous scene from And Justice for […]