Playing Fair

Miller-McCune Magazine has a very interesting article “The Fairness Doctrine” reviewing Peter Corning’s book The Fair Society. Activists of all political stripes would do well to read this article and perhaps the reviewed book as well. (It is now on my reading list.) Corning makes the case that many of our notions of fairness are hard wired, part of our instincts which make us social animals, and that neither the egalitarian socialists nor the followers of Ayn Rand have it right. We have a mix of egalitarian and meritocratic instincts in our “biosocial contract.” This contract has three important provisions:

  • Goods and services must be distributed to each of us according to our basic needs. (In this, there must be equality.)
  • Surpluses beyond the provisioning of our basic needs must be distributed according to merit. (There must also be equity.)
  • In return, each of us is obligated to contribute proportionately to the collective survival enterprise in accordance with our ability. (There must be reciprocity.)

If Corning is correct, both the Left and Right represent subsets of this hard wired social contract. If so, it seems to me that a political movement which consciously put forth all three provisions might crush the competition. This might make for an interesting experiment…

This is especially so given that my free money plus freedom proposal fits in nicely with the above, as long as the amount of free money is reasonable, and the free market rules are truly fair. That is, if the free money is sufficient to meet basic needs, then my proposal meets the first criterion. As long as the free money is insufficient to indulge in luxury, it meets the second. As for the third, free markets with simple rules and a simple tax system does the job. Not only that, even the needy—the net dole recipients— have some incentive to do what they can for society.

Therefore, if Corning is correct, my proposal should be an easy sell. Yet experience tells me otherwise. Maybe Corning’s ideas are bunk. Maybe there are subtleties which are found in the book and not the review. Maybe ideology has blinded people to their core instincts save when violations of the biosocial contract are truly blatant, such as the recent bailouts of rich financial institutions.

I can see a couple of other possibilities, which all who wish to bring about this proposal should consider:

  • Perhaps the biosocial contract is hard-wired, but holistic thinking is not. The instincts cut in for the three provisions separately. This would explain the success of the ideological camps which are based on subsets of the biosocial contract.
  • Perhaps people see free money as violating either the first or second provision, since people’s needs do indeed vary. The same amount of free money for all is an imperfect approximation.

If the former is dominant, then our task is simply a matter of education. If the latter, then we might provide part of the universal stipend in the form of vouchers for health insurance, since variations in health are a major factor in variations in need. Some experimentation is in order.

Finally, libertarians especially should take into account this idea of a biosocial contract. Do some studies, some focus groups. Methinks you will find that Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy is strongly at odds with our hard wired human nature. Maybe we need to become more like the peaceful production men Rand extols, but is and ought are not the same thing. To promote Rand’s vision of liberty requires remaking human nature, much as the fictional Vulcans of Star Trek remade their nature in order to avoid war. Start your monastaries now if that is your goal. But if you plan to win political battles, some concessions to hard-wired human nature (not to mention our predominant religion) is in order. Freedom may require free money.