Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A lovely metaphor for how civilised societies are fairer to those in need.

This wandered on to my timeline on Twitter this morning. I hadn't seen it before. It's very good. Whether we think that the situation on the right is perhaps better described as "Fairness" than "Justice" is open to debate. The words in a civilised society are close synonyms anyway. Justice should always be blind and even-handed whereas "Fairness" does positively discriminate in favour of the disadvantaged. What I like about the metaphor is that there is a strong element of "To each according to need" about it. This presupposes that an external authority of some sort, seeing the tallest boy on a box he didn't need, made the tall boy gave it to the little chap. Or did the tall boy do it voluntarily? Was he being altruistic realising that the small advantage he got from the box wasn't justified if the smallest boy couldn't see at all?

What about ownership? The tall boy perhaps owned his box and he was perhaps being forced to surrender something he owned for the collective good. Three boys comfortably watching the cricket is better than two. The rearrangement for society as a whole is net positive. "Equality" is analogous in this illustration with equal benefits irrespective of need - the "Winter Fuel Allowance" for example which goes at the same rate to all elderly people irrespective of need. Similarly nearly all households must pay for a TV Licence at the same rate irrespective of their ability to pay. VAT and excise duties are the same. Regressive taxation is equal, but unfair. Progressive taxation is unequal, but fair. 

The picture on the left is a metaphor for a society where all are expected to stand on their own feet and have equal resources to do this. The picture on the right is a society where some forego benefits, for whatever reason, in order to help others. The tall boy can still see the cricket, albeit from not quite as high a vantage point. He gives up some utility for the "common good". 


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