Fairness is a term that is often used in politics to sway a voter this way or that way. If you pay attention to all the rhetoric then you understand that the two sides have very different definitions of the word. Conservatives promise equal opportunity while progressives think there should be equal outcomes (even if they do not practice what they preach). Take the following two statements:
“Do we go forward towards a new vision of an America in which prosperity is shared?…Or do we go backward to the same policies that got us in the mess in the first place?”- Barack Obama
“We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes” – Paul Ryan
So which one is right? Does fairness in economics mean equal opportunity or equal outcomes? I would argue that the Bible affirms equal opportunity over equal outcomes. The following is my rationale for supporting this notion. It starts with our creation.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
God sees all men and women as equal as we are all created in the image of God. While we have different roles, men and women are of equal value to God. There is also no difference of value if your skin happens to be white, black, brown, or purple. Because of this fact we should treat everyone the same. No one should be deprived of an opportunity because of their sex or skin color. However, value before God does not mean that everyone will have lives free of problems or that everyone will have the same amount of material possessions. I think sometimes we are lead astray on this point because we as a society place so much importance on these material things and less emphasis on issues of the heart. I believe our definition of poor and God’s are often worlds apart. The reality is that the government simply cannot guarantee equal outcomes and if they try it always ends up hurting those we are trying to help. I believe the government can, however, try to ensure that people are not cheated…that there is an equal playing field. This is supported Biblically.
“You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:36)
“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)
“Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 20:10 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs%2020&version=ESV )
These verses give support of government regulations that would ensure equal dealings between companies that sell goods to each other and companies that sell products to consumers. I do not really think there is a difference of opinion here though. The difference comes from the idea that we can get rid of poverty by taking property from one person and giving it to another. The Bible just does not support this. First of all, the Bible teaches that the poor will always be with us:
“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)
“For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:8)
Obviously, this does not mean that we should not help the poor because in the same verse it commands us to help the needy and the poor. But it is important to note here that this is not a command to civil government. When helping the poor is referenced in the Bible, it always is in the context of a command to Christians. Once again it is a matter of the heart. It is a way to show God’s love to fellow believers and to non-believers. Jesus did not bring about “economic fairness” in the liberal sense while on earth. He never encouraged or commanded that the civil government should create equal outcomes for their citizens. He simply loved people. We should do the same. It is not something you need the government to help you with.
A second point here is that fairness goes both ways. People are well versed that the Bible says you should not take advantage of the poor, but it also says this:
“nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.” (Exodus 23:3)
“To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good, nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.” (Proverbs 17:26)
Economic fairness means that you protect everyone, not just the poor, not just the wealthy. It is wrong to take away from one person and give to another with a purpose of providing equal outcomes. It goes against the Bible’s teaching on work:
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
“for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)
“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23)
“The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” (Proverbs 12:24)
“A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (Proverbs 10:4)
“The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.” (Proverbs 21:25)
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” (Proverbs 12:11)
“The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.” (Proverbs 20:4)
If you try to provide equal outcomes, it is inevitable that you will reward behavior that Biblically should not be rewarded. This falls in line with the purpose of civil government. While there is nothing wrong with the intent of those on the left if indeed this intent is to help those in need, the idea that everyone deserves equal outcomes is fundamentally flawed. I cover this now because this flawed thinking leads to flawed policy when it comes to taxes and welfare. Something I will cover in more detail later.