We see the word “fair” all over the place in political debate. The Citizens for Tax Justice say they “fight for fair taxes for middle and low-income families” and “requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share” (emphasis added). 0bama decries Arizona’s recently passed anti-illegal-immigration bill as “[threatening] to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.” Drug laws are called unfair to “people of color.”
The trouble is, no-one can seem to define fair and then apply that definition in the legislative world.
So let’s start with the old standby, Webster’s. Definition 6 is the closest to what we seek:
6 a : marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism <a very fair person to do business with> b (1) : conforming with the established rules : allowed (2) : consonant with merit or importance : due <a fair share> c : open to legitimate pursuit, attack, or ridicule <fair game>
Well, 6b(1) isn’t much help here, because the law is the rule. 6c doesn’t really apply, either. So we’re left with two: “marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism” and “consonant with merit or importance : due <a fair share>.”
The Bible is also a good source of wisdom. Looking there, we read, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Lev. 19:15)
In any of the Law concerning tithing, there is no distinction between rich and poor in the giving. Every third year, everyone is expected to give one tenth of that year’s produce “to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow….” (Deut 26:13) Is that not a flat tax? Perhaps there are people who think they know better than God what fair is.
Conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity likes to challenge his liberal callers with the question, “Would you agree with the philosophy ‘From each according to his ability; to each according to his need’?” If they agree with the statement, he attributes it to Karl Marx and calls them Marxists. Well, no. Is not a flat tax, strictly speaking, “according to one’s ability”? If you make $10,000, you pay $1000; and if you make $100,000, you pay $10,000. If one says that the pressure of an ideal gas changes according to its temperature, we understand that to mean “in direct proportion to.” If one says that the speed of sound in that gas chages according to the fourth power of its temperature, we also understand that to mean “in direct proportion to the fourth power.”
So, I challenge the liberals in attendance. God deems fair, w.r.t. tithes anyway, to be in direct proportion to one’s income. It also has the beauty of simplicity — no deductions, no write-offs. Can you do better? What is your definition of fair?