I heard a Priest say it in her homily:
“Fair is not always equal.”
She was, of course, referring to the parable from the Gospel of Matthew (20:1-16) in which the landowner compensates his workers. He has contracted with them for a specific amount, and it doesn’t matter at what hour they begin. The contracted amount for all of them is the same. Those who came earlier in the day grumble about being paid the same as those who came later. The landowner reminds them that he had contracted with them for a specific amount, and that is what they received. They mutter that it isn’t fair.
The Priest’s comment was, “Fair is not always equal.” Obviously, the workers were compensated fairly; it is exactly what they agreed to when hired. It was a just compensation and there was no bias or dishonesty.
Now, you might say, it would have been better if the landowner had stipulated an hourly wage based upon time worked. Maybe, but that isn’t what the contract called for. Fair is not always equal.
The words rattled around in my head all day. I found myself stumbling over the concept of equality. It has never been clearer to me that equality has more to do with being treated with consistent justice than it does with compensation or benefit. It is the consistency of justice that is the foundation for human interaction.
This, of course, leads me directly to the potentially-volatile legislation which will be before Congress imminently. In it, the President is calling for the revision of the taxes of those who are among the wealthiest in our nation. It is clear that their benefits have greatly exceeded those of the middle or struggling classes, with some (maybe many) paying little or no taxes at all. Tax loopholes allow them to maneuver their accounting to avoid taxes which might otherwise seem appropriate.
So the question of equality and fairness come into play. Some would say that the principle of fairness means that all wage-earners are treated in the same way. Therefore, if there are tax breaks for the poor and middle classes, there ought to be tax breaks for the wealthy as well. That is based upon the concept of equality.
But the other side of the coin rest on the principle of fairness, which is not the same as equality. The point can be made that it isn’t fair that wealthy people have the credentials and resources to avoid paying taxes. The cry for them to pay “their fair share“ is not a new one and it isn’t one that has been dealt with to date. The proposed legislation is an attempt by some to establish that fairness.
You can see how this dialogue can be difficult. It is possible to come down on either side and still be “right” in some way. That doesn’t make the dialogue any easier. From my perspective, the question is one of justice. What is the just thing to do? It may turn out that the solution doesn’t feel fair to some and that it doesn’t necessarily feel equal either. In the end the test will be whether it is honest and just. Those are more objective words than subjective, so it will depend to a great deal upon one’s perspective as to just how fair it is.
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