In our hearts we know what’s fair.
Studies of different native indigenous populations reveal that they create similar societies with only mild differences in wealth and income distribution roughly like that of Denmark’s, a country widely considered one of the fairest in modern western society.
Even in America, citizens of all persuasions have similar ideas about what constitutes fairness. In a recent study carried out by Harvard Business School, when asked to design their ideal society for wealth distribution, both Republicans and Democrats came up with a markedly similar picture for a just society, much like that of Sweden where there is far less division between rich and poor than there is in America
Although we may be polarized in many areas, all of us—rich, poor, Democrat, Republican—broadly agree on what is fair.
What most of us mean by ‘fair’ is not sameness or redistribution, but an equal chance, an equal possibility, an equal say in areas that affect our society, a reward commensurate with contribution, and, perhaps most important, a reward that does not come at someone else’s expense.
Our strongly honed sense of fair play includes a strong sense of the importance of reciprocity—that each of us will have our turn, and that if we do something for someone else, that they will return the favor.
Today we have strayed both from our birthright as human beings and from our nation’s founding principles. America and indeed every society in the West are now at our most unfair in history. Although one in every thirty-nine Americans is a millionaire, one in seven, or 39.1 million Americans, live below the poverty line. Just one per cent of the population now control 40 percent of the nation’s money, and while their income has risen, income levels of the rest of the 99 percent have drastically fallen.
The problem with this situation is not simply a case of unfairness.
Our very survival depends upon our ability to give each one of us a turn.
Epidemiological studies show that in countries with giant income disparity between the very rich and the very poor, both the most affluent and the very poorest suffer from higher rates of ill health, crime, mental illness, environmental problems, and violence.
Although one of the wealthiest countries in the world with half the world’s billionaires, America has far and away the highest level of all social problems—crime, lack of education, mental illness, suicide, disease of all varieties—of twenty countries.
The good news is that doesn’t take much to re-establish fairness. Scientific studies shows that in any society, if a culture of turn taking falls apart with too many taking too much, all it requires is a small group of individuals committed to strong reciprocity to “invade” a population of self-interested individuals and reestablish fairness and generosity.
You can re-establish fairness in your life, in your community, in your workplace and in your country by supporting The Fairness Campaign and following the Ten Principles of Fairness.
When you become a spiritual activist for fairness, you can easily set off a contagion of good will. Fairness is even more contagious than greed because in our hearts we know what’s fair.