David Clark on fairness

An interesting column by David Clark after returning from his Eisenhower Fellowship exchange trip to the United States. He compares freedom and fairness values here and in the US.

Fairness the hallmark of our country

Dunedin North MP David Clark considers the balance between fairness and freedom.

If you believe New Zealand’s egalitarian dream is dead, I want to argue that belief in its underlying principle of fairness is the single most important determinant of our country’s future.

He concludes:

If we wish to become a more prosperous nation, we need to strengthen our reputation for fairness, not undermine it. A growing gap between rich and poor makes New Zealand a less attractive destination for talent.

To make New Zealand a more attractive place for talent to live, to ensure we continue to have a privileged place at the table in trade negotiations, and because it fits with our national identity, our country needs to adopt policies that create a rising tide that really raises all of the boats, not just a privileged few.

Having a break away from his Labour colleagues seems to have helped Clark take wider less political view, although his ideological leanings still show. The “privileged few” is a very loaded statement, and those who have earned their wealth through hard work will argue against being labelled privileged.

Fairness is important, but it isn’t simple. Something that seems fair to one person may not be fair on another.

Where the ‘fairness’ argument seems to be most contentious in New Zealand is how fair is it to take money off some people and give it to others? A decent society must have this to a degree – but the the degree is highly debatable.

As important as the balance between freedom and fairness is how fair enforced ‘fairness’ or income equalisation is.

Some will claim the right promote freedom and the left promote fairness, but it’s not that simple.

Many will claim it is unfair to take too much of their earned income (via tax) and give it to people who aren’t earning.

Leave a comment


  1. tom

     /  3rd June 2013

    A major risk that I think we a heading towards is “overequalisation” where those at the bottom of the heap are recipient to a higher degree of support than those who are contributing to the support system. A good example of this is the “everything is schools” push where dec 1-3’s seem to be the targets, irrespective of need. What about those that need support who happen to be attending dec 4+? What about those who are just above the thresholds for a community services card for example, so are paying via tax to support others doctors visits, but cant afford to go themselves?

    A supportive society is a good thing, but those that do the supporting (the lower-middle) need a break. I know WFF is in some ways meant to remedy this, but its a bit of a blunt instrument IMO

    • Yes, good points.

      Fairness is far more complex than it sounds.

      Fairness is an important Kiwi attribute, but what seems fair to one person may not seem fair to another.

      Is it fair that some people have a lot of wealth while other people are poor?

      Is it fair to take money off hard working Kiwis and give it to non-working Kiwis? (yes, but how much?)

      What would be a fair equalisation of wealth when some people need more than others – and some want more than others?

      Is it fair for David Clark to earn as much as he does and not give most of it to those who earn nothing?

      Fairness sounds like a basic requirement in a decent society but it is a far from simple concept.

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