President Obama has declared that the standard by which all policies and policy outcomes are judged is fairness. He declared in 2011 that “we’ve sought to ensure that every citizen can count on some basic measure of security. We do this because we recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any moment, might face hard times, might face bad luck, might face a crippling illness or a layoff.” And that, he says, is why we have a social safety net. He says that returning to a standard of fairness where anyone can get ahead through hard work is the “issue of our time.” And perhaps it is.
This book explores what it means for our economic system and our economic results to be “fair.” Does it mean that everyone has a fair shot? Does it mean that everyone gets the same amount? Does it mean the government can assert the authority to forcibly take from the successful and give to the poor? Is government supposed to be Robin Hood determining who gets what? Or should the market decide that? The surprising answer: nations with free market systems that allow people to get ahead based on their own merit and achievement are the fairest of them all.