What Is Your Fair Share?

Bad Arguments Vol. 43

fair share

We already know how this conversation goes. Those in favor of the state and taxation will make their demands that we pay our fair share toward society, to which we will reply with the old and trusty quote “How much of what I’ve earned are you entitled to?” The simplicity of this exchange makes it seem almost absolute. How can there be a fair share of something someone earned on their own? How could such a thing even be calculated?

The reason the argument of a “fair share” persists despite how seemingly defeated it is by a flat and basic question is that it isn’t quite as simple as this. What I will attempt to do is Steelman (strengthen the opposition’s argument to put it in the best light) the fair share argument to show the depth to it, and present an alternative counter that will, I hope at least, be more definitive.

Existing Structures

One of the stronger angles, or at least most known, is the implicit debt that all who live in civilization have accumulated. Think of all of the services and infrastructure currently provided by the state. You walk streets, visit parks, are protected by police, defended by military, rescued by EMS services, benefit from free public education, free healthcare and university (in some countries), etc. This argument could go even farther. The price points and availability of products and general technology being tied either to tech investments from the government, or from using their political weight to gain favorable trade from foreign countries, all of which, it is assumed, you benefit from.

The idea that you must pay your fair share usually originates here. All of these things provided for you and available free of charge must mean that you are in debt to the general society that made these plentiful amenities available to you. As you may already be aware, these are basic tenants of social contract theory which, for many different reasons, has been demolished.

Yet it persists. Why? I’d say it’s due to the shift that would be required to get away from it. If we tried to break the supposed social contract we would have to deprive access to all of the services from the youth, but in this line of thinking, we see the answer. Children can’t sign or take part in contracts. While we aren’t speaking of a specific, physical contract, of course, our reasoning for disallowing children to take part in contracts remains the same and ought to apply here. I would argue that, in this case, the “fair share” is paid for by the parents. If they use the services of the state such as putting their children into schools, the children aren’t the ones that should hold the debt. For us to pay our fair share, we would, as conscious adults, choose to participate in their systems and take from the shared pot. As the structure of society gives us little choice but to take part, we are forced into this debt and cannot view it as legitimate.

In short, there is a share to pay, but only if two conditions are met: A) we willingly take part in it as adults, and B) the option to not take part at all exists. We can knock this angle of the fair share argument down by showcasing that there is nothing fair within the way we are bound to such an agreement, and the lack of alternatives makes it closer to indentured servitude than a contract of any meaning.

Social Inheritance

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he breaks down why the successful succeed. What are the conditions that allow for these outliers to rise to the top and breakout from the general rabble? His answer was that it largely falls to our environment, and an effectively the birth lottery. I’ll give a few short examples below. On their own, they seem ridiculous, but when coupled with all of the studies and information included within his book they seem to make perfect sense.

  • Professional hockey players are predominantly born in January because, with the way that minor leagues are set up, they end up being larger and better coordinated for their age group so are more often moved up over their peers. This, in turn, leads to better coaching and opportunities for advancement.
  • Middle-class children are more often taught to assert themselves, even and especially to authority, in ways that poorer children generally are not. This confidence and entitlement to attention leads to better social skill development needed for career advancement.
  • Simple time and place of birth also leads to opportunities that others may not receive, such as Jewish lawyers being excluded from most firms because they were Jewish leading them to focus on hostile takeovers and other work that was looked down upon. When the market shifted, these Jewish lawyers were already trained and established in doing what the market suddenly demanded, and in ways the major firms never were.
  • Southeast Asians routinely score higher at mathematics because of the simplicity of numbers in their languages, and a long cultural history originating in the development and cultivation of rice patties leading to a better work ethic and more systemic view of problems passed down culturally leading to these performance differences.

Throughout the book, he acknowledges that these opportunities aren’t enough to lead to success, but rather one still needs to apply effort and talent to become successful. His purpose in compiling and going through these studies is mainly to disprove the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality that is so core to the western view of success.

When it comes to calculating our fair share, we would need surely to assess the benefits of how society is arranged and the ways we inherit and gain from the aspects that fall to our favor, no? Frankly, no.

Society” and the benefits that come from it, seemingly from the luck of the birth lottery and shifts to our favor, can neither be calculated nor charged. Similar to a homeless man that forcibly cleans the window of your car, society throws these apparent benefits towards us. There is no fair share to be paid back to what amounts to a gift at best, or chance at worst.

The fair share argument has more depth than what I’ve presented, and far more than that simple quote at the beginning can counter. It, overall, remains a poor argument employed by supporters of the state, but with this knowledge, it can hopefully be stomped out more thoroughly. Perhaps it would be better to say “How much do I owe for a gift I didn’t ask for?”


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