Economic Fairness

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/3592.htm)

The meaning of economic “fairness” is contested.  There are deep differences between individualist and collectivist viewpoints:

  • With neoliberalism, as described in the previous section (, fairness is deemed to mean only that everyone is free to make their own choices without any interference.
  • Classical liberalism requires that people should be treated as equals, which at a minimum means equal economic opportunities – including equal access to careers. This cannot happen if wealthy people are able to give their children a better education than is available to others less wealthy.  In practice, neoliberalism has led to huge increases in wealth for some people whilst others have not seen their incomes rise proportionally (  There is a case for political intervention to address such inequality (6.7.2).
  • Most collectivists believe that fairness also requires economic inclusivity, where everybody can support their basic needs and no one experiences hardship. That can be addressed by defining publicly-funded socio-economic rights, but this is also a politically sensitive issue (6.7.1).
  • Communists wanted to go even further, and completely eliminate inequality, but that reduces the incentives to create wealth and has led to poverty in practice (3.2.1).

The above sequence of viewpoints requires successively more government intervention to implement these concepts of economic fairness.  No type of fairness can be achieved, though, if wealthy people can use their money to bias the political system to give themselves concessions and benefits that are not available to others – as described later (

Economic fairness can also be deemed to have an international aspect, including the case for helping developing countries (3.5.8).