Perceptions of Economic Fairness

Governments need to meet people’s perceptions of economic fairness for the system to be acceptable to the population

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 meet these perceptions of economic fairness.  No type of fairness can be achieved, though, in a system which is inherently biased:

●  Wealthy people can use their money to put pressure on politicians to give them concessions and benefits that are not available to others – as described later (

●  People in positions of power are susceptible to corruption (

●  Centuries of government by wealthy elites can entrench unfairness, as argued by George Monbiot when criticising a move by Boris Johnson’s government to further restrict public access to the countryside: “English landowners have stolen our rights. It is time to reclaim them”.

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



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/3592a.htm