Arthur C. Brooks | The Blaze May 21, 2012

President Obama apparently aims to turn fairness into the theme of this election year. He used the word “fair” or “fairness” nine times in his State of the Union address, and 14 times in his Osawatomie, Kansas, speech the month before.

This goes beyond mere rhetoric. Take the so-called “Buffett Rule,” a proposed special tax hike just for families making over a million dollars in a year.

Though the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the Buffett Rule would raise only about $47 billion over a decade–roughly the amount Americans will spend on Halloween and Easter candy over the same period–the White House has spent an exorbitant amount of time the last few months plugging this idea. This is not because it would do anything meaningful to address our fiscal imbalance, but because it would be “fair.”

But here’s the problem: The president never defines what he means by “fair.” And this is for a simple reason: his definition is simply not recognizable to most Americans.

There are two main ways to define fairness: fairness in terms of opportunity, and fairness in terms of outcomes. The first means leveling the playing field, and the second means spreading the wealth around. The first means lifting people up on the basis of merit, and the second means bringing successful people down.

By focusing on raising taxes on the wealthy rather than pursuing meaningful policies to reduce unemployment or encourage economic growth, the President is using this second definition of fairness.

Fortunately, most Americans understand that the president’s definition is completely off base. They believe that true fairness means rewarding merit, not spreading the wealth. Consider the following question from the 2006 World Values Survey. A large sample of Americans were asked to envision two secretaries of the same age doing the same job, but where one secretary was more efficient and reliable than the other secretary. Respondents were asked if it was fair that the better secretary was paid more than the other. Over 88 percent of respondents thought it was fair.

Of course, this is only fair if the better secretary got her skills through hard work. Americans would say she most likely did. The idea that hard work and success are closely, if not perfectly, related is a core American value, and one that we’ve held for a long time. For almost 40 years, the General Social Survey has been asking Americans whether “hard work” or “lucky breaks and help from other people are more important” in determining whether people set successful. Every time the question has been asked, between 60 and 70 percent of Americans have said “hard work.“ The highest percentage of respondents to say ”lucky breaks” is 16.

In a 2005 Syracuse University poll, researchers asked a cross-section of Americans if they believe that “everyone in American society has an opportunity to succeed, most do, or only some have this opportunity.” Some 71 percent of respondents said that all or most Americans can get ahead.

Read the rest (long):

If an unemployed family man had a choice to accept $300 / week from the government, or EARN $300 / week working, what do you think he would choose?