Fairness by Susan Grimsdell

Dear Readers

This week it’s our pleasure to introduce a new blogger to our team who has submitted her debut piece on the fascinating subject of fairness. Here are her thoughts and we hope you enjoy reading them:

“It’s not fair” – the clarion call of childhood.

From a very early age, humans of all cultures seem to have an inbuilt sense of what’s fair and what’s not. This might seem puzzling from an evolutionary point of view, which you’d assume would lead us to act in our own self-interest, but in most areas of life, fairness rules and this phenomenon bears looking at more closely.

Human decency

One piece of research gave children aged between 3 and 8 four stickers each and they were told to share any number of them with another child; the ones they didn’t share, they could keep for themselves. The older kids tended to share the stickers equally, while the young ones tended to keep them for themselves.

But one interesting finding was that the pre-schoolers (as well as the older kids) all thought the stickers should be shared evenly even though they hadn’t shared them. Perhaps the young ones couldn’t quite deal with the contradictory desires – an instinct to share conflicting with liking the stickers and wanting to keep them – whereas the older children could balance the two needs, and satisfy both:  they shared, but kept some.  Overall, what this research appears to show is that from the earliest age, we have a sense of fairness.

Animal behaviour

 It’s not only humans who know what’s fair and what’s not.  Monkeys performing a task and getting a reward, who then see other monkeys getting the reward without exerting themselves, simply stop doing the task!  Crows too will perform, but not if they see other crows getting the same reward for doing nothing.   Similar behaviour is seen in dogs, rats, chimps and others.

In our own world, we are highly tuned to not taking too much from someone without giving back.  We feel wrong if we go to someone’s house too often – “Next time you have to come to my place”.  A sense of fairness helps us feel OK about ourselves.  Many of us, in fact, prefer to err on the side of giving more than our fair share.

Paying our dues

So why does this all break down when it comes to paying tax?  Revenue from tax pays for the things we all need to have a good life – schools, hospitals, roads, rubbish collection, parks, help for people who are down on their luck, pensions for oldies.  We all use these services and we all need to contribute money to pay for them.

Yet lawyers and accountants do their best to help people duck out of paying their fair share, and their clients are only too happy to take their advice.  In fact, once those avoidance systems are set up, people start to think that it’s smart to be part of a privileged group that has managed to pay the least possible or even no tax.  It’s not a source of shame and embarrassment.   What’s happened to that inherent sense of fairness we were born with?

Isn’t it time our society introduced regulations to make it difficult or impossible for us to dip out of contributing our rightful share?  New Zealand has the highest number of personal trusts in the world.  This can be changed to bring us in line with other countries.  If we achieved this, we’d have a lot more revenue to build more schools, hospitals, and every other amenity for us all to enjoy.  What a better, fairer and happier country NZ would be in every way.

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