We aren’t designing for fairness, we are designing for equality of opportunity

So someone asked me “Hey, with your views on the Occupy movement, how do you feel about the fact that the top 10% pays 70% of federal income tax? Is that fair?”

First of all, this is NOT the Occupy issue that gets me most excited — I am much more interested in limiting corporate political contributions. But I do have a view.

I have no idea if these statistics are accurate, but I assume that the top 10% does pay a much larger share of the total income tax load. So is that fair? Well, I am guessing that the top 10% also own a huge % of the Audis and BMWs in the country, eat a disproportionate share at the finest restaurants, take a huge % of the vacation trips to Hawaii, have a disproportionate share of the nicest houses, etc etc. Gosh that doesn’t seem fair either.

The goal of our market system and society is not fairness in outcomes; there is always going to be variance in outcomes, sometimes due to skill, sometimes due to luck. Some people will earn a lot more, and will get a greater share of the positive benefits as well as costs. Rather, the goal is equality of opportunity — every citizen should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams, no doors should be closed at the start of their life/career.

Thus I don’t get cranked about higher tax burdens or higher tax rates for the wealthy. So someone who is extraordinarily successful has to carry a higher share of the cost of operating our society, well boo hoo. I do get more cranked about issues that affect equality of opportunity — lack of funding for public schools, lack of equal healthcare for all children, lack of access to other education for lower income students (and this is why we give a lot to scholarship programs at OSU, at UW, at the Point Foundation, etc).

Outcomes will never be equal and we shouldn’t try to level them out, the free market system is powerful and we need to nurture it. But we should try to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to pursue happiness — and to me that means everyone gets a fair starting point: a reasonable education, good health, and no crushing debt load to start out.