One of the earliest demands for justice children make is that of fairness. What parent hasn’t heard the complaint “That’s not fair!” uttered by their children? Scarlett isn’t there yet (shoot, she’s barely speaking so far), but I imagine one of the hardest things I’ll have to do in her toddlerhood is to explain to her that life isn’t fair. It must be such a scary moment for children. It’s the first time we realize that the adults in our lives aren’t always going to provide justice. It’s funny because it’s an extremely important life lesson to learn, but it often arises out of frustration when another child won’t cooperate in the fairness regime. And it’s a tough balancing act if you’re sovereign over both children between requiring fairness and teaching that fairness just isn’t in the cards all the times.
I remember the earliest time I realized the world wasn’t fair in a big way – not just that a kid wouldn’t let me play with some toy. I was being bullied in second grade. This kid wasn’t just teasing me (which I could handle), but was pushing me and tripping me and causing all kinds of physical harm. Yet the complaints to the teachers went unheeded. A lack of fairness leads to feelings of hopelessness. Hopelessness leads to extreme actions because there’s nothing else that can be done – the authorities won’t help. So one day when he pushed me, I swung at him and busted his lip. But this isn’t a parenting blog post, it’s about a sense of fairness that’s lost in America.
A little under a month ago, a story appeared in Rolling Stone about protesters who were camped out in front of the Department of Justice to protest the fact that nothing had happened to the Wall Street banks that had caused them so much pain and suffering. The protest latest two days before it was broken up and the protestors were jailed and some were even tased. The 400 protesters just wanted a sense of fairness. Wall Street gambled with ever more fake forms of investment that destroyed the economy and have led to lost jobs, lost homes, and worse. The banks got money to keep themselves afloat and homeowners got nothing. The protesters were jailed, but no CEOs have been jailed. And the laws to prevent this from happening again have been made toothless by lobbying.
Of course, if we step back from the rhetoric there are some important things going on here. First of all, from what I’ve read so far, no laws were broken by the Wall Street Banks. That’s one of the first lessons about the lack of fairness in the world. People can do atrocious things, but if no laws are broken, they cannot be prosecuted. Of course, we’re supposed to be able to then rectify the situation by making new laws, but that’s another problem. Second, we couldn’t allow the banks to collapse. Did we do the right thing? Could we have forced reform on the banks when we were majority shareholders? Maybe. But the fact is that we need money to be liquid. It needs to be moved around and borrowed so that people can start new businesses. Third, and again this hinges on fairness in two ways, we couldn’t really save the home owners. Of course it seems unfair to save the banks and not the home owners, but let’s take a look at a different point of view. Either the USA had to give everyone in the USA who had a mortgage some money or it had to give no one money. Because how would it be fair for those of us who were careful with our money – who didn’t have smart phones or nice cars in order to make sure we could afford our houses? What would that be teaching people? Be reckless with your money so that the government can give you free housing? Some might bring up those who were put into houses they couldn’t afford. Those people remind me of the ineptitude of Tobias and Linsday Funke as they’re tricked into ever bigger houses. It is your responsibility to go and use one of the THOUSANDS (if not tens of thousands) of resources out there to calculate the mortgage you can afford. It’s your responsibility to read your agreement and look for balloon payments. Complicated for some? Perhaps, but you should never sign a contract you haven’t read.
And so, life is unfair. The question is, what are we going to do about it? I think the problem is that not enough people feel helpless. More people believe things are best for everyone if they’re left alone. So I think nothing will end up happening. I mean, I am extremely surprised that in all this – no one has killed a Wall Street CEO. I mean, in France, heads rolled when the rich over-abused the poor. So I think we’ll have to see what happens with the next financial crisis and if we learn our lesson then.