Being treated unequally is a sobering experience

The Madison County Record Feb. 25, 2012, 5:00am

What's fair is fair, right? That's simple enough. But what exactly is "fair"?

Does "fair" mean treating everyone equally? That seems to be what it means to most people. But what's fair about treating unequal people equally?

Is it fair to award students the same grade when they score differently on a test? Is it fair to pay employees the same salary when they do different jobs? Is it fair to charge customers the same price when they buy different items?

That kind of "fairness" may appeal to lower-scoring students, less-productive employees, and bigger-spending customers, but it creates perverse disincentives for self-discipline.

True fairness requires that we treat only equal people equally – and unequal people unequally.

Acknowledging and embracing this principle allows us to enact laws that treat people more fairly, not less so.

Otherwise, we would have to treat recidivism and first-time offenses exactly the same, we could not distinguish between premeditated murder and involuntary manslaughter, and so on.

To take this reasoning to a ridiculous extreme, we'd have to treat all lawbreakers the same, penalizing the jaywalker and the murderer in like fashion. Whether such a policy would put an end to jaywalking or just turn jaywalkers into murderers would be a good subject for a late-night bull session.

In much of the Metro East, anyone participating in such a spirited discussion and then driving home in an inebriated state would stand a good chance of being pulled over for DUI, having the driver's car impounded, and paying a premium before getting the car back.

Many cities in Madison and St. Clair counties boast a two-tier fee structure for towing that assesses higher fees for drivers arrested on DUI or suspended or revoked license charges.

Some accused drunks and scofflaws who claim to be "victimized" by this two-tier system have banded together in a class action suit against the municipalities, charging that the unequal treatment violates their rights.

To us, it's only fair.

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