By Aaron Klein
In his third State of the Union address last night, President Obama channeled the mantra of U.S. progressive groups by repeatedly calling for so-called economic fairness in America.
Some progressives point to revolutionary socialist Karl Marx as divining economic theory that stresses “economic fairness.”
Also, late Harvard professor John Rawls, one of the most important philosophers of liberalism in the twentieth century, named his own theory “justice as fairness.” Some have previously pointed to Rawls possible influence over Obama. Rawls calls for ensuring distributive justice of resources.
The headlines in scores of U.S. newspapers and news websites today stress the centrality of economic fairness in Obama’s speech last night.
“Obama makes pitch for economic fairness in State of the Union address,” reported CBSNews.com
“In Address, Obama Makes Pitch for Economic Fairness,” reads a NY Times headline.
“Obama’s Address Centers on Economic Fairness,” reported the Associated Press.
Indeed, the fairness theme permeated the president’s speech.
Stated Obama: “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
Obama argued that “no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas.”
He called for a “return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help us protect our people and our economy.”
Using the phrase yet again, Obama stated, “We need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.”
And another point in his speech, Obama stated, “When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford.”
Obama has previously used other speeches to address “economic fairness,” including a major policy speech in December 2011 that also centered on the idea.
Lester C. Thurow, a founder of the progressive Economic Policy Institute, explained in his 2003 book, “Fortune Favors the Bold: What We Must Do to Build a New and Lasting Global Prosperity,” that Marx related the ideals of economic fairness while explaining how capitalism must end.
Wrote Thurow: “In addition to outlining the process whereby the system of capitalism would end, Marx went on to recommend a new system, communism, which would, he believed, eliminate the evils of capitalism.
“He never said much about the transformation of capitalism into communism, but in his vision of communism (outlined in an article entitled “Utopia”) it would create a new society where economic fairness and personal freedom reigned.”
Using the theme of economic fairness, Thurow went on to quote Marx’s own mantra, “To everyone in accordance with their needs. From everyone in accordance with their abilities.”
Radical groups and ‘economic fairness’
Thurow’s Economic Policy Institute, or EPI, which is funded by billionaire George Soros, has reportedly been influential in helping to craft White House policy.
This author’s most recent book, Red Army, documented how Health Care for America, the centerpiece of the EPI’s Agenda for Shared Prosperity, served as a foundation for Obamacare.
Like scores of other major progressive groups, the phrase “economic fairness” permeates the EPI’s literature and policy papers. In fact, the EPI describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, research to achieve a prosperous and fair economy.”
Last June, the EPI website argued, “Tax policy should be designed to promote economic fairness by pushing against the trend of ever-widening income inequality.”
The EPI, together with other progressive groups, including ACORN pushed for a loosely described Economic Fairness project. One of it’s partners in that project, United for a Fair Economy, says it seeks to raise awareness “that concentrated wealth and power undermine the economy, corrupt democracy, deepen the racial divide, and tear communities apart.”
The group’s official visions seeks a “global society where prosperity is better shared, where there is genuine equality of opportunity, where the power of concentrated money and corporations neither dominates the economy nor dictates the content of mass culture.”
Another organization in the Economic Fairness project is Citizens for Tax Justice, whose catch phrase reads, “Working for a fair and sustainable tax system.”
According to its website, the group fights for:
- Fair taxes for middle and low-income families
- Requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share
- Closing corporate tax loopholes
- Adequately funding important government services
- Reducing the federal debt
- Taxation that minimizes distortion of economic markets
Another group pushing the “economic fairness” theme is the Center for American Progress.
The Center is lead by John Podesta, who was co-chairman of the Obama-Biden White House Transition Team.
A Time magazine article profiles the influence of Podesta’s Center for American Progress in the formation of the Obama administration, stating that “not since the Heritage Foundation helped guide Ronald Reagan’s transition in 1981 has a single outside group held so much sway.”
The economic fairness phrase so thoroughly permeates the Center’s literature that a search for the phrase on the groups’ website brings up hundreds of items, including major policy papers that use the term in both the title and in the text.
A small sampling includes, “Small Businesses Support Fairness,” “The Economy Grows When Everyone Pays Their Fair Share,” and “Middle-Class Economic Security Begins with Paycheck Fairness.” Each of those articles describe economic fairness doctrine.
The Center’s research paper, “Understanding Mobility in America,” describes “the fairness or unfairness of access to economic opportunities” in the U.S. Another paper describes the role unions can play to “restore economic fairness.”
The phrase also appears prominently in literature from the Marxist-oriented Institute for Policy Studies. That group, too, describes itself as “working for economic fairness.”
In attempting to divine Obama’s economic policies, some have pointed to Rawls, who died in 2002.
Lawrence Tribe, a constitutional scholar at Harvard, taught Obama and has been described as an early mentor to the future president. Tribe was Rawls’ Harvard colleague and wrote about Rawls’ theories.
Chris Underation, writing in the American Communication Journal’s Winter 2011 edition, examined Rowls’ influence on current legislation.
“Using the paradigm of social justice set forth by John Rawls—a philosophy Obama evidently picked up during his time at Harvard—this article will examine contextually the rhetoric used by the president to push for healthcare reform,” Underation noted.
Prominent among those theories was Rawls “A Theory of Justice,” which he later redefined as Justice as Fairness.
In that theory, Rawls called for first establishing equal basic liberties for all citizens and then ensuring distributive justice of resources.
Writing in the NY Times last October, Bard College professor Steven V. Mazie pointed out “Rawls would argue that Occupy is fully justified in its criticism of the political and economic structures that propagate massive concentrations of wealth; he saw the ‘basic structure’ of society as the ‘primary subject of justice.’”
Regarding Rawls call to ensure distributive justice, the website ProgressiveHistorians.com crossposted an article entitled, “Obama, John Rawls, and a Defense of the Unreasonable,” describing how affirmative action fit Rawls mantra.
“Rawls said that there would be equality of opportunity with regard to positions of power. He also said that inequalities, which were necessary in a non-Marxist society, would ‘be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society.” This last bit became known as the “difference principle.’”
“What Rawls was getting at, put simply, was that if someone was going to get a leg up from the system, it should be the least fortunate, not the most. A perfect example of this idea is affirmative action: since we can’t make hiring and college admissions completely fair, they should be biased toward those who need them most.”
With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott
Aaron Klein is a New York Times bestselling author, journalist and WABC radio host.