Rancho Cappuccino Case Study: Is It Fair?

| 2/21/2012 4:41:27 PM

There’s an insoluble issue at the center of any consideration of fairness. No matter where you live in the world, chances are that place was previously occupied by a culture different from your own. Chances are almost equally good that your homeland, wherever it is, was taken from its previous occupants by force. The evidence indicates that there are very, very few locations on the planet that have been occupied by only one culture, and there are relatively few convincing stories of peaceful assimilation.

Is the forcible conquest of another culture fair? I think most people would say it is not. However, it is so consistent a theme in human history that attempting to weigh the territorial rights of one culture against another generally leads us into a dialectic quagmire from which the societies cannot extract themselves in less than a couple of centuries, if ever.

For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to limit the question of fairness to one generation. Let’s confine our discussion to the means by which we acquired our property from its previous owner, whose name is Bill. We paid him for it. He believes he received a fair price. We agree. We’re friends today. Because I can’t meaningfully address the claims of the several different cultures who lived here before us, the seller and I will call it “fairly acquired” and move on to other areas of concern.

In the background of any discussion of land ownership is, of course, the question of economic disparity. Not everyone can afford to buy a farm like ours. It is not luxurious or glamorous, but it cost more than an average home in Kansas. (It cost a lot less than an average home in Seattle, San Francisco or New York, however.) Is it fair that some people have more money than others? Should we, in the name of fairness, refrain from owning things that an average family might not be able to afford? 

Photo of Bryan Welch with his donkey BeanoOur North American culture’s belief in free enterprise implies a belief in economic mobility. We believe in the potential for economic self-improvement. We see ourselves as industrious people pulling ourselves up by their own bootstraps. Our society still delivers on the promise of that vision. Right now many of the world’s wealthiest individuals – people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison – have accumulated their wealth and power during their own lifetimes. Those three individuals are among the four wealthiest people in the world at the time of this writing. Three out of four of the richest people in the world are Americans who built their fortunes through intelligence, enterprise and hard work during their own lifetimes. Seven out of the world’s 10 richest people are self-made billionaires from four different nations:

1. Bill Gates’ father was a Seattle lawyer. His family was affluent, but not wealthy, at least not by American standards. Gates founded Microsoft and helped invent the first widely distributed operating system for personal computers.

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