Author’s Note: The following originally appeared at ScienceBlogs.com and was subsequently a finalist in the 3 Quarks Daily Science Prize judged by Richard Dawkins.

Fairness is the basis of the social contract. As citizens we expect that when we contribute our fair share we should receive our just reward. When social benefits are handed out unequally or when prior agreements are not honored it represents a breach of trust. Based on this, Americans were justifiably outraged when, not just one, but two administrations bailed out the wealthiest institutions in the country while tens of thousands of homeowners (many of whom were victims of these same institutions) were evicted and left stranded. It smacked of favoritism, the corruption of politics by corporate money, and it was also just plain unfair. But isn’t that the way the world works? Isn’t it true, as we were so often told as children, that life is unfair?

The American financial tycoon Andrew Carnegie certainly thought so and today’s economic elite have followed his example. In 1889 he used a perverted form of Darwinism to argue for a “law of competition” that became the cornerstone of his economic vision. His was a world in which might made right and where being too big to fail wasn’t a liability, it was the key to success. In his “Gospel of Wealth”, Carnegie wrote that this natural law might be hard for the least among us but “it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.”

Read more at Scientific American.

Published On: December 9, 2012

Eric Michael Johnson

Eric Michael Johnson

Eric Michael Johnson is the Senior Editor for This View of Life. He has a master’s degree in evolutionary anthropology focusing on primate behavioral ecology and received his Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of British Columbia. His dissertation, The Struggle for Coexistence (reviewed on TVOL here) focused on the debate between ‘Social’ Darwinism and ‘Socialist’ Darwinism in England, France, Germany, and Russia in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In addition to publishing original research in such places as the Journal of Human EvolutionAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology, and Slavic and East European Review he has written on evolutionary topics for general audiences at SlateTimes Higher EducationDiscoverWiredPsychology Today and many others. He is a longtime advocate of science communication online and has spoken at academic as well as social media conferences on how important it is for scientists to reach out to the public by engaging readers with a compelling narrative. He can be found on Twitter at @ericmjohnson.

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