"Evolution is not fair, economics is not fair."
I'm sure we've all heard the platitude that "life is not fair", which set me to thinking about what these statements even mean.
Fairness certainly doesn't mean that we are all the same or that we all have the same opportunities. It doesn't even mean that we all have the same results from our endeavors. Instead fairness is a concept that indicates that one will have an equal, untampered with opportunity to pursue whatever effort you wish.
No one expects to play a poker game and see everyone winning equally. It certainly isn't an expectation that one would watch a sporting event and see everyone with a equitable distribution of wins and losses. In fact, "fairness" is an acknowledgement that we may be subject to randomness, and that we're willing to accept those consequences. It is the lack of randomness, or directed outcomes that represents what we mean by something being "unfair".
What is expected is that no one is cheating, or taking advantage of a system of rules that will favor one individual or group over another. Therefore when someone makes a statement like those above, what they are actually doing is justifying the act of cheating.
Evolution is completely fair because, at present, the results are untampered with. We may not necessarily like the outcome and we may think that we are at a disadvantage, but it is clear that no one would think the process was contrived or slanted. In other words, if we consider the common ideas of good and bad luck, fairness doesn't require that we never experience anything bad, but only that whatever we do experience isn't tainted by someone's manipulation.
Economics on the other hand, as well as many societal programs, are clearly biased. Human society has created laws that favor some while arbitrarily blocking others. In this cases, economics isn't about individual successes, but it is about such success on the backs of others because laws and circumstances are manipulated to create such an advantage.
The statement "life isn't fair" doesn't refer to life in the biological sense, but rather life in the social sense. It is an open admission that there are cheaters and that one cannot expect society to not be oriented into producing such favoritism.
We may not be able to stop cheaters and their manipulations. The systems and processes that humans build will never be perfect and immune from those seeking advantage. However let's not pretend that such systems are beyond fixing and somehow part of the natural order of the universe.
As I said in the beginning, the distinction between the "fairness" of the natural world and human society is one whereby we can all acknowledge that bad things can happen. However, in the latter case, it is unfair when they happen because we intend for them to happen so that some may be more privileged than others.
So consider the next time you hear such a rationalization that what you are hearing is someone justifying the status quo because they like the way the deck is stacked. If the system they are describing is truly based on randomness, such that every person has an unbiased possibility of good or bad, then such a system is fair regardless of the outcomes. If not, then it is simply an empty platitude that is attempting to justify the existence of bias and cheating.