Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Equality

Most anyone in America believes in equality. No doubt there are some few exceptions, but not enough to note. Problem is, we don't all mean the same thing when we use the word.

There is equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

I will define equality of opportunity as a set of circumstances that allow an individual to become whatever they choose to make of them self. It is, in the end, a type of negative right. Generally, when you hear the Right talk about equality, this is what they mean. It is the notion that everyone should be have the chance to go out on the court, but they ain't all gonna be Michael Jordan. Taken to it's extreme, it is a philosophy entirely unconcerned with those who fail. They had a chance, what they did with it is their concern. And of course, it can never really be attained to perfection, everyone has their own advantages and disadvantages.

I will define equality of outcome as a set of circumstances that prevent an individual from from falling too far behind the societal norm. It is, in the end, a type of positive right. Generally ( in a contemporary sense) this is what the Left is talking about when they say equality. It is the notion that regardless of a persons actions, they should have some significant portion of what everyone else has. (I am not sure I said that right, always a risk when trying to articulate someone else's beliefs. It doesn't feel quite right, but I can't find better words). Taken to it's extreme, it reduces people to little more than numbers, with no control over their lives at all. And of course, it can never really be attained to perfection, some people will always find ways to get more, and some people can screw up anything.

Most everyone believes in both of these concepts, the real question we are debating is where should the balance fall? Contrary to the rhetoric, very few on the Right believe in truly just cutting loose those who fail to support themselves. To paraphrase someone smarter than me "I support the social safety net, just not the safety hammock" (from the coyote blog, I think). Also contrary to the rhetoric, pretty much no-one on the Left is crazy enough to believe in full on communism anymore, which is really the most extreme expression of outcome equality. Or at least it would have been if it had worked better.

I do wonder how much of the struggle between the Right and Left would just... go away, or at least become much more civil, if we were not trying to use the same word for two different things.

(I started to go into a discussion of negative vs. positive rights, but it is too big a subject and my thoughts are simply not well enough organized to articulate it yet.)

9 comments:

TAO March 18, 2009 at 6:37 AM  

Now, there are people who are so tied to their ideology that they would argue for the demise of social security and social welfare programs.

There are people who call themselves conservatives who are always pushing lower taxes and small government but only decry government spending when it is a democrat spending the money.

There are liberals who go around ranting about every social injustice out there and then they proceed to demand injustice for those that they disagree with. Think of PETA believers who have more concern for animals than they do people.

Look at the current situation and the number of conservatives demanding that they have a right to hope for the failure of the president but just a few years ago they believed that everyone should support the president because of Iraq.

I have first hand experience with the social welfare system, especially since I have been hiring alot more younger single mothers these last few years and while I believe we need to help them, because it is in the best interests of society not to allow our citizens to fall too far down, I also believe that we need to turn the welfare programs into step ladders that allow people to climb out of poverty rather than the safety net they are now that seems to entrap them in poverty.

Back in the early and mid 90's I had a turnover rate that was shocking and I found out that the social welfare programs were triggered to stop right at a point before my pay programs kicked in. Its an all or nothing safety net and it needs to be revamp to gradually phase out as one works and advances.

Once I figured out the social welfare programs I then revamped my programs and no more turnover!

I have seen a few bad apples in my life but truthfully, I have met very few people who do NOT want to work....its like 95% of the people I see want a job and want to earn their own way...its just they get tangled up in our social welfare net and can't find a way out.

An American Girl March 18, 2009 at 10:30 AM  

Mention the word Blame and you will always find TAO blaming the conservatives.

Change the record please! You are getting to be very boring

OpenMindedRepublican March 18, 2009 at 11:49 AM  

"Mention the word Blame and you will always find TAO blaming the conservatives."

Umm, how did you get that from his comment?

TAO March 18, 2009 at 1:11 PM  

Its the blinding belief in ideology that you see all over the place nowadays.

Personally, I can't find a whole lot different between the conservatives and or the liberals; since October 2008 it looks to me that everyone and their brother is throwing money at something...

I have decided to become a POPULIST....

TRUTH 101 March 18, 2009 at 2:40 PM  

The few right wing bloggers that I have been able to have a dialogue with eventually admit they are for government regulation and oversite despite incessantly clamoring "less less less." The degree is where we differ. And in reality, we don't differ that much on degree either. But it shows a willingness to listen and understand can go a long way towards making our Country an even better place to live. That goes for both sides of the aisle. Hey, I didn't trade off common sense just so I could call myself a Liberal.

Time March 18, 2009 at 7:20 PM  

So what is a solution when "equality of opportunity" does not exist, or is intentionally obstructed?

One may have the grades and be accepted to attend Harvard, but do to lack of funds cannot accept that invitation. Financial status in a capitalistic system naturally creates inequality of opportunity.

Through no fault of one's own, other traits create a situation of inequality of opportunity such as: race, gender, sexual orientation, physical handicap, etc., etc...

Does the federal government have a right/duty to step in and pass laws to eliminate these natural obstructions to equality of opportunity?

If a wrong has been perpetrated on a segment of our society (Blacks-slavery) then is it right for the government to give that segment of society a preference (hiring, housing, etc., etc...) over the rest of the population to compensate for that intentional inequality of opportunity?

TAO March 18, 2009 at 8:45 PM  

Time, society should demand equality of opportunity because society benefits when the race is run fairly. Now, society can only ensure a fair race it cannot ensure an equality of outcome.

Giving a preference is not a fair race. You can never make up for a prior wrong nor can a society claim that separate is equal.

Not everyone can go to Harvard. But going to Harvard does not guarantee success. Anyone can go to Harvard if their grades are good enough and the financial resources are available if one is willing to work hard enough for them.

But, to claim: "Through no fault of one's own, other traits create a situation of inequality of opportunity such as: race, gender, sexual orientation, physical handicap, etc., etc..."

None of those items should limit one opportunities. If grades and financial resources are the only barriers to attending Harvard then they should be the only barriers that anyone should have to overcome.

Everyone should have the same opportunity to fail or succeed on their own merits and by their own ablitity the ones you mention are barriers that society puts up and that are not based on qualifications.

Is a black man dumber than a white man just because he is black? Is a woman dumber than a man just because she is a woman?

Should George Bush have been president just because he was born into a political family?

OpenMindedRepublican March 18, 2009 at 9:08 PM  

Time :
Your Harvard example is not compelling to me. Each person will have some things that are easily available, each will have things that are harder. I do not think it is possible to balance every single case. (As an aside, look at the hereditary rich. Have you ever met one who did not look miserable all the time?) All things have their cost.

I absolutely think that addressing marginalized segments of the population is the proper role of government. Given my general beliefs, I would prefer it be done at a lower level than Federal where possible. Sometimes the Fed is exactly what is needed.

I do not know that I think preference is the best solution though. It creates a lot of resentment. There are proportionally more poor blacks than poor whites; it does not follow that a poor white person has it worse than a poor black person. I think we are better off addressing geographic concentrations of poverty. Finding the underlying reasons poverty is prevalent in an area and taking steps to change those factors will fix the problem in the long term. My analogy would be that a hand up is temporary, building stairs is forever.

Also, my newest post just talks about this a little more.

Time March 19, 2009 at 10:58 AM  

I brought up the question because we as a society (our government as an extension of our wishes and beliefs) has decided that there was an inequality of opportunity (because of some of the traits I listed).
So we passed laws to try to compensate and make illegal some of those barriers to equality of opportunity. I don't know if that was the best way to approach the problem, although I agree there was a problem.
I also believe there is still a problem. Discrimination still exists against race, gender, etc., that creates an inequality of opportunity.
The federal government (with the approval of a majority of the people) have passed laws like equal pay, handicap access, affirmative action, racial quotas, etc., etc..
One may agree or disagree with some or all of these legal efforts based on their political or personal beliefs, or that it's just bad government policy.
Before some of those federal laws were enacted a black man, or a woman were refused entrance to Harvard (admittedly a bad example) no matter how hard they worked.
There may have been a better way to approach these problems, but I think the results have been successful. That's not to say they have not been without controversy or opposition.
We have predetermined (by our Constitution) that we have a duty to produce the conditions that create equality of opportunity, for all.
Equality of outcome is not a right expressed in the Constitution, nor should it be. If society wants to help those who have failed or cannot "fend" for themselves, that's their decision. I don't mind paying for subsistence for those in need, but my political beliefs tell me that federal help is out of hand.

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