How Do You Promote Equality When We’re Not All Equal?

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Conservatives don’t get that some problems are public, and it’s hurting them,” writes Mike Konczal in a Washington Post piece that’s been getting a lot of traction. The issue of equality has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, thanks both to the Occupy Wall Street movement and President Obama’s embrace the movements class war themes.

I was lectured about the issue of equality recently by a newspaper editor in the state with whom I have on-and-off again correspondence.

In an email exchange I was advised to “wrestle more with the issue of equality.”

“You routinely discount or dismiss safety net programs but seldom acknowledge the benefits they provide,” he said to me in an email. “So, you’re often frustrated (or seem to be frustrated) by North Dakota and national politics because voters reject free-market solutions. But they’re rejecting them for rational reasons, because they simply don’t want the stark and brutal inequality that 100 percent efficiency — read, the unrestrained free market — creates. And they don’t mind trading off some efficiency for a measure of (government-insured) equality in return.”

But here’s the problem: How do you promote equality when we’re not all equal?

That’s a dangerous thing to say, because critics will leap to the conclusion that I’m talking about racism or sexism or some other sort of nefarious “-ism” that’s all about hate. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I believe, whole-heatedly with the “immortal declaration” (give to us by Thomas Jefferson by way of Benjamin Franklin) that “all men are created equal.” But I would put emphasis on the word created. While we may all be equal at birth (setting aside issues like disabilities and other handicaps), we don’t all live our lives equally.

Some people make good choices, some make poor choices. If a meritocracy if what we want, we will have to accept some inequality, because not everybody is going to merit the same outcomes.

This is usually the point when someone on the left points out that we’re not all equal at birth. Some people are born into privilege. Some people are unlucky to be born into circumstances where they face issues such as racial bigotry . This is a fair point, but what is the solution? Do we remove from wealthy families the right of inheritance (that’s sort of what the estate tax is all about)? If you’re successful beyond a certain point, are you to be punished with a diminished capacity to pass that wealth on to your heirs?

Because racism exists in some areas of our society, do we punish all of society with redistribution policies?

Here’s a simple truth: The government cannot create equality of outcome. The government can, and should, protect equality of opportunity, but policies aimed at equality of outcome do not create equality. They redistribute inequality.

Unless the government restricts our ability to make choices for ourselves – and believe you me, there are people pushing for this approach all the time – we’re going to have to accept that some people will make bad choices, and those bad choices will result in inequality.

The best we can do is allow free people to make free choices, and ensure that those making the choices feel the consequences both good and bad.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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