Equality and Equity: What is Fair?
November 22, 2020
The ongoing debate regarding the definition of equality and what should be considered fair has become a crucial talking point among both political ideologies. Although both sides agree equality is an essential right in America, the two sides greatly differ on how the government should ensure this right and to what extent.
One view is known as equality of outcome. Proponents of this mindset believe that the government has the responsibility to ensure that everyone has the same outcome, or in other words “everyone finishes the race at the same time.”
The other ideology is known as equality of opportunity. Proponents of this mindset believe that the government does not have the responsibility, nor the capacity to ensure that everyone ends up with an equal outcome. Instead, the government simply has the responsibility to ensure that everyone’s equal rights are protected under the Constitution and thus ensuring that “everyone is able to start the race at the same time.”
The spotlight on this ideological quarrel intensified right before the 2020 election when Kamala Harris released a video on twitter showcasing her beliefs on equality of outcome and equity. In the video Harris explains that “Equality suggests that everyone should get the same amount,” which she implies is unfair, and that “equitable treatment means that we all end up in the same place,” which is implied to be fair.
Ben Shapiro responded to Harris’ take on equity saying, “Kamala Harris, in this video, suggests that the only way you can ensure no inequity has taken place is if everyone ends up in the same place, which is called communism.” Shapiro admits that there is, in fact, a difference between equality and equity. His metaphor however, while lacking the tacky visual accompanying Harris’s tweet has a different take on the debate.
Shapiro explains that “if two people are in a room, and one person has five dollars and the other has one, that does not mean something unfair happened; there are thousands of potential reasons for that.” For example, person A could have worked more hours than person B, or person A could have invested well, and person B could have spent his money on something else that he wanted, and maybe person A recently provided a good or service worth five dollars and person B recently provided a good or service worth one dollar.
To Harris’s credit, this is an important issue to bring up, considering that no decent person cheers for inequality. If it is seen as an issue to many, then it is an issue worth investigating, but the simplicity of Harris’s analogy is hardly ever the case.
As Shapiro pointed out, there could be a thousand different reasons that the people in the hypothetical room have different amounts of money, and thus there could be a thousand different reasons why the two people in Harris’s analogy are in different spots. For example, what if the person farther up the mountain climbed a few extra hours the day before, or what if he is an extremely skilled and experienced climber? Although this is often the case, those in the Harris ideology camp tend to focus on race and sex as a driving factor in disparities.
If this were true and the only determinant of outcome, then, yes, that should be considered unfair. Shapiro, however, goes on to cite a statistic that now shows Asian women are earning more on average than white men. He goes on to ask sarcastically, “Is that because of inequity? Is that because the constitutional system of the United States is somehow geared against white men and on behalf of Asian women?” He makes a convincing argument that these disparities are not the explicit result of race or gender and that “decision making, in a free country, is the chief factor in how your life is going to go.”
Like most who agree with the equality of opportunity, Shapiro agrees that if someone has been historically discriminated against, lending a helping hand and providing resources to that group or person would be a good thing and helps establish a fair start. The problem for many with the concept of equality of outcome occurs with the idea of government having the explicit goal of making sure everyone ends up at the same place, as shown in Harris’s video. This is because in order to accomplish this, the government will inevitably end up suppressing the success and abilities of some in order to ensure this “equity.”
As Thomas Sowell said, “A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.”