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Equal Opportunity vs. Equal Outcome

This is part of a series on Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose.”

In the fifth chapter of his book “Free to Choose,” Milton Friedman discusses the three different ways that humans are considered to be equal. Yes, for those that have been faithfully following along, we are only in the fifth chapter.

Friedman has three categories for human equality: equality before God, equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. He thinks the first is the Founders’ use, the second is compatible with liberty, and the third is socialism.

Equality before God was not something the Founders took literally. “They did not regard ‘men’—or as we would say today, ‘persons’—as equal in physical characteristics, emotional reactions, mechanical and intellectual abilities.” Jefferson himself was a remarkable man: He designed and built his own house, was an inventor, scholar, statesman, founder of the University of Virginia, governor of Virginia, and became the president of the U.S. Hardly equal in all senses to a white-collar, working class man.

So what did Jefferson mean when he wrote that, “all men are created equal?” The answer is found in the proceeding phrase, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” This is how all persons are created equal, because God created us and gave us intrinsic value that we speak of in terms of ‘rights’ language.

Equality of opportunity more simply describes some of our rights and how we are all equal before the law. This type of equality is not inconsistent with liberty, but “an essential component of liberty.” Friedman notes that if someone is denied a job they are qualified for based on their ethnic background, color or religion, then they are being denied equal opportunity.

Equality of outcome is the problematic view. This is the idea that everybody should literally be equal. There are many problems with this idea.

First of all, ‘fairness’ is not an objective concept when dealing with wealth. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. Second, the passion behind this idea is that it isn’t fair for some kids to have advantages over others just because of the socioeconomic status of their parents. The focus against those who are advantaged is based on one’s property such as home or business values. However, property can also take the form of talents: musical ability, strength and intelligence. From an ethical standpoint, is there really any difference between the two? Many people resent the inheritance of property like houses and businesses, but don’t resent the inheritance of talents. I wish I could play basketball as well as Kobe Bryant. I’d be a multi-millionaire if I had that type of talent.

But let’s consider where this leads. If we were to really try and equal the outcomes, then less advantaged kids would be given the greatest amount of training and the advantaged kids would be given the least amount of training. That’s fair, right? Not for the advantaged kids. The fact is, life is not fair. It is important to realize how we benefit from things being unfair. I take great pleasure in watching the best of the best play against the best of the best. That’s why we pay money to go to sporting events or watch movies with the best actors. “What kind of world would it be if everyone were a duplicate of everyone else?”

To close, I want to take up a point with Friedman. It’s true today that religion is something that you cannot judge an applicant on. But why think this? Couldn’t someone’s religious beliefs disqualify them? Why can’t we judge someone based upon the values that they uphold and praise? For example, if religion X holds that laziness is a great virtue, why would an employer want to hire someone who strives to become lazy? But let’s take this a next step further. Suppose there is a Christian family who owns a small business. And suppose there is an applicant who is a Satanist, something that Christians believe is evil. In fact, Satanism distorts the true Christian message, and that is insulting to this family. The Christians have a right to call evil by its name and to have no part of it. Government policies must protect employers, too.

  • Scott McPeak

    You wrote.
    “To close, I want to take up a point with Friedman. It’s true today that
    religion is something that you cannot judge an applicant on. But why think
    this? Couldn’t someone’s religious beliefs disqualify them? Why can’t we judge
    someone based upon the values that they uphold and praise? For example, if
    religion X holds that laziness is a great virtue, why would an employer want to
    hire someone who strives to become lazy? But let’s take this a next step
    further. Suppose there is a Christian family who owns a small business. And
    suppose there is an applicant who is a Satanist, something that Christians
    believe is evil. In fact, Satanism distorts the true Christian message, and
    that is insulting to this family. The Christians have a right to call evil by
    its name and to have no part of it. Government policies must protect employers,
    too.”

    I have an example or two for you.

    The Jewish law firm down the street has a
    secretary who has found salvation in her local Baptist church. Shouldn’t they be within their rights to
    dismiss her since obviously she has a different set of beliefs than they do?

    The university is interviewing candidates for
    the Biology department. Surely they
    should dismiss the Christian since he lacks rationality and a firm grasp of
    science.

    The young Christian woman applies for an
    executive position within the sales group.
    Disregard her as due to her conservative views she will no doubt be
    barefoot and pregnant as soon as she finds a suitable husband.

    Don’t forget that in your example the Christian family
    that owns this small business did not build this business in a vacuum. They use government loans, utilities,
    services, roads, inspectors etc, Those agencies
    and services are paid for by everyones taxes be they Muslim, Pentecostal.
    Morman or Athiest.

    Separation
    of church and state is there for a reason. We all have our rights.
    You can not discriminate against them but neither can they discriminate
    against you.

    Scott McPeak

  • TED FOR PRESIDENT

    I think “Freedom of Conscience” is the final conclusion here, not outcome. Abortion takes the right to life away from many. Unalienable rights are trampled upon in this behavior. Babies nonetheless.

    Forcing people to actions that are against ones conscience is unconscionable (pun intended). Here is the issue for Mr. Scott below.

    The answer, which lies in the middle road in the temporal world, is never perfect. We must always be on guard to changes in this reality which forces others to act against ones conscience. Always.

  • donsalmon

    Can you give an example of any mainstream intellectual or politician in the last 50 years who has actually advocated equality of outcome – in the sense that they would want the cashier at the local supermarket to be paid the same as a doctor or lawyer? I keep hearing this abstraction from conservatives and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard an example of this.

    donsalmon
    http://www.remember-to-breathe.org

    • Pablo Armas

      They don’t openly say that a cashier at the supermarket should make the same as a doctor or lawyer, but they enforce laws and regulations that restrict people’s outcomes. Venezuela and Cuba are examples of it. It’s not just something conservatives say,

      • donsalmon

        So, Pablo, let me see if I understand you:

        Q: Do es anybody literally advocate equality of outcome

        Pablo’s answer: No.

        Pablo’s elaboration: “They” (who? liberals, Muslim/Kenyan/Socialists? Boogeymen created by Genn Beck, Ann Coulter and Rushbo?) “enforce laws and regulations that restrict people’s outcomes.

        So let’s think about what conservative politicians advocate that would “restrict people’s outcomes.” but I guess I have to translate “restrict people’s outcomes’.

        By “outcomes” I assume you mean “income.’

        So, I would assume that having to pay taxes to support the military (is there anybody in American history – sorry, I can imagine what you might say, anybody who actually ever held elective office – who believed that the American people should not be required to pay taxes – whether income or sales or flat tax or in whatever form – to support the military?).

        So, now it’s time to translate, “They” (meaning all elected officials in American history) have supported some form of restricting people’s outcomes’ (that is, causing them to have less income than they would have had if they didn’t have to pay some kind of tax).”

        So your point is then, that you completely agree with me. Virtually every elected official in all of American history has (a) supported laws that restrict people’s outcomes; and (b) has never ever in one single instance even suggested that all people should have the same income.

        This exchange is quite educational for anybody arriving here – this is what happens when you try to have a logical discussion with a paleo-conservative.

        Now I will exercise my paranormal/precognitive powers and tell you that no paleo-conservative on these pages or who ever visits these pages will ever, not even once, engage these comments in an intelligent, reasonable, logical manner.

        • Pablo Armas

          Don, when I used ‘They’ I was basically referring back to your question (maintstream intellectuals or politicians). You asked for an example,. and I did not use any names, but by saying Venezuela and Cuba, I was implying Chávez and Castro.

          Thanks for using your paranormal powers to show how intelligent, reasonable and logical you are. (I’m using sarcasm, btw)

          Have a nice day, Mr. I-know-who-you-are-and-what-you-think

          • donsalmon

            So Pablo, first I was talking specifically (and identified it specifically in my 2nd post) about the United States. Since I spelled out precisely what you said, and you didn’t’ dispute it, that indicates that you agree with me, that nobody in American history who was elected to public office ever advocated anything remotely resembling equal income and virtually every politician elected to public office has always supported measures which “restrict people’s outcomes.

            I’m happy to see we agree (and my prediction was correct)

          • I wish you were on Twitter. I would follow.

  • Pvblivs

    This brings up something significant. Many people pay lip service to equality of opportunity but want nothing of the kind. One of the problems many people have with the inheritance of wealth is that wealth creates opportunities for the wealthy (and their children) that are not based on any type of merit.

    Wealth exerts a sort of power — power that people who have it are only too likely to abuse. Even the author says that (as an employer) he should have the power who holds beliefs he doesn’t like into total starvation no matter how skilled and diligent he is. Of course, if he thought he might be on the other end (all employers being satanists and he a christian unable to get a job because no one would give him a chance) he would call that evil and exclaim that government should protect workers from such bias.

    This is a common theme. People who have power tend to abuse it. And those subject to the abuse want it stopped. I rather suspect that the people who push for an equality of outcome have bought in to the lie that there is supposedly an equality of opportunity when there really isn’t. And they still see the abuse heaped on them. And they are looking for a way to stop it.

  • Tracker

    “Why can’t we judge someone based upon the values that they uphold and praise? For example, if religion X holds” – Came across this post by chance. I was just explaining to someone how Somalis in the midwest region (mostly MN) like to sue their employers, and how CAIR organizes press conferences that the TV station cover every single time, then they announce to the whole world why they are victims of Islamophobia because this employer won’t let 40 people take 5 prayer breaks at the exact same time at specific times or how they can’t wear hijabs in certain areas because of safety or sanitation issues. And I think to myself each time I see one “who in their right mind would hire them”.

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