Equality

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Equality?

The idea of equality is bandied about on the campaign trail.

|

Tom Perriello, the Democrats' insurgent candidate for governor, excites the liberal base of the party because he—like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have both endorsed him—is a conviction politician. He has firm ideas about what government ought to do, and he expounds on them with a degree of depth and precision that puts some other statewide candidates to shame.

Much of what he wants to do involves questions of equality and inequality—terms that pop up again and again in the white papers he has written on the racial wealth gap, help for working families, and his tax plan, and in his Twitter feed, and elsewhere.

Which is refreshing. America, after all, is a nation based not on ethnicity or an accident of history but on ideas and ideals—including equality, the first of the self-evident truths mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.

Stating an ideal and living up to it are two different things, of course. American history has made that painfully clear. But when the ideal is as broad as equality—or liberty, or justice—even stating the ideal doesn't get you very far. At a high enough level of abstraction, everyone can agree on the virtue of equality, liberty, or justice.

But what do we mean when we talk about such things? Isaiah Berlin and others drew a distinction between negative liberty (the absence of external impediments) and positive liberty (the ability to do what you want): You are free to buy a Rolls-Royce because nobody is stopping you, but you are not free to buy a Rolls-Royce if you don't have the money.

There are also different types of equality.

Few people today insist on absolute equality of outcomes, for example, for obvious reasons. If Tom studies for a test and Steve doesn't, it hardly seems fair to give them the same grade, and societies that have tried to operate on such principles generally have turned into hellholes where people end up miserable or dead. Venezuela, for instance, used to outperform Chile on measures of infant mortality and life expectancy. Now the opposite is true.

Moreover, it is not intuitively obvious that a state where everyone is equally poor is always better than a state where at least some people are not. And unequal outcomes can still be desirable: Steve Jobs grew incredibly rich, but he got that way by producing innovations that made millions of people better off. By the same token, confiscating his wealth might have increased overall equality—but it would have improved few lives.

Equality of opportunity seems much more inherently just: If life is a race, then everyone ought to start at the same point; all public schools should meet certain criteria, for instance. Yet Angus Deaton, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and author of The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, argues that the principle still can be pushed too far. "Few would support a prohibition on allowing parents to use their talents to favor their children," he said recently.

Deaton also talks about procedural equality, or (roughly) what we would call equality under the law: Is everyone who is equally situated being treated equally, or are some people being treated differently? Do blacks accused of crimes get the same chance as whites to be judged by a jury of their peers—or are they dragged out of the jail by a mob and lynched?

Some kinds of equality can be used as an argument for others. John Rawls did something like that in A Theory of Justice, suggesting that if everyone designed the good society from behind a veil of ignorance we would end up with a certain kind of welfare state.

Procedural equality also can be used to justify inequality, as in Robert Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain hypothetical: If you assume a perfectly just distribution of wealth at starting point A, and lots of people willingly give some of their money to watch Wilt Chamberlain play basketball, then the distribution at endpoint B will be highly unequal, but not unjust.

One appealing form of equality is equality of authority, under which social relations among adults are governed by mutual consent, because no person has the authority to compel the behavior of another. Yet a society like that would have few means to increase equality of opportunity. (And no means to enforce even equal authority, but that's another story.)

Yet equality of authority is obtained in certain realms, such as the marketplace. You and Akio Toyoda, the CEO of the Toyota Motor Corp., have exactly the same degree of authority: Toyoda can't make you buy a car, and you can't make him sell one.

Which does not mean you and Toyoda enjoy equality of power. Chances are pretty good that, as head of one of the world's biggest companies, Toyoda can get an audience with the president more easily than most other people. But then so can Rihanna or the Dalai Lama. The question isn't whether some people have more power than others, but how they came by it. Was the process free and fair? Or did they lie, steal, and kill their way to the top?

All of these forms of equality rest on the assumption of another: the equal dignity and moral worth of every person. Unlike its derivatives, that type of equality is beyond dispute.

NEXT: Courts in Federal Countries: Federalists or Unitarists?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Q: The idea of equality is bandied about by politicians, but what does it mean?

    A: Hand over your money. You probably acquired it by spurious means anyway. Oh, and can I count on your vote come election time, you selfish, greedy prick?

    1. Spot on BP.

      1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

        This is what I do.,.,.,.,.. http://www.webcash10.com

    2. A: Blank check for government power.

  2. Equality and freedom are inherently at odds. Politics is simply choosing a balance between the two. I lean heavily on freedom, hence the subscription to Reason.

    1. Equality and freedom are inherently at odds.

      Depending on what you mean by equality.

      1. Yeah.
        Equality under the law is necessary for freedom (to the extent that you can have freedom under the law).
        Policies with the aim of creating material equality are incompatible with freedom.

        1. And economic freedom is necessary to be able to achieve economic equality. Freedom doesn’t guarantee equality, but in some cases is a necessary condition to at least attempt equality.

          1. Economic freedom is necessary for general prosperity. And general prosperity is a lot more important than absolute material equality.

        2. I came into this in a contrarian mood, so now I feel like pushing back on this oft-repeated phrase.

          Is it necessary for freedom? Sometimes I see “equality under the law” conflated with the threat posed by arbitrariness of the law. I think it’s true that arbitrariness reduces freedom; it can’t be said you’re free to act if there is the threat you may be punished for it. This, IIRC, is what Locke meant by saying freedom comes from law. But then there’s the sense that everyone must be applicable to the same law. I obviously think this is desirable, but is it necessary “for freedom”? If we imagine a tiered system of citizenship, in which some have more liberties than others, or perhaps different groups have different kinds of liberties, with none of these conflicting – could we still complain on the basis of freedom? Is the scope of freedom enjoyed by some diminishing the freedom enjoyed by others? Using the classic anti-equality argument, would this scenario be considered worse than one in which everyone’s scope of freedom is equally smaller?

          It may be that the latter meaning of the phrase was historically seen as producing the former: if the king or the nobles were not subjected to basic torts, it would allow arbitrary treatment of the lower classes. But I’m asking in the abstract, and not imagining liberties that let some harm the person or property of others.

          1. If we imagine a tiered system of citizenship, in which some have more liberties than others, or perhaps different groups have different kinds of liberties, with none of these conflicting – could we still complain on the basis of freedom?

            Yes. If some people are permitted different freedoms, then it seems that some people’s freedoms are necessarily being restricted.

            I suppose that if you are asking if one state of affairs is preferable to another, your analysis makes sense. But for people to be free, unqualified (to the extent that is practically possible), whatever laws there are need to apply to everyone in the same way and be consistently enforced.

            1. Does it? If the state singles me out and says it will recognize for me all the liberties we think a person is due, are those liberties tainted by others’ lack of equal freedom? Say I’m even given a ‘freedom zone,’ where other people get to share in my freedom when I’m exercising a liberty (e.g. having a cocaine and hookers party with my pals). Is my freedom actually worse off than it seems? Is everyone else’s paltry freedom worsened by my situation? I want to make sure we’re not smuggling the equality of freedom into the definition of freedom.

              You’re right that talking about this in terms of comparable states is trending towards another argument, so I won’t pursue that.

              1. You are right. It doesn’t matter to individual liberty, taken on a case by case basis.

                It is necessary, I think, to have anything you could call a “free society”.

                1. I’ll agree to that, though I won’t probe the consequences of it any further.

              2. The site seems to have eaten my earlier reply. If other’s people’s liberty is restricted, then so is yours, because society is not really made up of isolated individuals but of relationships. Part of your liberty is your liberty to engage in various relationships with other people. If other people cannot engage in those relationships, that impacts you because you cannot engage in a relationship with them.

                This can go for ANY relationship, from personal to economic. For instance if black people are forbidden from owning property, then it is illegal for YOU to sell a black person property. If white people cannot marry black people, then that is a restriction on a white person’s liberty to marry as much as on a black persons. We can go on and on with this. Any time someone else is forbidden from doing something, then that restricts your liberty to do that thing with them.
                I could right now pull out an existing example – if people under 21 can’t go into bars, then I can’t go out drinking with my under 21 year old friends.

                This is why the phrase “If one man is in chains, all are not free” was invented. Because people at the time, under those circumstances of unequal rights at the time came right up close and personal with exactly these kinds of problems. The people they wanted to do business with, marry, or be friends with were legally restricted from doing those things, and people realized that affected themselves, not just other people.

                1. Good points, Hazel.

          2. And while this is largely a pointless philosophical question that doesn’t mean much, I think there is some applicability to the real world. For example, exceptions in the law made for religious beliefs. Should we consider the goal of freedom hurt or helped by the religious getting additional liberties due to their religious belief or affiliation? Presumably we all would want that (good) liberty expanded to all, but is it for the sake of equality or because of our general desire/insistence to maximize liberty?

            1. Should we consider the goal of freedom hurt or helped by the religious getting additional liberties due to their religious belief or affiliation?

              Neither. If you’re asking this question then freedom is too far in the rear view mirror for it to be relevant. At this point you’re talking about equality rather than freedom. That’s just my opinion though, I could be wrong.

            2. Along these same lines is the general libertarian support for gay marriage. Most Reason writers celebrated when the Supreme Court upheld gay marriage under equal protection grounds.

              But this was celebrating the idea that the government is “licensing” another form of private and consensual relationship.

              That can’t be right. But the desire for “equality” in this case was so strong, that it overrode basic libertarian principles and led to libertarians celebrating an extension of government power.

              1. I think people get too hung up on the word “licensing”. It’s really more just recording or registering. There is nothing to stop people from living as a married couple or having a ceremony without having the “license”.
                The problem I have with the SC decision is that it went beyond just equal protection. If the reasoning had been purely based on equal protection, I’d be all for it. But it got into due process and from that decided that it wasn’t just that if regular marriages are recognized, then so should same sex ones. It made getting married a fundamental right. That’s where it all went wrong if you ask me. If states wanted to stop registering or licensing marriages altogether, that would be just fine.

            3. Should we consider the goal of freedom hurt or helped by the religious getting additional liberties due to their religious belief or affiliation?

              I’m torn on that one. I don’t like special carve outs for religious people. That’s not respecting rights, that’s granting privilege. What should really happen if you want religious freedom is that if a law violates anyone’s religious freedom, then it should not apply to anyone. But that would pretty much require a minarchist libertarian legal system, so that isn’t going to happen.

              So I don’t really have a good answer, beyond saying that inconsistent respect for rights is better than trampling everyone’s rights in some cases. Probably. Most of the time. I think.

              1. “So I don’t really have a good answer, beyond saying that inconsistent respect for rights is better than trampling everyone’s rights in some cases. Probably. Most of the time. I think.”
                And that works fine… so long as you’re not the guy holding the short end of the stick.

                Being able to sacrifice the few to help everyone else is a privilege of being in the “everyone else” group.

                1. Which is why I dither about it so much.

                  The principle I really want to apply is that if a law or rule violates even just one person’s rights, then it should not apply to anyone ever.

                  I do think it’s the right thing to do to let religious or gay or whatever kind of people do their thing. But when that means making an exception to laws for only certain people, I think it sets a bad precedent when it comes to being able to implement broader respect for rights in the future.

                2. If you prefer the government not protect religious freedom at all, than have carve outs to protect religious belief, then effectively religious freedom is a dead letter, as legally useful as the court’s application of the 9th Amendment.

                  1. I don’t know if you are responding to me or EE. If to me, what I am trying to say is that I do support special protections for religious freedom, but I worry about the precedent it sets when it comes to broader freedom and I don’t like that having special exceptions for the religious basically allows and requires courts to determine what constitutes legitimate and sincere religious belief or practice. It’s a better situation than not respecting religious freedom at all. But still a bad one.

                  2. @Mickey Rat
                    “If you prefer the government not protect religious freedom at all […]”
                    A strawman position.

                    The debate isn’t over whether the government should protect “religious freedom at all”.

                    It’s how far we let people wield their “religious freedom” as a sword before we say “enough”.

                    Recent examples! Very few people care if someone wears a yarmaluke or pasta strainer on their head in a driver’s license photo. That’s the kind of “religious freedom” that gets broad support.

                    Lots of people say “hold on now” when your “religious freedom” starts impacting other people.

                    Can a barbershop say “religious liberty” and shove a woman out the door?
                    Can a state-funded Chatholic adoption agency say “religious freedom” and shove a gay couple out the door?
                    Can an elected government employee say “religious liberty” and stop all gay marriages in her county?
                    Can the only hospital within a hundred miles say “religious liberty” and refuse to perform a medically necessary abortion on a woman who is having a septic miscarriage?

                    That’s where you run into “religious liberty” problems.

                    Heck, remember Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona? They were exercising their “religious freedom” to deny basic services to outsiders.

                    So yeah. The problem has never been that no one wants to protect “religious freedom”. It’s that there’s some people out there that are huge dicks about it. And often want public money and resources to do it with.

                    1. The answers to your questions are easy.

                      1) Yes
                      2) Yes
                      3) No
                      4) No – but that is not about religious liberty, that is about laws that say hospitals must provide medical care for life threatening situations.

                      It truly is easy. Governments may not discriminate. Private entities on private property may discriminate against anyone for any reason.

                    2. Can a barbershop say “religious liberty” and shove a woman out the door?

                      Can a random fitness club simply state that they’re women only? Yes? Then why would a barbershop need to invoke religious liberty to be male only? Because men’s rights are restricted/ Oh.

                      Can a state-funded Chatholic adoption agency say “religious freedom” and shove a gay couple out the door?

                      Can a state funded Catholic adoption agency exist?

                      Can an elected government employee say “religious liberty” and stop all gay marriages in her county?

                      Can an elected government employee say ‘sanctuary city’ and ignore federal, state, and local immigration laws in her county?

                      Can the only hospital within a hundred miles say “religious liberty” and refuse to perform a medically necessary abortion on a woman who is having a septic miscarriage?

                      No. Because they don’t.

                      Here’s the kicker. If a law requires ‘religious’ or any other ‘carve-outs’ it’s not Constitutional. Carve-outs mean that the law is violating someone else’s rights.

        3. But if everyone is equal under the law, expect your laws to be made to apply to the lowest common denominator.

          1. Huh? You are talking about it as if it’s a new concept. Equality under the law has been required by the US constitution for 150 years.

            1. And our laws are made to apply to the lowest common denominator. That’s one reason we have so many of them.

              We don’t have laws controlling guns and drugs because anyone was worried about Warren Buffet smoking crack or owning a gun. But there are plenty of people who cause lots of trouble when owning a gun or smoking crack, and since we insist on everyone being equal under the law, ol’ Warren is just shit outta luck.

              1. So, are you suggesting that some laws should only apply to certain classes of people, or just being a pain in the ass for the fun of it?

                1. Why not? Do you prefer equal application of laws that penalize responsible people, because some people are irresponsible?

                  1. Irresponsible people should be punished if they harm others and left alone to the consequences of their poor choices if they don’t. That’s what I think.

                    I suppose you are right that we can expect “LCD” laws like drug laws and safety rules. But arguing against such thinking is kind of the whole point of individualist libertarianism.

            2. And our laws are made to apply to the lowest common denominator. That’s one reason we have so many of them.

              We don’t have laws restricting guns and drugs because anyone is afraid Warren Buffets is going to get high on crack and shoot up a shopping mall, we have them because there are people who do. Since we insist on equality under the law we can’t write them just to apply to high risk groups, we have to write them to apply to everyone. So ol’ Warren is just shit outta luck.

              1. And fuck those squirrels.

            3. “Equality under the law has been required by the US constitution for 150 years.”
              Only in retrospect.

              The intervening 150 years has been a long list of arguments over who “all persons” really describes, what “equal protection” really means, what “due process” means, and so-on.

              And while I like to think we’re pretty close that actually being the standard today, I’m sure that in fifty years, looking back, there will be some other group that is currently not enjoying due process and equal protection.

              And that’s why almost every minority group out there rejects “original intent” judicial arguments. Because we know that “original intent” did not include us.

              1. I’m not saying we have equality under the law. Just that the constitution requires it.

                I’m more of a textualist, I guess you’d call it. It says what it says, even if the authors didn’t explicitly think of all possible interpretations. But I think you have to look at some original intent too, just because of how it was written. The language of the Constitution, and most amendments is very parsimonious. It’s not clear without the historical context just what “privileges and immunities” or “due process” really requires.

                But I’m not really a constitutionalist either. If the constitution gets it wrong, then fuck the constitution. But it’s really a pretty good document as far as constitutions go and it’s what we have to work with.

                1. “I’m not saying we have equality under the law. Just that the constitution requires it.”
                  If a requirement is uniformly ignored for over a century, I think it’s fair to say that it isn’t a requirement.

                  “It says what it says, even if the authors didn’t explicitly think of all possible interpretations.”
                  That’s just another way of saying “living document” without dirtying yourself with “liberal” terms.

                  1. Well, anyone thinks that you can extract meaning from a document without doing some interpreting is full of shit. There’s a big difference between the kind of “living document” interpretation that says that sometimes it means the opposite of what it used to mean and one that expands the scope of certain rights beyond what the original authors might have imagined.

                    1. “There’s a big difference between the kind of “living document” interpretation that says that sometimes it means the opposite of what it used to mean and one that expands the scope of certain rights beyond what the original authors might have imagined.”
                      Okay, now I’m curious.

                      What cases do you lump into “opposite” and which are the presumably more acceptable “expands the scope”?

                      And I guess for the bonus round, which do you consider “Incorporation” to fall under?

                    2. One obvious example is how a constitutional amendment was needed to federally prohibit alcohol, but now apparently they can prohibit whatever they want by statute. Lots of other examples regarding the expansion of federal powers.

                      A simple scope expanding example could be obscenity under the first amendment (though I think that obscenity laws are still officially on the books). “Free press” means free press, whether or not the person who wrote it thought it covered obscene material.

                      Incorporation seems to have been an intended consequence of the 14th amendment. Though to really see that you do need to look at “original intent”.

                      I’m no legal scholar and I don’t claim to have a completely consistent analysis of all of this, so take it as you will.

            4. Equality under the law could be interpreted two ways. One, the US way, rich people hire great lawyers and win their cases while poor people don’t. Two, the European way, lawyers are mostly provided by the state and poor and rich get more equal representation. Which way is better or more accurately represents what the US constitution writers were thinking about?

              1. That is another problem worth thinking about.

                My answer is that there would be a lot less of a problem if we didn’t have so many laws and if the laws we did have were simpler. It won’t completely address the issues you bring up, but would be a good start.

                1. When you have simple laws, smart people figure out how to outflank them. Then the lawmakers realize this, and add some modifications because the objectives of the law are not being achieved. Repeat this ad infinitum. You can’t have simple laws unless you can figure out how to write them so cleverly that they cannot be outflanked.

        4. That is right Zeb, making others more equal is not equality.

    2. Equality and freedom are inherently at odds.

      Wrong. You don’t have freedom without procedural equality. If some people’s rights are enforced and others are not enforced, the people whose rights are not enforced aren’t really “free”. Equality (procedural equality) is a necessary condition for liberty.

  3. Few people today insist on absolute equality of outcomes, for example, for obvious reasons.

    Uh, quite a few people actually do think that.

    1. Very few really insist on absolute equality of outcome. Across racial groups and the sexes people do, but not for individuals. Most people know and accept that some people are more talented or motivated or lucky than others (and yes, many put way too much emphsis on the luck part) and that there will be rich people and poor people. It’s the question of what do you do for or about poor people where the big divisions start.

      1. I am surprised that no liberal has come out with a proposal for lowering taxes for women’s income, to address the supposed wage gap. Would libertarians support such a proposal? Lower taxes are always good, amirite?

        1. Or, perhaps more likely, raising taxes on men’s income.

          I think there is a limit to lower taxes always being good. Others seem to disagree, but that would be a good test case for a lot of people, I bet.

          1. I am surprised that no liberal has come out with a proposal for lowering taxes for women’s income,

            I think we might just end up with a few more Caitlin Jenners in this world …

            What would Feministas do then?

          2. In Sweden a feminist political party proposed precisely this, a ‘man tax.’ Lefty papers like Salon and the Guardian drooled over it.

  4. Created equal does not imply equality throughout life.

    1. That is the truth and will never change unless we become a Socialist heaven.

      1. Even then, it will be the truth.

  5. Government is force. Pure and simple. Government is the people who murder and steal with impunity.

    So when someone in government talks about equality, they usually mean equality through murder and theft.

    That guy’s got more than us. Let’s kill him and steal his stuff. Then we’ll all be equal.

    1. Government is just murder we all do together.

  6. That white fist is higher than the brown or black ones. not equal to me

    1. AND the black fist is bigger, therefore scarier.

      1. Not only that, but the brown fist is taking up a spot that could have gone to another American fist.

      2. I demand that all black penises are shortened by a few inches.

        1. … and all Asian ones are rengethend by same amount.

    2. That white fist is higher than the brown or black ones. not equal to me

      Meh, it’s a left fist. Beat him with a ruler until he conforms I say.

  7. All of these forms of equality rest on the assumption of another: the equal dignity and moral worth of every person. Unlike its derivatives, that type of equality is beyond dispute.

    Ehh…

    Equality of opportunity seems much more inherently just: If life is a race, then everyone ought to start at the same point; all public schools should meet certain criteria, for instance. Yet Angus Deaton, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and author of The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, argues that the principle still can be pushed too far. “Few would support a prohibition on allowing parents to use their talents to favor their children,” he said recently.

    “Equality of opportunity” is ultimately a distinction without a difference. Everyone begins at the starting line in the race, but what happens when they start running and inequalities emerge? Once they’ve made one loop around the track, why shouldn’t they reset on the starting line and start off again? There will be a number of reasonable arguments that reduce equality of opportunities to equality of outcomes.

    1. Um, because if you take everything that the winner’s have in each round, eventually the winners realize that there is no reason to run faster. Since this is an analogy for working and being productive, the end result is that there is little produced and you have Venezuela as your society.

      1. A popular description of the East German economy at the end of the Cold War was “the people pretended to work, and the government pretended to pay them.”

        1. This and to Johnny’s correct point, if the winners kept running into the loser idiots trying to re-start the race, they would come up with an innovation that was favorable to all, make prices come, down, and allow for more market entrants. All of the loser luddites who are to stupid will have to get on board because their lives will have been made easier by the smart runners.

          Detailed analogy aside.

        2. Yeah, no offense but in such a scenario if I could run faster than everyone else why exactly would I bother? It seems like the assumption for this type of system is that those who are truly gifted are also innately selfless and all those who are not truly gifted are so honest that they will never ask for more than what they ‘need’. We see how well that worked out for that ethos, time and time again, all throughout history.

          Turns out that humans baseline operating ethos is not selflessly benevolent and no amount of anything, up to and including literally murdering people has made humanity any less so.

          Utopia is not a thing, and never will be until we figure out how to reorder basic matter into whatever we want a la Star Trek with no effort or skill required. You must remove scarcity as a thing for that type of world to even have a chance at existing.

          1. Is the sky black or white?

      2. I’m not sure what question you think you’re answering.

        If you are going to start with the sentiment that equality of opportunity is good, that we ought to all begin at the starting line in the race, how do you stop that sentiment from expanding until we get to equality of outcomes and Venezuela? My question is for the liberal, conservative, or libertarian who does argue for equality of opportunity in opposition to equality of outcomes. (which, I should say, Hinkle does not make here, he merely mentions it as one of many examples)

        1. Why is it difficult to imagine a society that gives some free shit so that children can eat, get healthcare and an education but that does not continually subsidize all their desires forever?

          What you have to explain is why it is just, on the basis that wealth is “earned,” to tell the children of poor parents that they are statistically fucked for the rest of their lives, because fairness.

          1. “Why is it difficult to imagine a society that gives some free shit so that children can eat, get healthcare and an education but that does not continually subsidize all their desires forever?”
            It’s not hard at all?.

            What is hard is to imagine a system that does all that without involving their parents, both in providing for their parents and taking responsibility away from their parents. See “welfare queen” and perennial fights over sex-ed in schools.
            ________
            ?Here’s one: Parental rights aren’t a thing, children are raised by professionals in cr?ches, and all have equal opportunity from cradle to some graduation point, whereupon they are unleashed on the world to succeed or fail on their own merits. Parentage and family are 99% medical concerns. All it takes is one (huge) violation of currently accepted “rights”.

            1. Well everything is a balancing act, and determining what goes on the “parents’ rights” side of the scale vs. the “social responsibility” side is what politics is about. I don’t have the One True answer and libertarians shouldn’t pretend that they do either. Even they know it takes a village to some extent, and that without the village they’d have absolutely no philosophical claim to any moral superiority whatsoever. You can’t say the fairest possible system is one in which who your daddy is determines 90% of how your life will turn out.

              1. No believer in free markets says they have a solution. We are just asking the marxist zombies such as yourself to at least acknowledge that the greatest advances in the human condition have arisen from and because of an American economy that was founded upon mostly free acting individuals that set upon a governing system that involved little to no government control and allowed for individuals to trade for benefit among themselves.
                That said, dumbass, a free market, even with its cronyist perversions and onerous crippling regulations, has still provided far better than any other system and honest people would be willing to at least explore if we should move towards capitalism instead of away from it. Markets aren’t nice or fair. They do provide equal opportunity. And healthcare, which is your baby, cannot operate for free. Just like all of the people involved in the healthcare industry cannot and will not work for free.

                1. I’m not saying capitalism has played no role in human advancement, I’m saying it has only done so with the hand of government guiding and regulating it. We did try it the other way, and it led to all the wealth being accumulated by 10 people and everyone else working in mines or as their servants. It wasn’t good for anyone but those 10 people. Only after we invented an alternative to that sort of feudalism did capitalism deliver on its promises for more people. And we still haven’t gotten it right, and every time people singing the praises of the free market get in charge, we backslide. Do you even give a shit about the role of evidence in this discussion? No, you don’t, again, because you believe what you want to believe and that’s that.

          2. Why is it difficult to imagine a society that gives some free shit so that children can eat, get healthcare and an education but that does not continually subsidize all their desires forever?

            It’s not difficult to imagine, but history has yet to legitimize it.

            What you have to explain is why it is just, on the basis that wealth is “earned,” to tell the children of poor parents that they are statistically fucked for the rest of their lives, because fairness.

            Hah! Well done. Usually justice and fairness are switched there.

        2. The way I feel about is that if you have a dynamic economy with sufficient economic churn, then starting places don’t matter as much. Within some limits – I mean you can’t make up for iron deficiency or lead poisoning in children after the fact. Those cause long-term cognitive deficits and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

          The later you get in childhood the less and less this matters. At some point kids start to become responsible for how seriously they take their own education. And personally, I don’t think school quality makes as much of a difference as some think. Arts programs and band class and so on are fun, but not really necessary. Schools should always allow kids to work ahead of the class at their own pace if they can. If a kid is smart, just hand him a math textbook and let him hang out in the library all day.

          1. Would you like that written up and signed by the president or what?

            If you people had your way, all schools would be private and poor regions would be a constant rotation of subsistence farmers.

            1. Just like it was prior to the beginning of the 20th century and the advent of modern public schooling.

    2. To me it just means that no one’s options are limited because of things like race, class, sex, etc. and people can succeed on their own merits. I don’t know how many people agree with me on that.

      1. I agree with you, Zebulon. On this. Beer is another matter entirely, of course.

        1. Beer Fascist. You probably think American hops are a Jewish conspiracy.

        2. Real men drink IPAs. Pussies drink Belgian Whites.

          1. Hmm. I drink both. Does that make me gender-fluid or something?

      2. Indeed, but even if you start with that weak meaning, it’s easy to see how we get to affirmative action, quotas, EEOC.

        1. Is the answer because some races are just not as good so they need extra help? Isn’t the baseline assumption there that some races are just not as good as, for example, Asians and so therefore they need a helping hand whereas the Asians do not because they are simply a superior race?

          I mean, they’re both ‘non-white’ so it would seem the distinction is…what exactly when it comes to Affirmative Action and/or Quota’s?

          It’s the soft racism of low expectations.

          1. It’s not as if redistributionists/progressives/socialists are shy to use racial stereotypes. And groups crying out for help do not need to be drawn on racial lines.

          2. ” Isn’t the baseline assumption there that some races are just not as good as […]”
            Generally speaking, the “baseline assumption” is that we don’t have “equality of opportunity”, and *that* is what those things are trying to correct.

            The fact that that it ends up tilting towards one demographic group or the other is often framed as a consequence of historical systemic inequalities, and not because of inherent merit.

            That is to say… this kid is uneducated not because they’re stupid, but because their dad was uneducated. And he was uneducated not because he was stupid, but because his dad was uneducated. And he was uneducated not because he was stupid, but because they didn’t let black kids go to the good schools.

            In short, systemic problems aren’t fixed in a single generation.

          3. It’s the White Man’s (and Woman’s) burden.

    3. Thing is, life isn’t a race. There’s something wrong with people who think it is. It’s the same mentality behind ‘zero-sum’ economics.

      Life is much more like a meandering stroll through a woods. There are paths you can take or cross, there are wilds you can break out into, there are obstacles you might have to go around or climb over, there are other hikers. You may even compete with some of them in some games–but not the stroll. Because you can’t. Because any competition is simply part of the overarching thing.

  8. The idea of equality is bandied about by politicians, but what does it mean?

    When the word Equality is bandied about by politicians or political writers, particularly those of a Progressive stripe, it generally means: Give me all your money, else-wise, taste my jackboot.

  9. Which is refreshing.

    TL,DR; I don’t know what the fuck Virginians mean when they talk about equality.

    Tom Perriello is running for Governor of Virginia, right? The assumption that we all just know is a bit amusing. I can only assume that, diversity being apparently refreshing in Virginia, that the state is 95+% white and in dire need of some diversifying. Between this and things like the Diet Soda Tax, It’s beginning to seem like there’s been so much navel-gazing that a good portion politicos and the electorate have become out of touch with themselves and/or each other.

    1. Virginia is only about 60% crackers, yo.

      1. The one-drop rule is killing us.

      2. Virginia is only about 60% crackers, yo.

        Right, sorry, that was a bit sarcastic. My point was, even taking him at his nominally-implied meaning Virginia is not like half of New England that’s 90+% white and has Gini coefficients of 0.5+ or the Midwest where the Gini coefficients are lower but the racial disparity/representation under the law is still 80+%. Places, where ‘equality’ might be reasoned to serve as a valid proxy for all the crap it’s been made to stand for. Virginia is pretty much in the middle of the major equality metrics and fucking with it starts to push out outside that in ways that aren’t any better. Virgiania should strive to be more like Louisiana?

        Even if you take him at his intended meaning, it strongly suggests Tom Perriello wakes up every morning surrounded by rich white people and assumes the average Virginian does the same despite nearly half the state not being white and nearly half not being rich.

  10. To the average leftists, or SJW, or angry brainwashed government employee, equality means envy and hoping to kill and eat the successful.

    to The average liberty loving free market guy, equality means equal opportunity to succeed or fail.

    The liberty minded people aren’t pussies.

  11. If Tom studies for a test and Steve doesn’t, it hardly seems fair to give them the same grade

    This is a painfully dumb analogy. It’s quite possible to ace a test and not study at all or fail after hours upon hours of studying, because some people are smart and others are stupid. We are all created equal in terms of our rights, but in other respects, we are created quite differently. I never had a shot at playing professional basketball or being a male model, and I know quite a few morons whose parents are morons, and I’m quite confident their children will be morons and have no chance at ever being rocket scientists.

    This is why all the talk of “equality” is inherently stupid, because people are born unequal. We DON’T all start at the same goddamn starting line.

    1. ‘Three generations of imbeciles are enough’?

    2. But what if Steve can’t study because he has to take care of his younger siblings since his dad is in prison, mom is a crackhead, and mom’s boyfriend is making them sell crack? Let’s get rid of grades all together in the name of equality and social justice!

  12. There is no inequality in America. How about that?

    For those who have done nothing with their lives or did not take advantage of the opportunities offered by our busted nanny state, I offer the following opportunities for all to get a ahead with.

    If you are a parasite with terrible parents, you still have the following to take advantage of and make a start out of poverty:
    Free lunch
    Free school
    Free phones for some
    Free government housing
    Advantageous bidding opportunities in construction if you are black, disabled, or woman
    Dirt cheap college loans
    Acceptance to good schools based solely on the color of your skin if deemed a minority
    Free baby food for your children
    Free healthcare clinics.
    Free healthcare at the emergency room
    A general pass in the social realm due to our obsession with PC
    I know there are many more.

    But if you think about all of this from the perspective of dollars thrown at a perceived problem, that is a shit-ton of capital that could be dedicated towards a profitable investment even if the meager wages of the supposedly disaffected people were to be saved and deployed.
    We all know these programs don’t work but you cannot say that inequality is somehow foisted upon these poor waifs. They have been stealing the earned wealth of the rich for a long time and then blaming the breadwinners for their misery. The envy of the SJW is of their own doing. Fuck em.

    1. If socialists wanted to live in social topic, with guaranteed jobs, guaranteed retirement, free healthcare, free college, etc, then go ahead:

      JOIN THE MILITARY.

      At which point, they usually remind us that the “guaranteed job” part was just bullshit, to avoid sounding like beggars.

    2. So those programs don’t work but they also afford poor children a major shot at equality of opportunity. Okay.

      1. I suppose it depends on what results you expect from the programs. If the criteria for working is that all of that stuff happens and those services are provided, then they work just fine. If the criteria is making a significant impact of problems of generational poverty, welfare dependence and other problems associated with poverty and the historically shabby treatment of blacks and other minority groups, overall success is not so clear. Those programs do help some people get ahead. But they also provide incentives that make it easier to stay poor and ignorant.

        1. Free school lunch provides an incentives to children to stay poor and ignorant? Those lazy bastards. Starve ’em, that’ll teach them how to shine shoes for a living.

          1. And by that attitude, you make honorable work sound more degrading than living at the expense of others and help perpetuate the cycle. Bravo.

            1. So our society should encourage child labor by discouraging the feeding of children as they get educated?

              1. God damn… you are a fucking robot aren’t you?

            2. And by that attitude, you make honorable work sound more degrading than living at the expense of others and help perpetuate the cycle.
              Depending on the work, sure.

              For example, I’d rather a kid collect a social security check and go to school then work in a textile mill and lose their fingers.

              And sometime in the near future?, long-haul truck drivers are gonna get replaced by robots. And sometime after that, people will start thinking “why would humans ever do that manually? It’s degrading to sit behind a wheel for ten hours.”

              Heck! Look at agriculture! We’ve literally had fruits and veggies withering on the vine because farmers couldn’t find Americans willing to work their fields after the state scared the Mexicans away.

              Face it, society’s idea of “worthy work” and “degrading work” is a moving goalpost. And for the most part, that goalpost has pushed most menial labor for children into the “degrading work” category.
              ________
              ?I’m betting two to five years. We’ve already had some long-haul trials showing the trucks can handle highway traffic, so it’s down to perfecting the city driving for big trucks. It’ll probably happen before personal autonomous vehicles, as it’ll be easier to require stringent maintenance standards.

              1. Heck! Look at agriculture! We’ve literally had fruits and veggies withering on the vine because farmers couldn’t find Americans willing to work their fields at the rate required for the farms to be profitable after the state scared the Mexicans away.

                FTFY

                State and federal labor regulations make the wages one must pay a citizen prohibitive towards farm profit.

                The government requires they be paid X…..and insured…..and given a whole host of benefits, but the farmer can only pay Y–and benefits are just nowhere near the table.

                The problem is the state interfering in wages, not workers not wanting to do it.

          2. Tony, you are just so very dumb. Read a few books by Milton friedman, Bastiat, and Hazlitt.

            The people on this site are not coordinating to make you feel dumb. We are reiterating that zombies like you will not accept that big government will not and has never worked. Marxism is a failure time and again. Why can’t the morons of the world just look at the evidence? You have to know that Obama’s communist crap was not successful.

            Please offer an argument as to why he was such a fraud and failure.

            1. Nobody defends Marxism as a system anymore except maybe in some Asian shitholes. Do you remember how the Cold War is over?

              This country, however, became the greatest power in the history of mankind by doing a lot of directed spending at the federal level, so big government is demonstrably not a failure. Small government on the other hand is, unless you think the loosely-governed areas of Appalachia and various parts of Africa are model societies.

              1. This country, however, became the greatest power in the history of mankind by doing a lot of directed spending at the federal level, so big government is demonstrably not a failure.

                “MAGA!” – Tony

  13. No democrat can win in Virginia without the well-heeled wine sipping Northern Virginians. If Periello plans to raise their taxes, they will vote Republican, even if they find Republicans icky. When the election rolls around, people always either guard their wallets, or open them up for more handouts.

  14. A pretty good breakdown of different kinds of “equality” and how they conflict, but what really got my attention was the final line.

    “All of these forms of equality rest on the assumption of another: the equal dignity and moral worth of every person. Unlike its derivatives, that type of equality is beyond dispute.”
    That’s really not “beyond dispute”. Like “equality” itself, at a high enough level everyone says “sure, that’s a good idea”, but when you get into the details there’s a lot “well, we didn’t mean that kind of person”. The fact that it is disputed is pretty much the entire reason we’ve had a civil rights struggle in this (and every) country.

    Face it, when left to their own devices, people are quite happy questioning the “dignity and moral worth” of people they don’t like.

    1. Face it, when left to their own devices, people are quite happy questioning the “dignity and moral worth” of people they don’t like.

      Agreed-and this includes our government, regardless of political party…

  15. Equality of opportunity seems much more inherently just: If life is a race, then everyone ought to start at the same point

    But life is not a race, and equality of opportunity implies providing one. “Opportunity” merely means a condition from which an advantage or an improvement can be achieved, and being a condition, it cannot be equal to other conditions. The idea that people should enjoy equality of opportunity is the same nonsense salad that leftists have been serving except with different dressing.

    1. I think you’re right about that, but since the alternative you’re offering is naked social darwinism, and since that point of view is insane, there must be something to leftist “nonsense salads.”

      1. Is the sky black or white?

        1. It’s Old Mexican. From his undoubtedly government-subsidized existence he extols an anarchic philosophy so pure that it can only be the product of a mind completely unburdened by complexity.

  16. The point is missed when people talk about evil liberal plans to enforce equality unjustly. Nobody really disagrees on the “equality” part of the Western democratic experiment. People should have equal rights under law, an equal say in elections, and to as much a degree as feasible an equal opportunity to succeed in life.

    What you guys dismiss in various straw men is the long-established necessity of civilizations to impose a floor on the amount of human suffering that we tolerate. So no we don’t want to tax the rich completely out of their money in order to give everyone a dollar. We start by saying that we don’t want children going hungry for the crime of being born to the wrong parents, or for them and their parents to go without basic human needs. That you get your panties in a bunch about healthcare is just the industry telling you what to think via a game of Chinese whispers with talking heads and politicians somewhere in the middle.

    Not that there isn’t a legitimate debate to be had about where that floor is placed or even if it should exist at all. I don’t think there are any good arguments for not having the floor, but you’re welcome to show what you got. “Taxation is evil,” as has been explained ad nauseum, is not a valid argument.

    1. It seems like you reject the idea that if someone is against a government-provide welfare system, then they are just fine with letting people suffer. So that you think OldMexican is offering “naked social darwinism” unless he supports some kind of liberal government welfare aid.

      But in the vast majority of cases, that isn’t true. I really do believe that voluntary charity and economic freedom is the best thing you can do for poverty. At the lowest possible government level, I might support some government help in very limited cases.

      I voluntarily give money to charity. I’d give more if the government did less. The first answer is people helping each other. The very last thing to consider is government doing.

      1. Oops, my first sentence has the logic backwards. It should say “posit the idea” instead of “reject the idea”

      2. But government doing it is by far the most successful and efficient means. I get that you have a thing against government, but in terms of values, social-welfare liberals do not actually see the “floor on misery” as a form of charity but as a necessary means to the end of relative equality of opportunity. Your assurance that your neighbor won’t starve is a benefit to you. All the more so if it’s your mother, or is the pre-Social Security era preferable when you would have to cover the whole expense of taking care of your parents with absolutely no knowledge of when they’d kick it and you’d be free of the expense? That’s not a free market, that’s 100% a crap shoot.

        1. You ignore the massive economic growth that has happened since the 20s.

          If people knew they would have more responsibilities, they would plan better. All of those New Deal programs were marketed as very limited support for sad cases. Over time they grew to the point where you think that a society without them is unthinkable.

          You even think they are “efficient”. Funny! But enough with the sarcasm, we’re trying to be serious here.

          Also, keeping families together in the way you describe has significant benefits.

          1. Massive economic growth that happened in spite of the increasingly oppressive New Deal programs? You’re not making any sense. We also believe, with good evidence, that the “floor on misery” is a great boon to economic growth, for what should be obvious reasons. If anyone can afford to go make a living and avoid the worst of life’s random pitfalls, that helps the economy and everybody else in that economy.

            Though I must say, keeping families together in shared poverty is a novel defense to me of getting rid of SS.

            1. Of course the growth happened in spite of those programs. It would have been somewhat bigger otherwise.

              But the biggest problem with the entitlement programs is the massive debt they have caused. They are not sustainable, and they will end on their own. And you think they’re efficient.

              If anyone can afford to go make a living and avoid the worst of life’s random pitfalls, that helps the economy. It is economic freedom that causes that to happen, not government.

              If you think I meant “shared poverty”, then you don’t know how economic growth works.

              1. We became the world’s greatest economic power because government spent vast sums of money on targeted programs. Winning WWII was a big one. Eliminating the worst of poverty was another. And I’m not even going to get into the fact that large portions of the population, like the half called women, weren’t exactly engines of economic growth thanks entirely to social forces.
                If you don’t like that we don’t pay for this stuff, blame Republicans who always get to power complaining about debts and then cut taxes once they’re there.

    2. “Let’s set a floor on human suffering!”: what great sloganeering. Who could argue with that?

      1. “Starving children are parasites” is hardly better.

        1. Good thing no one said that one.

  17. Watch Jordan Peterson discuss the Kulaks in Russia and you understand how dangerous the prog line of thinking is

  18. *barf*

    Who is this “we”?

    1. I’ll vote for you in 2017. What’s your campaign slogan?

  19. RE: What Do We Mean When We Talk About Equality?

    Equality here in the Union of Soviet Socialist Slave States of Amerika is this:
    The ruling elites are above the law.
    The unenlightened masses are to follow the law and laws our wonderful and kind ruling elitist turds provide for us tot the letter.
    It doesn’t get much more easier than that.

  20. I guess he was just trying to end on a note we could all harmonize “kumbaya” on, but Barton really has no proof of the assertion that “every person has equal dignity and moral worth.”

    I don’t think either is true. As infants newly born, yes. Once they start making choices, and acting (or not acting) in the world, no.

    Sorry to be such a negative Nelly. 🙂

  21. I won’t consider myself equal until I’m married to Sofia Vergara, can play chess like Magnus Carlsen, guitar like Slash, baseball like Derek Jeter, hockey like Wayne Gretzky, and am living in a house every bit as nice as Warren Buffett’s.

    Start working on it, b1tches.

    1. Umm, you put Slash in the same constellation with those other people?

      1. Why, you think him not relatively excellent enough? You want Eddie Van Halen, fine. This was my demand, not yours.

  22. I won’t consider myself equal until I am married to Sofia Vergara, can play guitar as well as Slash, baseball as well as Derek Jeter, hockey as well as Sidney Crosby, and am living in a house every bit as nice as Warren Buffet’s.

    There, you have my demands. Start working on it people!

  23. The word ‘equality’ in the context of a whole society can be defined in a huge number of ways. What exactly is the point of listing different ones? Is our society supposed to be organized around some vocabulary lesson? Or should we figure out some very clear requirements for it, and try to agree on them, and then get started implementing them?

  24. Why do those raised fists in the picture all look like men’s fists? Where is the fist with a manicure? I have been triggered.

  25. Few would support a prohibition on allowing parents to use their talents to favor their children

    Oh, I dunno.

    Call it “privilege” and I bet you can get people to sign a petition to ban it.

  26. “All of these forms of equality rest on the assumption of another: the equal dignity and moral worth of every person. Unlike its derivatives, that type of equality is beyond dispute.”

    Sounds great.
    Odd thing is, I know lots of people who don’t offer any dignity or moral worth to the unborn.

  27. De Tocqueville gave dire warnings in his book America. (Americans discovering they could vote themselves a raise) Voters without property, consistently voting for bond measures paid by other’s property taxes, benefiting without paying. (American sense of equality, extending to equality into poverty) Look at tax bills, especially in states like California! These issues currently playing out in rent control and healthcare.

    California Leaving

  28. All men are created equal, from then on, we are on our own.
    No two people can be measured as equal and any effort to make them, or many, so is a waste of time and destructive to liberty.

    1. Does that include the flat tax?

  29. What Do We Mean When We Talk About Equality?

    A blank check for power for the Left.

  30. “Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.”
    -Barry Goldwater

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.