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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.