Ignorance and Equality

This short article mentions a few important considerations when discussing equality.

What sort of equality is justified? Any, none, or somewhere in between? I say somewhere in between, spurred by a friend’s Facebook status as follows:

Equality is the enemy of freedom.

A striking quote with some truth to it, but let’s see if we can do better. Another friend in the comments modestly proposed, “Equality of results, perhaps.” A common improvement, but still improvable.

Inequality of opportunity is sometimes justified. For example, in the case of compelling statistical discrimination. As a practical example, consider the case of a manager who knows his employee’s comparative performance. He has strong reason to think A will outperform B on some particular task. He is justified in assigning the task to A without ever presenting B the opportunity. To be sure, there is some chance his calculation is incorrect, but this makes him neither unjustified nor immoral.

Importantly, this kind of justified inequality does not obtain under a veil of ignorance. Under ignorance you have no data, and thus no ground for statistical discrimination. You have no reason to think A is a better fit than B for the task. Showing preference under such a state of ignorance simply reveals prior bias, not rational choice.

Justified inequality only obtains outside the veil of ignorance, but in the real world we are frequently outside the veil. To suppose veil-of-ignorance-morality is the only valid sort of morality is to be still under the veil of ignorance.

In fact, I’m not convinced that it’s even possibly to truly reside under a veil of perfect ignorance, which I compare to radical uncertainty. Instead, I find myself faced with facts that I am relatively more or less confident about, which is like being further or closer to the veil.

I prefer to ground my ethics in Christianity for so, so many reasons. Equality of a sort permeates the Christian ethic, but it’s neither equality of outcome nor equality of opportunity. It’s equality of value. In Christianity, individuals are created in God’s image, for a purpose given by God. Because the value of God’s person and purpose are infinite, all people have unbounded intrinsic value. Not because of what they do or the opportunities they are given, but because of value endowed by the creator.

This Christian equality is both the most empowering and defensible form of equality I know, and it’s also perfectly harmonious with the free market. Social justice is a perverse ethic, and it is by no means a trade-off from economic efficiency toward morality. It is the worst of both worlds.

So we have a good case against equality-oriented public policy, but this not a case against equality of person-hood in the moral-ethical sense.

There is one other route toward arbitrary equality which is not incompatible with libertarianism and the free market: Charity! Equality of outcome and opportunity are only an economic bad if the equality is obtained by force. If the market is acting efficiently and the wealthy simply choose to voluntarily donate and redistribute because they choose a more equal world, it is a double virtue and not an enemy of freedom.

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