Thinking about equality

Equality2Guest Editorial

by Jim Sullivan

Equality is a centuries-old idea, medications with a record of use  ranging  from Socrates (and earlier)  through today.  In the course of that record  it has had many  meanings.  The modern version of equality continues to have multiple  meanings  for the reason that as a general term it is too imprecise to be an actionable concept.  Moreover, click because so many people are interested in equality as an economic, drug legal,  and political matter, the list of definitions grows.  Equality is thus often a difficult concept to think clearly about.

Before turning to some modern ideas of equality, we must ask ourselves why so many are willing to fight for it in the workplace, in the economic arena, in the political sphere, in the courts, and even on the battlefield.   The answer to this question is reflected  in the following  examples of struggles for equality:  The fight for workplace equality in the office, shop, or factory, including the fight for the right of workers to strike: inthe economic arena disputes  over economic  equality include the current efforts of conservatives and libertarians to privatize or Justice2severely reduce Social Security, one of the most successful economic  levelling programs in the history of our country  in that it keeps many retired seniors and elders from falling into abject poverty.  Struggles for political equality include the fight for voting rights and the current effort to reduce the influence of big money in our politics (one man one vote, or one dollar one vote?).  Struggles for equality in the court room, including our own Supreme Court, have included legal fights for racial and gender equality, as well as for equality of opportunity.   And finally, examples of the struggle for  equality (as a primary or secondary  goal) on the battlefield include our own American Revolution (1775-1783), the French Revolution (1789-1799), the Russian Revolution, including the Russian Civil War  (1917-1922), the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959), and the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

At another level one asks why people are so enamored of equality that they will fight economic and political battles, bring their cases in court, and risk their very lives on the battlefield for it.   The answer is that equality, however defined, is a tool to help us achieve a more  just , or more fair society.  In the economic sphere, for example, a fundamental condition of life is that we live in a world of scarce resources—as a result, not everyone can have what they want or even what they need, except in the mind of social and political utopians like Karl Marx, who promoted the principle of “from each according to his means, and to each according to his needs,”  a clearly impractical and unworkable philosophy.  It is sufficient to say here that the idea of a just society, while desirable in the minds of most, is very controversial in the form it takes, so we will simply say that a just society is a fair one.   And needless to say, there are at least three definitions of fairness:  proportional fairness, strict equality, and procedural fairness.  Conservatives and liberals differ greatly on which definition is appropriate.

RainbowModern ideas of equality include economic  equality,  gender  equality,  equality before  the law, racial equality, marriage equality, and Rawlsian  equality, to name a few.  For those unfamiliar with Rawlsian equality, it is a concept invented by a philosopher named John Rawls.   Mr. Rawls’ version of equality  involves  something  called  the “uncertainty  principle,”  wherein people who are hypothetically tasked with inventing  society are uncertain of their future place in it, i.e., they do not know if they will they be  rich or poor,


healthy or sick, born into wealth or poverty, etc.  This uncertainty leads them to design a society that provides an effective safety net for the disadvantaged, a far more effective safety net than our capitalist system provides  today.   But because society is not invented by a committee, this  approach  to  equality  is theoretical  and  of interest  primarily to academic philosophers.   It does have one practical use,  however, and that is to help  us  think  about  how our capitalist  society could be different  from what it  is today—for example,  extremes of  poverty might not be allowed, nor would bankruptcy due to a  prolonged serious illness,  which sometimes  happens even to people with health insurance.

historyThus we see that the idea of equality spans not only history, but also a broad range of thinking.  And we are all aware that the desirability, type, and meaning of equality is often in dispute today among practical, common American citizens.  The idea of equality is not going away—it is an important and powerful concept that will help us decide how we as individuals are to live together as a society.  My hope is that this essay will help us all think more clearly about equality as a concept, a tool, and an ideal that will help us arrive at a more just society.


Jim Sullivan is a Citizen Journalist and retired  businessman with graduate degrees in political science and business.  He lives in Ventura with his wife Juliette and two family cats.


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3 Responses to Thinking about equality

  1. Liberty Lana January 6, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Another redistributionist Socialist

    Economic inequality…the repackaging of income redistribution

  2. GM January 6, 2014 at 12:01 am

    All men are created equal in the eyes of God and supposedly, government. It’s what they do with it that counts. People should not be held back from doing their best, their income “redistributed,” their potential limited by government busybodies, as long as they do not harm others in their quest.

    The way to insure against events such as disease, poverty, disasters,etc., is via various types of insurance, whether it be through insurance policies, or mutual FREE associations of people. To make it mandatory and confiscatory is alien to our culture and Constitution.

    Guaranteed “equality” via fiat and income redistribution inevitably becomes a disincentive to individual initiative and hard work. This has been proven over and over again, yet we still see essays like this one and misguided utopian attempts which take entire societies over cliffs.

    So, using your terminology, procedural fairness is the way to go. No coercion by statist means.

  3. Stefan Djordjevic December 20, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Are you suggesting that we don’t already live in a “just” society?
    I feel like you want to say something, but you’re holding back. Go ahead and vent. “Economic leveling?”


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