Only Skin Deep?
Equality of opportunity is defined by allowing everyone equal access to resources and opportunity, and allowing inequality which results thereafter to occur. But, why does this stop at the skin? Does everyone truly have and equal opportunity to become the CEO of Amazon? Surely not. The biological traits that give Jeff Bezos or Stephen King a stranglehold on their respective markets is what gives them access to opportunities that normal folk never glimpse. The theory stops at the skin because if it didn’t the theory would become equality of outcome.
Equality of outcome would not stop at the skin, it would seek to mute those traits that made Jeff Bezos successful, leveling the valleys of human achievement with the mountains. Also known as equity, in economic success there would be very little difference, if at all, between anyone. This conception of equality is typically used interchangeably with Communism, although there is some daylight between the two. Communism does not explicitly state the neutering of ability as a goal, but it seems to occur because it fails to conform to our innate sense of fairness and competition.
The common saying in the Soviet Union: “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work,” seems to say it all.
Success is just the product of luck, inherited or random traits. Communism did not reward those individuals with exceptional traits enough to accentuate their traits, whereas perhaps capitalism rewards them too greatly?
Determinism (and Therefore Equity?) Makes you Bad?
While it is true that your capabilities are mostly a result of random assemblage of your brain and the capricious shuffling of genes, if you tell people they are not responsible for their actions, that determinism is true, in studies you can see that they cheat more, act less kindly to others, and use less willpower than those participants who were primed with the idea that they have free will.
This ties into equity because if you believe that your performance does not matter in terms of rewards, why bother? Why drag this husk of a body around with any care?
It seems that equality of opportunity is simply the unseemly practical rule for our economics — that some have poor abilities and will flounder in debt for their entire life, while others flourish as captains of industry or stories— although King owes some of his writing prowess to the power of mescaline. Neither competent or incompetent are responsible for their position — through the inheritance of traits or the random wiring of the brain they became either competent or incompetent in a market economy. Copy 10 Jeff Bezos’ and they will all do fine in a market economy, I’m sure.
Can we Become More Equal?
Future conceptions of equality need to handle individual brain differences, and yet, steer clear of equality of outcome while maintaining our sense of personal agency — even if we actually don’t have agency. Our idea of equality can already handle when people are physically incapable and require something like a wheelchair. No one would argue that someone who is incapable of walking does not deserve a wheelchair, and would hardly bat an eye if taxes were used to buy someone one. Our intuitions change when someone can hardly earn enough to get ahead, because choice enters into the mix.
Every citizen does not deserve equal economic outcome because their economic contribution varies. There is a baseline of necessities that citizens should be ensured, but beyond that, for practical reasons nothing else can be granted. The state cannot ensure equal outcome, and it certainly cannot ensure equal enjoyment from the basic necessities it ensures for its citizens.
The problem of ensuring similar outcomes is one thing, but ensuring similar subjective levels of enjoyment from activities and success is another — but it seems to be the next step to achieving true equality — at the cost of personal freedom it would seem. This appears impossible because of the lack of knowledge about what is fulfilling for each person, and the lack of jobs that accentuate each personality.
This might come back in a big way when psychology and big data advances, and we are able to acquire enough information about every person as to know them better than they know themselves. If you doubt that this will ever happen, think about the last time you clicked on an ad that was recommended for you, and a moment later you caught yourself thinking: “why the hell did I click on that?” This seems like a small first step, but given the exponential speed of technology, we are sure to be surprised.
What will happen to the value of things when we know exactly how much a person values a particular service, good, or job? Would a new equality focus on getting all citizens, as we do now, ONLY things it finds valuable, such as voting rights, access to housing, jobs, thriving communities? Or would it prioritize those things that each individual values most? And ensure each individual get a complete package of “citizenship” that is tailored to their personal affinities for materials, jobs, and conception of well-being? The only thing preventing this from being a serious question right now is limitations in knowledge about psychology.