In social welfare what are some pros and cons of each type of equality?  Give real life examples of absolute equality and/or equality of opportunity playing a role in a current policy or political...

In social welfare what are some pros and cons of each type of equality?  Give real life examples of absolute equality and/or equality of opportunity playing a role in a current policy or political debate. Which do you believe is more important, individual freedom (the public interest) or the common good?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In this answer, I will consider two kinds of equality.  One is equality of opportunity and the other is equality of outcome, or absolute equality.  I will argue that equality of opportunity is more important that equality of outcome.  This is a view that is held by most Americans.

Equality of opportunity exists when everyone in a society has an equal chance to succeed.  This concept plays an important role in American political debate.  We can see this, for example, in the debate over education.  All sides of the education debate assert that it is important to provide all children with a good education.  They want to do this because a good education will allow children to have good opportunities later in life.  Whenever we try to improve education for poorer and less-advantaged children, we are trying to achieve equality of opportunity.

Equality of outcomes exists when all people achieve the same things in life.  In other words, if everyone has the same amount of wealth, there is perfect equality of outcomes.  In the US, very few people openly advocate equality of outcomes.  This idea generally enters our debate because conservatives accuse liberals of trying to achieve it.  For example, conservatives will often say that programs like affirmative action are attempts to bring about equality of outcomes instead of equality of opportunity.

Most Americans would say that equality of opportunity has more “pros” than equality of outcomes.  If we have equality of opportunity, everyone has an equal chance.  In such a situation, people will rise or fall depending on their own personal abilities and motivations.  This allows people to get rich if they deserve it and for them to suffer to some degree if they lack ability and motivation.  If we had equality of outcomes, we would no longer have any financial incentive to work hard and improve ourselves.  We could be relatively lazy and still have the same amount of wealth as everyone else.

The only real “con” about equality of opportunity is that it is very hard to provide.  It is exceedingly difficult, for example, to give a poor child with uneducated parents the same sorts of opportunities that a middle-class child with educated parents will have.  This means that our efforts to provide equal opportunity will often be utterly fruitless.

Thus, I would argue that equality of opportunity is better, but I acknowledge that it can be terribly hard to achieve this goal.

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