On Equality

by Brian William Waddell

To many libertarian thinkers, speakers, and writers, equality is somewhat of a dirty word. Many don’t like to discuss it because the very word brings forth an image of socialism and equality of outcomes. But that isn’t how equality should be looked at. Equality is important in a libertarian society. Everyone must be treated equally from the start. However, it is not equality of outcomes, but equality of opportunity that is important for society to function in a truly fair and equal manner.

A Metaphor

Imagine the home field of your favorite baseball team. See the grass and dirt, feel the cool breeze, hear the roar of the crowd. Now, think about how the field looks with your team in the field. Finally, think about how the field changes if the other team is in the field. Do artificial barriers suddenly rise up to keep fielders from throwing to first? Does the fence move in so that the home team has a much easier time hitting a home run? Of course not. That wouldn’t be fair. The scoreboard on that field would hopefully show more runs for your team than the other. It’s okay to hope for this because the field itself did not determine the outcome of the game, but the skill and athleticism of the players did.

Now imagine what a field would have to look like to make sure that all contests ended in a tie. The easiest way to do this would be to stop both teams from ever being able to score. Maybe a wall that pops up to stop you as you round third? Even ignoring the uselessness of a contest where neither team has a chance of winning, this would make for a very boring game. Maybe all the games would end in a 3-3 tie instead. This would be more interesting at least. If a team with an excellent pitcher (which wouldn’t be necessary given everyone will score the same amount of runs regardless) faced a team with a poor one the necessity of the field to control the run production could become very entertaining in and of itself.

As the third inning ends, it’s two to nothing in favor of the home team. When they return to bat in the bottom of the fourth, the leadoff batter hits a homerun. The next hitter gets up and takes a mighty swing. The ball flies out toward the wall in left-center. Just as the ball is about to go out of the park, the wall extends itself up four feet to keep the ball in the playing field and the hitter settles for a useless double. The next batter hits a shot in the gap and the runner comes from second, rounds third, and is immediately stopped in his tracks when a snare catches him by the ankle and his face meets the field. He is tagged out as he tries to loosen himself from the snare. The player who hit the ball stops at first because he doesn’t see the point of running to second since he has no chance of scoring.

Now, the field has to find a way to help the trailing team score three runs. After keeping the home team from scoring through the eighth inning the field only has the top of the ninth to get the visitors three runs. The pitcher for the home team strikes out the first two batters. Then, with every pitch, for six straight batters a wall pops up in front of home plate to keep the ball from reaching the strike zone. Three runners score due to the walks issued, and the pitcher strikes out the final batter.

In this scenario, the field becomes the featured player instead of the actual players or the teams. The fields with more inventive traps and ways to make teams score would have the highest ticket sales. Players would just be placeholders rather than valuable assets.

If you haven’t picked up on the metaphor you either know nothing about baseball, or are not a libertarian. So, I’ll spell it out just in case. Government, or the state, is the field. The players are the people. The scoreboard is simply the reflection of what can be accomplished by the players. With the state (field) predetermining outcomes there must be some system to hinder certain people (players) and to help others.

Another Naughty Word

Let’s step away from the metaphor for a minute. In economics and governmental systems a guaranteed equality of outcomes has a name. Anybody know it? Yes, that’s right, socialism. I know for some of you I may as well have just dropped the f-bomb. However, the stigma surrounding socialism doesn’t come from the pursuit of socialistic society. Instead, it comes from the state mandating socialist policy.

I personally believe that socialism is against human nature and cannot be achieved in a massive scale without state influence. The idea that millions of people would willingly pool their resources and talents (or lack thereof) to end up having the same amount to show for it as all of their neighbors is not a likely occurrence. Humans like to have their own stuff. This is more of a primal urge than many like to admit, but we have certainly not evolved past it. Nor are we likely to any time soon.

On the other hand, the free market exists seamlessly without state influence. I suppose that’s why they call it the free market though. It needs nothing, besides being left alone, to guarantee it exists. Millions of people are much more likely to willingly exchange their goods and services for other goods, services, or means to acquire such things.

I’m sure by now you can tell which system I favor. But, let me explain my view on these two systems more completely. I believe both systems to be honorable goals so long as every individual willingly adopts them and there is no governmental interference that compels the use of one system or the other. In theory, a town could decide to live in pure socialism. They could decide that all products that were produced there were the property of the town and not the individual. Even if they all agree initially, what happens if someone who does not agree with the system moves to the town? Can such a system survive without the town government compelling all citizens of the town to surrender their personal property at the town line? Maybe. Sort of? But the system ceases to be pure socialism once one person can have property of his or her own. Many, including (and maybe especially) constitutionalists, would argue that the one who believes in personal property should just move elsewhere. He can, if he wants to. But why can’t beautiful weather or even proximity to a loved one supersede a difference of opinion on personal property? All should be able to live how they choose, so long as it does not interfere with the lives of others, anywhere they choose.

The free market does not suffer a similar breakdown if any number of people willingly decides to share what they produce. No coercion is necessary to keep people freely trading goods and services.

But, I digress. Sort of. Socialism is a prime example of the fallacies that surround equality. If someone can answer this question in a manner that supports socialism, I will consider socialism a valid option for building a society based on equality: How is taking things from people who produce more and giving them to those who produce less actually equal?

The Human Aspect

No more finances, for now. Instead, human equality.  Yes, that’s right, the concept that all humans, regardless of any identifying trait or marker, should have equal opportunity is the most basic form of equality. The very categorizing of people into groups besides human is counter to equality. Allow me, not that you really have a choice, to use another sports analogy. ESPN does something every year before the teams going to the NCAA tournament are announced. The resumes of two bubble teams are put up on the screen without the names of the teams. Basing the decision solely on the merits of who had the better season, it is usually clear who should get into the tournament. Then they reveal the teams involved, and sometimes your mind is blown. “But that’s my team that clearly shouldn’t get in,” you say to the TV. Suddenly, instead of believing that the better team should get in, you pick your team. If you happen to be on the selection committee, then your bias has just kept the better team out of the tournament that they deserve to be in.

I think the implication here is clear, but once again I‘ll spell it out. Having a favorite is fine. You can gravitate toward people who are more like you, less like you, or not at all like you. But when you choose them over better-qualified individuals for jobs you are doing something wrong. Not only does it sometimes hurt the individual, it also hurts the organization when an inferior (due to ability, not any identifying trait) person is hired. We all have prejudices and we all discriminate. Ensuring that we are discriminating based on the quality of the individual, and not a prejudice against an institutionalized group they belong to, is the important part.

Treating people equally is important, but it won’t always happen. Some people will, unfortunately, choose inferior applicants for jobs because of the color of their skin or some other identifying factor. It’s wrong, but inevitable. But, in a free market where this type of discrimination is not institutionalized, the wronged individual can get a job somewhere else. And, as a bonus, the individual can urge people not to utilize the offending employer’s services. Exceptional people come in all forms and there will always be plenty of people out there who recognize that and will give those people the opportunities they deserve without any form of governmental or societal interference.

The Payoff

Equality evokes different images to different people. For many, equality means having all the same chances in life as everyone else if you’re willing to go out and find them. For others, it means having all the same things as everyone else no matter what your lot in life. The question really comes down to whether you value the opportunity to succeed and make something of yourself, or having stuff. I’ll take the opportunity to make something of myself any, and every, day. I can buy the stuff that I want that way, instead of the stuff someone else thinks I should have.

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6 comments

    1. Example – Why do you say it’s wrong?… for me to operate a “Christians only” movie theater, or a “Womens only” Tavern?

      1. Where did I say that’s wrong? Or that I want force to prevent you from doing so?

        For example a good transgendered friend of mine in NYC was beaten and sent to the hospital recently, from a legal point of view it should be persecuted an assault and the judge should determine the appropriate punishment based on the circumstances.

        Although, if tolerance was more prevalent, this kind of violence wouldn’t of occured for it to be a legal issue. So it seems to me consistent that while people have a right to use their property as they wish, people should tolerate other peoples existence and their ability to accrue property of their own.

    2. Why wouldn’t they, being Libertarian doesn’t mean your devoid of values and vision of how the world should be. Being libertarian just means you want don’t force especially via government applied to make the world in the mold of your own values. Although, it doesn’t mean you as a individual can’t express your values and preferences and hope to affect through voluntary non-coercive methods to reform these things. This is essentially what all action by individuals are, expressions of their preferences and values.

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