Tuesday, May 11, 2021 -
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Equity vs. equality

If all that “equity” connoted in current discourse were “equality,” this column would not be written. The emergence of “equity” as a political and ethical concept is, as far as my reading takes me, intended to be different from “equality,” and indeed to surpass it. Advocates of equity believe that equality is deficient. A different and putatively higher political and ethical standard is required. That is equity, and it is far from the same as equality. Indeed, it is set over against equality.

Thus, a debate is afoot in the land. Is equality deficient, or not? Is equity actually superior to equality? Or is it actually inferior to equality?

Already 40 years ago, the late Theodore H. White outlined the history of the idea of equality in the US. First came equality before the law. That was what the Civil War was about. Second came equality of opportunity. That emerged as it became clear that law alone could not guarantee truly equal treatment before the law.

Then came equality of result. This is not an American ideal, if we define that ideal by the Declaration of Independence’s stirring, opening principle, “All men are created equal.” Jefferson’s ideal was equality before the law, with its subsequent corollary, equality of opportunity. Equality of result was not envisioned.

In 2021, however, we have heightened calls for equality of result, or “equity.”

Note: “equity” and “equality” may seem to be the same thing, but they have very different political and ethical meanings. Equity — equality of result — is impossible without taking from some and giving to others. That is, taking from people without their consent.

First, let us clear the air. To regard equality of result — “equity” — as harmful, it is necessary to clarify. Poverty is wrong. Food insecurity is wrong. Homelessness is wrong. Genuine material suffering in a society of plenty is wrong. Charities will do what they can to alleviate this suffering, but it is too big for charities alone. Government must be put to the task of alleviating poverty, food insecurity and homelessness. Government programs that do this are just, imperative — and they are radically different from “equity.”

Equity, the way it is used today by such advocates as Elizabeth Warren, means: Eradicate economic (and other) differences between people who are not living in poverty, not hungry and not homeless. “Equity” does not mean to level the playing field — that is equality of opportunity. Equity is more.

Ultimately, equity means economic homogenization. Equity means: On a material level, we must all be the same. Those who have more must relinquish some of what they have earned to create material equality: equality of result. If someone is more successful than someone else, that difference must be eliminated.

What, pray tell, is so terrible if someone is more successful than I, once my basic needs are met, once I am not living in poverty? What is wrong if someone lives in a small house and someone else in a large house? Or, if someone earns more, and someone else earns less?

An unstated assumption behind equity seems to be jealousy. If someone has more than I, then I must have the same! That premise underlies equity, for equity means that it is socially intolerable if someone has more than I do, if someone lives in a nicer house than I do, or drives a nicer car than I do.

Equity posits: I must care if someone has more than I. In other words, I must be jealous. That seems to be the ethical driver behind equity.

The eminent Talmudic authority Rabbenu Asher said, “jealousy is a disease that has no cure.” Equity stokes a disease that has no cure.

Equity defines human need in strictly materialistic terms. After all, one does not, and cannot, hear about “equity” in terms of artistic performance, spiritual insight, deep friendship or effective parenting. The same should obtain with regard to economic standing. One should no more cast an eye on another person’s superior economic position than on another person’s superior artistic talent (for example). “Who is happy? One who is happy with his lot,” says the Talmud.

Let us say that equity is enforced — that is the only way it could ever result, via governmental coercion — this can ultimately lead to incomes of the same size, houses or apartments of the same size, automobiles of the same power. This has been done. Equity has been put into practice. There was a society built on equity. We saw how it looked and how well it worked. It was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Whatever else the USSR was, it was boring. This too is an end result of equity.

I exaggerate, you say?

HUD nominee head, Marcia Fudge, says, “There’s a big difference between equality and equity.” Exactly. And she wants equity, not equality before the law and not equality of opportunity. Equity means preferences. Equity means group outcomes. Equity means government intrusion. Equity means massive reporting. Equity may sound just. It would be a nightmare when you think of the bureaucracy and intrusion it would take to enforce it.

Here is what equity is not. It is not equal funding for schools, regardless of the neighborhood. It is not the elimination of police brutality. It is not the provision of the same municipal services to all neighborhoods, regardless of economic standing or racial character. It is not color blind banking practices. These represent equality before the law and equality of opportunity. These are just and imperative.

The difference between equity and equality is not subtle. Equity is ultimately a giveaway and a punishment, free money for some and purloined money from others. Equality is the creation of the same starting line. That is morally right. Equity is the creation of the same finishing line. That is unethical and empty.

Copyright © 2021 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com

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