Larry Summers recently wrote an op-ed arguing that although there is a rift between liberals and conservatives over the issue of income inequality, one thing everyone can agree on is that there is not enough equality of opportunity. “It is hard to see who could disagree with the aspiration to equalize opportunity.”
Damn few, that’s for sure. This notion of “equality of opportunity” has been taken up by everyone from Arthur Brooks to Milton Friedman.
But allow me to demur. Just think of what it would mean to take this idea seriously.
- Do I have the same equality of opportunity as Steve Jobs’s children? Nope. So I guess that means the government needs to take some of their inheritance and give it to me.
- Do I have the same equality of opportunity as Barack Obama’s children? Nope. So I guess that means the government needs to give me some of their connections.
- Does the child of two morons have the same opportunity as the child of two geniuses? Nope. So what’s the government to do? It can’t make one kid smarter. Is “equality of opportunity” going to require it to bash in the brains of the intelligent child?
“Equality of opportunity” is incompatible with freedom. Indeed, in practice there is no difference between the egalitarian attempt to equalize outcomes and the attempt to equalize opportunity. One man’s outcome is another’s opportunity. A parent’s success is his child’s opportunity. A business owner’s success is a future employee’s opportunity. The only way to try to equalize opportunities is to equalize outcomes.
The sad irony in all this is that freedom is the source of opportunity. When a country is free, everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Although some will inevitably face greater struggles than others, no one can stop another person from succeeding.
The more you promote “equality of opportunity,” the less opportunity any of us will have.