Equity

One way to make equality conversations easier might be to focus on the idea of equity, because that concept zeroes in on fairness of treatment, as opposed to whether or not outcomes or treatment are equal. Equity might, for example, be said to exist if two people each get different medical treatment because they each have a different condition calling for different measure. Equity can also be said to exist if two people each get different amounts of prison time if each sentence was fair because each equally “fit the crime.” An “equitable” system, then, means a system that is fair; equity exists when people have been treated fairly.

That is perhaps where red-blue agreement ends, because people disagree both about what counts as fairness and what steps are needed (if any) to make existing societies fair.

For example, many conservatives consider anything that provides special treatment, resources, or access to a group of people because of the aggregate situation of that group to be unfair and inequitable, because such arrangements violate a basic principle of equity, that people each get treated as an individual, in accordance with their individual merit. It is on those grounds that many people strongly oppose affirmative action, for example.

equity

Others, however, usually on the liberal side, believe that certain inequalities, thanks both to things that happened in the past and to the degree of unfairness (e.g. discrimination in the present) need to addressed by interventions. One obvious example is affirmative action. Leftists sometimes point out that back in 1865 very few of the newly freed slaves were given “40 acres and a mule” and therefore had to accept brutal forms of employment that replicated slavery, and even now one can see consequences: blacks whose enslaved ancestors were given some tools and/or property are much more likely to now be in the African-American upper class. Markets then, says some, do not on their own repair gross inequities over time.

Some conservatives respond that giving special treatment to historically disadvantaged groups is more than unfair; it’s actually harmful to those it’s trying to help, in that it tells them they need special help, discourages personal effort, and deprives them of the growth that happens when one overcomes obstacles.  

 

Contributors: 

Jacob Hess, Phil Neisser

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