Equality of outcome

Equality of outcome is a basic form of egalitarianism which seeks to reduce or eliminate differences between individuals or households in a society.

In theory, equality of outcome can be contrasted with equal opportunity, though many proponents of the latter use measures of the former to judge success. To the extent that inequalities can be passed form one generation to another through gifts and wealth inheritance, it is unclear that equality of opportunity for children can be achieved without greater equality of outcome for parents.

A progressive taxation system is likely to increase equality of outcome, and so is a welfare state. However, these will tend only to reduce social inequality, not eliminate it entirely. A much further reduction in social inequality is the goal of most forms of socialism.

Greater equality of outcome is likely to reduce relative poverty, leading to a more cohesive society, though it may damage incentives to work harder. Some critics believe that the standard of living of the poorest in absolute terms is more important than their relative position; others disagree with the concept of equality of outcome on philosophical grounds.

John Rawls, in his A Theory of Justice, developed a "second principle of justice" that economic and social inequalities can only be justified if they benefit all of society, especially its most disadvantaged members. Furthermore, all economically and socially privileged positions must be open to all people equally. Rawls rejects equality of outcome between a doctor's salary and grocery clerk's if this inequality were the only way to train 'sufficient' numbers of doctors, preventing an unacceptable decline in the availability of medical care (which would therefore disadvantage everyone). In this theory of justice, a doctor should be as well rewarded as a businessman, who's intention is expressly to benefit himself rather than society at large.

Equality of outcome's critcs

The capitalist critique of John Rawls's position is that in order to enrich his business the businessman must create something that society wants, thereby benefiting everyone. If value can be judged subjectively, the free market decides what will "benefit all of society", and Rawl's justification for income inequality can be applied to any successful laissez faire enterprise.

In fact, the Soviet Union has proven that it isn't necessary to offer differing pay levels in order to train sufficient doctors, but Free market economists argue that in-equality of outcome acts as an incentive to train better doctors, and to innovate throughout the spectrum of economic activities. The success or failure of commercial endevours leads to inequality of outcome, but in doing so, tells those that attempt them what society demands. For example, J. K. Rowling had a better outcome from submitting her manuscript than 99.99% of authors, and was thereby encouraged to continue writing. If all manuscripts were rewarded equally there would be no way for the public to support the artists they preferred.

A separate rebuke of the concept of equality of outcome is that it is an unnatural notion. Humans are naturally unequal (in the sense of varying in abilities, traits and talents) so there should be no reason to anticipate an equality of outcome.

The Protestant attack on equality of outcome is that hard work produces a moral right to a superior reward. Maximilian Weber's book on the subject suggested that inequality of outcome was treated by the protestants as evidence of future salvation. The scriptural support for the Protestant's belief in work and reward is partially found in Proverbs 10.4 (Septuagint):

"Poverty brings a man low: but the hands of the vigorous makes rich"

Contrast with Equality of opportunity

LBJ and the civil rights movement were in favour of equality of outcome, but only as a natural result of an equality of opportunity. Historically, the division between the two equalities has been hard to pin down; often depending on the definition and measurement of 'opportunity'. If an inheritance is divided evenly between a feckless son and an industrious daughter the unequal outcomes ten years later can be predicted, and wills sometimes compensate for this by leaving the majority of the inheritance to the less able child. Similarly, horse races are sometimes handicapped with weights for the fastest horses, so that the chance for all to win is equalized. Despite the statistical equality that handicaps produce, the fact that each horse bears a different weight makes them unequal, and has been criticized on the grounds that 'Equality of opportunity' should be an open event. Famously, Kurt Vonnegut satirized the desire for equality of outcome in his dystopian story "Harrison Bergeron", depicting a society in which mediocrity is the law. The Faber Book of Utopias (ISBN 0571197906) lists dozens of serious (and less serious) proposals by which equality of outcome might be achieved, with commentary on the fact that all entail some sacrific of negative freedom.

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