Equality of Opportunity and Why We Don't Really Have It
When discussions of inequality come up, I often hear people say “It is not equality of outcome that is promised but equality of opportunity.” And I would agree that many of the laws and programs we have in place strive for equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. There seems to be an assumption though, that we have equality of opportunity. “Of course we do”, they say. “We have spent the last 50 years passing equal opportunity laws.” I would argue that 50 years of removing obstacles in a society 200 plus years old does not create equal opportunity. I have a scenario to illustrate why.
Imagine we are playing a game of Monopoly. Only for the first hour and a half I am playing by myself, collecting $200 every time I pass Go, buying properties and building houses and hotels. By the time you join me in the game I own more than half the properties, including all four railroads and both utilities. You ask to join my game, and I not only let you but I give you an extra $500 and Baltic Ave. But here is the catch. When you pass go, you only collect $50, you are not allowed to buy any of the more expensive properties, you can use the Chance cards but not the Community Chest cards, and you only get to roll one die as I continue to use both dice.
As the game goes on you tell me this is not fair. So after half an hour or so, I decide that you can roll both dice. You continue to tell me the game is rigged, so after another half hour I tell you that you can use the Community Chest cards. More protests from you lead me to finally allowing you to buy any property you can afford and to collect the full $200 when you pass go. We play for another half hour, then decide to see who is ahead. I have tens of thousands of dollars and almost all of the property. You have a few properties and barely $1,000. When you complain that the game was rigged, my response is, “But I changed that and now we are playing by the same rules. For the last half hour you've had the same opportunity to win as I have. You're just not as good at the game.”
That is essentially what is being told to people now. And here is the thing, while minorities are disproportionately affected by this, it also affects socially and financially disadvantaged whites as well. This is not a race issue, or shouldn't be. As to how the opportunities are not the same, families who are richer have access to more resources and connections for their children than families who are poorer. It's that simple. This isn't about poor people being lazy, or stupid , or any of the other things they are implied to be on a daily basis. This is about people who work hard all their lives and are still not able to rise above poverty levels. This is about their children not being able to get a decent education, or have access to technologies that will help them to get ahead.
And having a better educated population helps everyone. It is good for the economy to have highly trained, intelligent people looking to join the job force. Crime rates will go down if these kids have actual opportunities to get ahead. Yes, I am aware that many are able to overcome these odds and be successful. No, that doesn't make the rest stupid and lazy. Most people in any given social and financial strata are not going to be exceptional, they are going to be average. A person should not have to be exceptional simply to raise themselves out of abject poverty.
So how do we get equality of opportunity without resorting to redistribution of wealth or other extreme measures? I do not know the answer to this question. Maybe it is just a part of life’s inherent unfairness. But we can’t have an honest conversation about the subject if we refuse to acknowledge that there is an issue.