Equality of opportunities vs. equality of outcomes

Paul Krugman has two recent blog posts (one, two) on the issue of “equality of opportunities” vs. “equality of outcomes.”  It seems that these posts, and his “Climate of Hate” op ed, have gotten him a lot of hate mail.  I composed a quick comment on his latest blog post.  Here:

[Begin quote]

I’d push the reductio ad absurdum of the “conservative” argument all the way to its limit.

Since one’s opportunities depend ultimately on his holdings of wealth (“physical” and “human,” not only individual but also “social,” since one’s performance depends crucially on his setting), then the only way to enforce equality of opportunities would be to periodically redistribute wealth along egalitarian lines. In fact, if one’s to be strict (people are being born, and then born again, at every instant), it would have to be a continuous reshuffling process, which means that equality of opportunities would converge to equality of outcomes! Private ownership (and markets) would be emptied out of any real substance, because what would the point be of “owning” something formally if the benefits from using it or (“exchanging” it) don’t go to you, the “owner”?

If they were serious about equality of opportunities, conservatives would be joining the communist party!

Michael Corleone fantasized that by legalizing the illicit, or switching his wealth to legal venues (and donating millions to charity), he would make his ill-gotten fortune legit (and blessed), thus being able to enjoy it as any other decent, law-abiding (and God-fearing) citizen. The sponsors of the Tea Party do not seem particularly inclined towards charity, so they fund university programs and libertarian think tanks (and… well… the Tea Party) to make us believe that the existing distribution of private endowments is sacred, taxation is theft, the public interest does not exist, etc. Just when they think they are out, they will be pulled back in.

History is not ending any time soon.

[End quote]


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  1. Seems to me the Sam Bowels, who converted from Marx to Hayek, is a “conservatives” who favors “radical changes in American society.” His universal welfare proposal gives everyone a $250,000 stake at the age of 18. “after that, you’re on your own,” Bowles says. “Once you’ve got your quarter-million, you’ve got to make a decision: ‘Should I go to college or do I want to start a business?’—which you could do with a quarter of a million.” This is a straight forward implication of Marshall’s teachings.


    I agree, push the “conservative” argument all the way to its limit

  2. i wonder where one goes with this. i heard ishmael reed on the radio recently, and he mentioned that Humphrey (candidate in 68) supported a guaranteed income / negative income tax (which was popular in the 60’s, and even charles murray promotes it now—but i think at the level of like 3$/day). reed was called a ‘hankerchief head’ by callers since he thought the ‘left’ (black or otherwise) were out of touch).
    spncer (libertairan social darwinist ) supported Zero inheritance, to make opportunities equal—not to bad in my view, even if its not say ‘anarcho-communist’ (kropotkin) or other kumbayya style pc economics.
    both bowles and ginitis are sortuh interesting characters (whether ‘genius’ is questionable to me). (i don’t particularily like that style of game theory—unaesthetic).
    there’s also ackerman i think (law at yale or somewhere ) who promotes some sort of grant at age 18 i think.
    there are fairly current arguments in econ (based on a version of efficiency or random walk) that argue chances are actually already equal for most people, who are essentially indistinguishable from (or rather identical to) gas particles. its a gas. but why not partons, or fermions, quarks or strings. i wonder why i wonder …

    alot of socialist ideas seem a bit like debating about jesus or god. (and similarily, one has many people making cash money debating it — eg sam harris). a sort of fail proof hypocrisy (go(l)d/el. wasnt there some movie set in mexico called ‘el’ something, about the cave people?)

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