Wednesday, 12 November 2008

What's this "equality of opportunity" nonsense we're now hearing?

John Key told Campbell in a chatty, mates-together to-camera the other night that he wasn't interested in the Labour mantra of "equality of outcome"; he intended instead to pursue "equality of opportunity."  His multiple dissemblings over the Maori seats (to abolish or not to abolish, that is the sixty-four seat question) has made it clear he has no bottom lines, but the "equality of opportunity" talking point was one that was raised in the campaign by David Farrar, raised again this week by John Key, and recycled just yesterday by National's ambitious Auckland Central bimbo Nikki Kaye: "I'm a National member because ..." says the Blonde Ambition, sniffing the air for clues ... "because I really believe in the equality of opportunity for all, not the equality of outcome."

Is this already a Labour-Lite talking point then?  Once is happenstance -- twice is surely design -- the third time must surely be evidence of collusion, especially by one so ambitious as Ms Kaye.

But is it a reasonable goal to pursue?  Is it even a good thing?   No, says George Reisman, it isn't.  It is no more reasonable to pursue equality of opportunity through the use of government force than it is equality of outcome: both of these are simply misguided attempts to use government power against the facts of reality.

The fact is that people are not born equal, and they can't be made equal by government decree -- and nor can the opportunities that are open to them. A responsible government should pursue neither the closing of gaps nor the equality of opportunity -- the result of both is merely new positions of privilege, a new aristocracy, and destructive nonsense like affirmative action and racial quotas. 

What it should pursue instead is the ending of privilege and the removal of government hurdles to individual action. 

In other words, it is not equality of opportunity that a responsible government should pursue but freedom of opportunity. That's really what it means to have one law for all.  "Let us consider what opportunities actually are," suggests Reisman, "and then establish some important facts about them."

    "An opportunity is merely an occasion on which successful action is
. It is a situation that an individual can take advantage of to his gain.
What needs to be realized about opportunities is, first of all, that there is
no scarcity of them
; they arise again and again. The second thing that needs to
be understood is that what is important in connection with them and deserves
to be fought for, as a matter both of justice and universal self-interest, is not
that vicious absurdity “the equality of opportunity” but the freedom of opportunity.
    ... what needs to be understood about opportunities is that they can be and regularly are created by individuals. Indeed, opportunities are themselves products of human thought and action..."

Opportunities are everywhere.  It's not the abundance of opportunities that is a problem, but the paucity of vision that is unable to see them.

    "Let us consider the abundance of opportunities. An opportunity exists
every time there is the possibility of improving oneself in any way. If one is
penniless and there is an unfilled job available that one has the ability to fill,
one has the opportunity of ending one’s pennilessness. If one has a job, and
there is any better job available that one has the ability to fill, one has the
opportunity to improve one’s position further. If there is any skill that one
does not possess, but is capable of learning, then one has the opportunity of
adding to one’s skills.
    In fact, in the nature of the case, the economic opportunities potentially
open to the individual far exceed his ability to exploit them, with the result
that he must choose among them, selecting some and rejecting others. This
follows from the fact that there is always room for improvement in the
satisfaction of man’s wants, and that the basis for carrying out such improvement
is the performance either of more labor or of more productive labor.
    In other words, built into the fact that man’s wants can always be satisfied more
fully or better is the opportunity for the performance of more labor as the
means of satisfying them more fully or better, and the opportunity for improving
the productivity of his labor.
    ... it follows that in the nature of things there are potentially limitless
opportunities both for increasing employment and for raising the productivity
of labor, for there are virtually limitless possibilities for improvement in the
satisfaction of man’s wants. Indeed, the potential opportunities for employment
always dwarf man’s ability actually to work, which is the major reason
that he must be concerned with raising the productivity of his labor.
    People may wonder, of course, how it can be true that there are virtually
limitless employment opportunities and yet, at the same time, the world in
which we live is characterized by chronic mass unemployment and the
experience of millions is that they have no opportunity for work. There is a
simple reconciliation of these facts. Namely, misguided laws and social
institutions deny man the freedom of exploiting the opportunities for employment
that the nature of reality offers him, and so force unemployment upon him.
   The problem of unemployment [about which we're going to see a lot more very soon] is is the result of the violation of the freedom of opportunity -- i.e., the violation of man's freedom to exploit the opportunities that that reality offers him. 
    The freedom of opportunity means, to be precise, the ability to exploit the opportunities afforded by reality, without being stopped by the initiation of physical force.

That's a great definition: "the ability to exploit the opportunities afforded by reality, without being stopped by the initiation of physical force."  And as we know, the biggest initiator of physical force bar none is the government.

People are unable to find work not because there is no work for them in reality, but because government and labor-union interference, based on the initiation of physical force, prices their labour beyond the reach of potential employers ... [specifically through] inflation of the money supply ... coupled with so-called pro-union legislation.

So if the new Key regime wants to do a decent job on this score, to promote the freedom of opportunity, then it must work urgently towards removing those misguided laws and social institutions that while building up a chosen few, restricts every other New Zealanders' freedom of opportunity. 

But that would assume it regarded freedom of opportunity as a goal worth pursuing, or even understood its desirability.


  1. Like all PC mantra the minute you actually stop and think about what they mean, what they entail, they fall apart.

  2. At the risk of causing people here point and laugh and call me a stupid cow, I think that when our politicians say "equality of opportunity" they do in fact mean "freedom of opportunity", but aren't aware that there's a difference.

    Maybe it's a side effect of being caught up in PC-speak for so long that they feel the need to throw the term 'equal(ity)' into every phrase they utter. Maybe it's because generations of socialist thinking have got them all thinking the country won't ever function properly until everybody is equally bland.

    Whatever the reason, they definately need to reflect more on what comes out of their mouths before it comes out of their mouth. This wee gem from Tizard:
    I mean I think I just need to stop and think. Would be nice to have politicians who do that while they're in power, instead of after they've been turfed out on their arse.

    And miles off the topic, I love the word verification codes we have to use to post these blogs... yesterday I had 'fooking'.

  3. My thinking capcity must be limited or not of equal opportunity compared to yours Madeleine, so could you outline where this idea falls apart based on the non-initiation of force principle?

  4. "...could you outline where this idea falls apart based on the non-initiation of force principle."

    Oh sure. (I suspect it's not your thinking capacity that's the problem, Linda, it's my tangled prose.) Let me try, if I can.

    To the extent that they genuinely do mean it (and Ann's probably fooking right, at least to some extent), supporters of 'equality of opportunity' don't see opportunities as something to be seen and grabbed by individuals -- i.e., not as occasions that individuals can turn to their advantage -- but much like dishes carried around by waiters that are served quite arbitrarily to some but not to others.

    So they want the government to seize control of these 'dishes' so they're distributed more 'fairly.'

    Which means that government's job comes to be seen as dishing out opportunity -- and conversely, that opportunities come to be seen as something doled out from or by the government.

    Not good, huh.

    Because opportunities need to grabbed by individuals. They're occasions that they identify themselves, and by their own internally-drive action they turn them to their advantage.

    Seen this way, there's an abundance of opportunities to grab -- and the government is neither needed or wanted to dole them out, since it's not them who provides them.

    You see, while everyone should be equal before the law, that doesn't mean that we're all born equal.

    In fact, we're all born different -- and thank God for that. We all have different parents for example, who have better or worse vocabularies, better or worse incomes, and are better or worse at showing their love.

    There's just no way governments can change that, except by eugenics, by restricting the 'advantaged' or by putting all children in government orphanages with Cindy Kiro in charge.

    In the end, grabbing opportunities is up to us, not the government.

    As Tibor Machan says no matter what nature and nurture give to us -- in other words, whatever goes into making up our personality -- it's up to us what we do with that boon.

    If personality is what we are given, then character is what we make of ourselves with that starting point.

    There's nothing governments can do to improve that -- but they sure as hell can get in the way.

    Hope that helps. :-)

  5. A responsible government should pursue neither the closing of gaps nor the equality of opportunity -- the result of both is merely new positions of privilege, a new aristocracy, and destructive nonsense like affirmative action and racial quotas.

    I don't disagree with this - but the good thing about pursuing equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome is that the opportunity standard implies a much lower level of government intervention.

    The coercion required to equalise outcomes is immense - one must steam roll over the top of differences in preferences, ability, location and every other source of variation to get there. The outcome standard actually implies a license for government to take over everything.

    At least opportunity provides a limit - somewhere - on how much intervention can occur. As long as variation in outcome can be attributed to something - anything - other than difference in opportunity, a National government's work will be done. That at least is better than the alternative.

    I am mildly encouraged by two things I have seen since National won. First, Key's mention of individual responsibility in his first moments as PM elect. Second, this new, lower standard of opportunity equalisation. They are moves in the direction of freedom, which is better than the alternative.

  6. Terming Nikki Kaye a bimbo is a trifle unfair PC. Taking orders from Michelle Boag takes plenty of mental and physical gymnastics.

  7. Well she looks a few years too old to be called a "bimbette"...

  8. Hmm. Interesting post, Peter. I have seen "equality of opportunity" before, but it had names like "job reservation" and "Affirmative Action" and, of course, "leveling the playing field".

  9. I'd like to appolgise, I really should turn on my brian before I read make comments. What I thought Madeleine wrote was 'Like all PC (Peter Cresswell) mantra, the minute you stop and think about what he says his arguments fall apart'. So what I was after was a reason why Madelleine thought your articles argument fell apart. Sorry for that PC and Madeleine. Great explanation though PC.

  10. Hi Linda

    Yeah. I thought so too. Had to go back and read the post again to see what she wanted us to direct our attention towards.


  11. Well she looks a few years too old

    I am sure I can give Nikki Kaye and makeover so that she can look younger.

  12. "'Like all PC (Peter Cresswell)mantra"

    Damn you Peter, and your misleading name!


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