Equality is not over-rated, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King Day in Los Angeles involves a parade down Martin Luther King Boulevard in Leimert Park and Crenshaw, very close where I am lucky enough to live. I was reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King this morning, and I am wondering what he would think regarding our current dialogue surrounding equality, which treats the concept rather like a dirty word. Like many concepts in justice, equality is horribly misunderstood. You read conservative and libertarian commenters lament that liberals want everything to be equal–an equality of outcomes–that makes no sense whatsoever because people are born with different endowments (meaning skills, not inherited wealth) and different characters, so why should we be equal? I find this line of thinking to be generally specious: few people even on the left believe that self-made millionaires and scroungers should enjoy the same economic or social outcomes past the provision of basic goods like health, education, food, housing. (And even Hayek admitted to basic goods in the Road to Serfdom.) Instead, liberals tend to focus on equality of opportunity and those basic goods–the former being the most difficult to conceptualize and advocate for. No, we do not start out life with the same endowments–the same gifts from heaven, the same privileges in society, or the same family. Measures to promote equality of opportunity tend to create particular kind of inequality in pursuit of opportunities from those they perceive as starting from a position of disadvantage.
One of the most poignant memes going around the interwebs has been this one:
This meme conveys the idea nicely: there is an equality of outcome here; it’s not about millionaires and scroungers, but just a little visual story about some kids who want to enjoy something together. What we’re missing here is the process behind it: Do the boys work together to find the resources? Or do the littlest boy’s parent’s use the state to force the other boys to help the littlest get a bigger box? We can’t really resolve the idealogical differences based on a meme, as usual.
Nonetheless, my point is that equality in some respect is so central to justice that you can’t escape equality even in a meme trying to draw the distinction between equality and justice. Equality is a central theme in justice even now, when it is heavily criticized from both the left and the right.
Dr. King helped illustrate how absolutely central equality is to justice: there is no justice when a man of one race has due process and another subject to summary justice with mob rule.