Equality: What Equality Should An Egalitarian Care About? / by Tyler Wood

An egalitarian is one who wants equality for all people in a society, but what equality should we care about? We care about equality because we want everyone to live a good life no matter what issues they may have. The main arguments I will discuss are the theory of Equality of Welfare, the Equality of Resources, Dworkin's Equality of fortune, and Anderson's Democratic Equality, then I will propose a possible solution to the issues with these theories with my own theory, the Equality of Self-Sustainability. My theory will be a hybrid theory of the others but it will treat people as ends not means in the Kantian view. My theory will be more pragmatic and realistic, and won't cost as much in the end, for true justice and equality.

The argument for Equality of Welfare opposes Equality of Resources because equaling out by resources doesn't get at why we are not equal. One example would be a handicapped person getting the same amount of money than an able bodied person gets and then the government is no longer obligated to care about the handicapped person because they were given equal resources. This is a problem when dealing with people that need special care. One must consider the position the people are in. This person could have been in an accident with a drunk driver and now has to pay for rehabilitation, a wheelchair, special medicine, nurses, etc…but the able bodied person doesn't have these expenses and can buy a Ferrari instead. This seems unfair. The able bodied person would be in a better position of welfare than the handicapped person based on the split of resources and not just the handicap. This would be a problem we could fix and should fix. Being handicapped is something that is unfortunate and can not be helped but splitting up the resources evenly would put the handicapped person at yet another disadvantage to the able bodied person, and it wouldn't seem just.

What about expensive taste? One attack against the equality of welfare is the problem with expensive taste. If one person can't be happy without eating caviar and drinking champagne it would seem that that would be compensated for if we used a system of equality of welfare. Because equality of welfare is basing its equality on the happiness of its citizens, this system would promote the draining of the resources by lazy sybarites. It would seem unfair for the working people to compensate a (I assume previously rich) persons continually expensive tastes. This intuitively isn't equality.

Ronald Dworkin basis his distribution of resources equally on a market system. He argues that the market is important for equality because it allows for differences of people, "the idea of an economic market, as a device for setting prices for a vast variety of goods and services, must be at the center of any attractive theoretical development of equality of resources (Sovereign Virtue 66)." This leads to his analogy of an island auction where after it is done no one is envious of anyone else's resources. He claims that in so doing you would be putting everyone in the same position and thus equal them out in material goods, but not have to give them exactly the same thing.

On Dworkin's island there would be no one entitled to anything more than anyone else. They would all be given equal amounts of clam shells (or whatever they used for currency) and they could bid on pieces of land, all land would be subjected to bidding. This way they would all have an equal shot at anything, but when it is all said and done they would all have the part they wanted most, or that they prioritized as best for what currency they had. After the auction if anyone didn't like what they have versus what someone else has, then they would do it over again, this fulfills the envy test. This would take care of the mistakes someone might have made in not bidding on something when they didn't know about it, or if there was someone bidding up the land then not buying it etc…

Dworkin argues that in order to counteract the equality of welfare issue we must have a hypothetical insurance that would compensate people for things of the 'bad luck' realm. If someone was handicapped then they would be able to get resources based on their handicap to bring them up to the level of equality had they not had the handicapped (or as close as possible). This would take care of the problem with people who need special care and more money to equal them out, but it wouldn't cover expensive taste. This separation comes from his distinction between option luck and brute luck. Option being something you opted into and brute being something you had no control over.

Elizabeth Anderson attacks Dworkin's theory of equality of fortune because she feels it has an inherent flaw of equal treatment (She, among others, also criticizes his distinction between option luck and brute luck but that will remain out of this paper because Dworkin's end goal is a tax and welfare state everyone is a part of). She claims, "equality of fortune fails the most fundamental test any egalitarian theory must meet: that its principles express equal respect and concern for all citizens ("What is the Point of Equality" from Ethics Vol. 109 Issue 2, pg. 289)." She arrives at this idea because of certain things Dworkin wants to compensate for. One good example is being ugly and not being able to get certain jobs etc… Anderson points out that in order to compensate for something like ugliness one would have to be told they are ugly enough to be compensated, and this is disrespectful and unacceptable (not to say anything of the prejudice, and possibly racist, things this could imply). She argues that this is defining people as inferiors when they are accepting compensation and stigmatizing them in the process. This would be a devastating blow to the equality of welfare portion of equality. This would be creating a government sponsored social hierarchy based on inferiority and compensation. Some might want to be compensated for certain things but others might not, and some might not want to be told what they are lacking in order to get any governmental help. It seems obvious that welfare can't be the only concern, but it is also problematic for Dworkin's equality of resources.

Anderson offers another way of compensation for people in need, Democratic Equality. She states, "In seeing the construction of a community of equals, democratic equality integrates principles of distribution with the expressive demands of equal respect," this system would "avoid bankruptcy at the hands of the imprudent by limiting the range of goods provided collectively and expecting individuals to take personal responsibility for the other goods in their possession (289)." She wants to change the social norms instead of just throwing money at people all the time. She gives an example of what might be done with the "ugly" or people with birth defects. She says instead of sponsoring plastic surgery (Based on Dworkin's theory of compensation) she would convince the society that it isn't something to be stigmatized for, and root out the problem with education and understanding, rather than compensating for something that can't be compensated for. This would leave out giving lump sums to people with problems that remain in the social realm and can't be fixed with money, like being ashamed of something like a birth defect.

One problem with Anderson is that her argument is a little too good. If she wants to compensate for anything she is going to have to get around her own problem with giving money and making the people who receive it feel inferior. If she wants to fix the problem of social stigma because of a birth defect she has two options: First, she takes Dworkin's idea and pays, compensates, or fixes with plastic surgery the birth defect - this she clearly disagrees with. Or second, she does what she proposes and re-educates the entire population for a small minority of the cases of birth defects that people find socially "ugly". The issue here is that she claims her system would solve the issue of bankruptcy in the system from over compensation to the lazy and idle, but what she is proposing can't cost little. The cost of re-educating millions of people who would, no-doubt, need this training would cost billions of dollars extra. The tax payers would have to pay this, unless she wants to deal with this by starting it in the schools now (integrating it into our public schools for our kids), in which case the cases of "ugliness" in this generation would remain unfixed completely, and would thus be against her equality theory. Another problem is coercion. In order to 're-educate' anyone, you would have to convince them they are wrong in what they believe, this is a huge paternalistic program of big brother, and feigns on Orwell's 1984. She is choosing to protect the socially awkward at the expense of the socially mobile, which happens to be the majority of the people in any society. There is no other way to "convince" everyone that they should accept the socially awkward and ugly. As much as I agree with her principles of understanding and acceptance it remains a far too optimistic dream.

I propose the equality egalitarians should care about is the Equality of Self-Sustainability, as I will call it. The one thing that all the equality theories have in common is the intuition that we should all be able to live a good life, no matter what set-backs may have befallen us. This is the reason for the idea of equality. This clearly can't be pinned down to resources only, nor can it be pinned down for welfare only. Dworkin's theory has major flaws in the treatment of the citizens and Anderson's is far too optimistic to be realistic or at all pragmatic. Equality of Self-Sustainability would be a hybrid of the theories that would concern itself with the well-being of all citizens without paternalistic coerciveness or major economic hurdles. Equality of Self-Sustainability would supplement people who can not take care of themselves by trying to compensate with help around the house. For someone who can take care of themselves this would be just an insurance policy for when they retire or if they were to have something happen to them. A handicapped person would get the special care they need since they can not sustain on their own, but the person who likes caviar wouldn't be compensated for that taste.

The self-respect concern of Anderson would be dealt with by having no set standard for compensation at all and no organized body (the government) telling people what they are deficient in, or inferior at. The system would be a voluntary, anonymous program for compensation and rehabilitation. If a person wanted to be helped they would come to the office or send in a form and be anonymous to the outside world. They would ask for assistance in whatever they thought justified to ask for and there would be a panel that would hear case by case, treating everyone as ends, not means to pay out some theories' compensation plan.  If the person who had a birth defect wanted to get plastic surgery, then it would be laid out to the panel. The panel would be voted on, and perhaps the votes of the people in the system would weigh heavier for the sake of protecting their concerns from the tyranny of the majority. The fact that this payout would be the same place where retirement, LNI, medical, etc… payouts would be made it would hide the people being socially stigmatized when they entered the building, and it would be less likely to be looked down upon, or cut in taxes, because everyone is going to use it at some point.

When comparing this system to America's system one might say it's going to cost a lot more money. I would respond by saying it would cost less than the other theories here discussed and it is worth it if this is what justice and equality really looks like. People argued that when women get the right to vote it will cost more to have a democracy (more ballots etc…), but it remains just and worth it to have women voting as equals today, if in fact it does cost more. This theory would do away with flat, inhuman, payout for issues that real people have; it would treat them as humans equally by concerning itself with each case separately and not treat their "inferiority" or "defect".  It would also protect without paternalism and coerciveness towards the rest of the community, so their rights would not be violated either. It would also include education and medical insurance for all as well as equal rights for all people. This would enforce the ability for all to sustain themselves equally in society without the concern for something that might happen to them that is unlucky. Equality of Self-Sustainability is the equality we care about because it gets at the reason we intuitively want equality, so we can live our lives with equal respect and dignity as everyone else.