Within political discourse, there has been an ever-constant battle between two opposing ideals: equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. Opportunity, in a nutshell, is the American dream. In a utopian vision there are no barriers for one to further themselves. Race, religion, age, gender, wealth: none of them act as an obstacle in true equality of opportunity. At the other end of the spectrum, equality of outcome, usually associated with socialism, focuses on giving an equal share of prosperity to all, no matter their attitudes or resources. To paraphrase the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland: “Everybody must win, and all must have prizes.”
It seems like a very noble cause, this true equality of outcome, through which everyone is a winner, everyone is comfortable and lives a good life. Yet in this society, where is the incentive? Where is the motivation? Where is that desire, that self-belief that through determination you can climb up the socio-economic ladder, securing a brighter future for not only yourself, but also your children?
This is what I find disheartening in those who pronounce that equality of outcome should be our goal, that the true purpose of the modern state should be to ensure that all win, regardless of their work ethic. Without the motivation of financial reward, or, at the very least, the motivation of bettering oneself, a large number of individuals would merely refuse to work. In a truly socialist society, there is clearly little motivation. An often used example is the former Soviet Russia, who moved, or attempted to move, towards true equality of outcome. However, to achieve this, to stifle the natural tendencies of human nature, you must install a reign of terror in order to manage economic production and output. This is what the Soviet Union attempted to achieve. The old myth of radical socialism is that you can limit economic freedom (thus ensuring equality of outcome) without infringing upon political freedom. This is certainly not the case, and to prove this point you only have to look at China, Cambodia, Soviet Russia, Cuba and countless other hard-left socialist states.
If equality of outcome is an unlikely scenario then what of equality of opportunity? Government legislation, which is the most commonly used tool to ensure equal opportunity, can only go so far in ensuring that there are no barriers for an individual to improve upon their life chances. The problem facing equal opportunity is that, even in this age of liberal democracy, innate prejudices exist and no amount of government legislation can change this. Perhaps it is through education that true equality of opportunity can be promoted. By teaching children that everybody is equal, you can begin to chip away at the prejudices held by high and low society alike.
The benefit of equal opportunity is that you will be (in theory, if not always in practice) rewarded for your hard work, diligence and commitment. Through blood, sweat and quite likely a few tears, you can drag yourself from the lowliest of pits to the greatest of heights, and the film The Pursuit of Happyness is the visual embodiment of the American dream. If I spent 60 hours a week throwing all of my energy into work, and end up with the same as my next door neighbour who sits at home and watches The Jeremy Kyle Show all day, I would be incredibly annoyed. I am quite certain that you would feel the same.
Equality of outcome is a farce. Yes, it is an idealistic vision of organising society, but it is simply not plausible. On an individual but also on a species level, there must be those who strive forward in life as that is the only way humanity can progress.