Balancing equality, justice, and opportunity

by Luke Eldridge

In class we have been discussing how to fight inequality and whether an unequal society itself is an unjust one. Many societies are constantly trying to reduce inequality but is it always the right thing to do?

I believe that a completely equal society does not always provide the best foundation for development and other factors such as economic growth. Yes, from a moral viewpoint, an ideal world would be one where everyone is equal in social status and/or fundamental worth. But there would then be a lot less motivation for individuals to work or try any harder than the next person. Some people would still be driven by their own desire to do better, but i think that for most, including myself, if there were no opportunity to earn more than anyone else, this would not be the case. Rewards are necessary to motivate people.

We also went on to discuss one of John Rawls‘ principles, the Equality Principle, which is divided into two main points. The first is Fair Equality of Opportunity, which in essence states that everyone should have an effective equal chance as another of similar natural ability to any offices and positions. From where I’m from in the United Kingdom, society leads us to believe that this is the case. Wherever you are born, however wealthy your family is, what ethnicity you are; everyone has the same chance to become whatever they want to in life. Be it a wealthy business man or a professional football player. I do think that it is possible if you try hard enough and experience luck along the way. In reality however, this is not usually true. If you are born into a family wealthy enough to send you to private schools then you will achieve higher levels of education and therefore be able to enrol in a superior university.

This itself opens up many more opportunities, as most companies in London look at what university you attended to gauge whether you are fit for the job or not. Higher class families also tend to have connections with each other, giving their children priority in receiving jobs/internships etc. It is much harder for poorer individuals to achieve the same things as those who are lucky enough to be born into a higher class family. There should be more done by governments to combat this type of inequality, like building state schools that provide free education (which they already do), but it will never truly disappear as there will always be people who earn more than others and can therefore give their children greater life prospects.

This leads us on to the second point: the Difference Principle, which essentially says that the only just inequalities are those that work to the benefit of the least well-off. The individuals who are earning more than everyone else may have achieved this prosperity through luckily being born into it or from working their way up from the bottom. In either cases, they will then be paying more taxes which are then used to help support the poorer individuals who do not have as great opportunities. It comes in many other forms, such as if someone was born with a talent for a certain sport. When the public go to watch professional athletes play, it provides enjoyment for the worse-off people. In these cases, inequality can actually turn out to be good, which corresponds with my earlier idea that inequality is not always a negative thing.

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