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Revolutionary Ideas: An Introduction to Legal and Political Philosophy


  

4. Equality




4.1. Introduction


The state might play a role in helping to secure or promote equality, and the the State itself may operate under some equality based constraints. Many political philosophers begin with some assumptions about the importance of seeing each person within a society as equals in some important sense. For example, in accordance with basic rule of law of values, there's some sense that similar cases ought to be treated equally under the law. There should not be unequal treatment on the basis of wealth or of a certain racial or religious background. Similarly many think that we should all have an equal say in what political decisions are taken, or at least in who will serve as our representatives if we are to choose a representative.

 
procedural equality
 
There might be significant constraints derived from considerations of equality on how the state can or should operate. Concerns of this sort are called concerns about procedural equality. It refers to equality with respect to the procedures by which governing, and legal and social decision-making happens. Within this family of norms, we might see norms of equal treatment under the law, equal say in politics, and equal consideration of our interest in policy making.

 
equality of opportunity
 
These all focus on how decisions are made, not on the results of those decisions. We might see them as operating more as constraints or limitations on how the state can appropriately act, rather than as substantive objectives or aims of policy making.

There may also be a more positive role for the state to play in terms of promoting economic or social equality. The state may help by insuring that, despite very unequal starting positions, we all have equal opportunities to develop our talents and abilities, to become educated, to find meaningful ways to spend our lives, to pursue a wide range of careers, and to become influential leaders in our communities.

 
equal opportunity to apply
 
This sort concerns are about equality of opportunity. There's an important distinction that can be drawn here, even when we're just thinking about equality of opportunity. One version of equality of opportunity says that each person p should have an equal opportunity to achieve some good thing X. X might be a job or a political position, a meaningful life, an education and so on. So each person p has an equal opportunity to get X, where we hold as fixed facts about what we might call p's natural or essential talents, abilities, work ethic and other properties that are generally useful for attaining the good thing X.

This sense of equal opportunity might allow for quite a bit of actual inequality, if there are significant differences in what each of us have to help us obtain X. So in this sense, I have an equal opportunity to run the 100 metres in the next Olympics as Usain Bolt. This raises the question of which of any of our talents, abilities, work ethics, and so on, should be treated as fixed in this way, as sort of a core part of ourselves. Should inherited wealth count? What about our parents' connections that might help us secure entrance into a better school or a better job?

We typically want to say no to these kinds of facts about our situation. They're in some sense not a part of us. But then, why should inherited intelligence or athletic ability be treated as something that's essentially or naturally ours? More generally, there's a question of why it's permissible for outcomes, whether we get X or not, to vary on the basis of natural or essential features of ours. So we were just lucky that we happened to be really fast, really smart, or really attractive. Whatever it is that helps us get X, the good thing, even something like effort or work ethic, has been shown to be in a large part a function of our genes and early upbringing and education, something for which we are not responsible.

 
equality of chances
 
A very different sense of equality of opportunity focuses on a strict equality of chances, or equal opportunity to attain X, so that rather than all positions being open to all in theory, and then selected on the basis of some qualifications or merit, which we don't all possess equally, all positions would be allocated by, for example, a lottery, so that each of us has a literally equal chance, for example, of getting to run the 100 metres in the Olympics. This has the advantage of not giving out rewards and good things on the basis of what might appear to be arbitrary features of us, or features that we possess only through luck, but it runs into an equally difficult kind of problem.

 
problems with equality of chances
 
It appears to leave no room for principled qualifications based sorting of people into positions. This is bad from a social welfare point of view, if we think that people are differentially qualified for different kinds of important positions. So we might want to reduce some sources of unfairness or arbitrariness due to inequality in our different birth positions, but perhaps others might be appropriately left to remain. Here a Rawlsian thought about inequality seems appropriate. We might leave those inequalities in place, only if they actually make the worst off in the society better off.

 
decouple benefits
 
Another response is to decouple the attainment of these positions and the material or welfare benefits that might come along with getting the position. Perhaps we do not have strict equality of chances with respect to becoming a doctor, but we could make it so that one does not have a much higher quality of life if one becomes a doctor rather than a bus driver.

 
equality of welfare
 
This may require a more interventionist role for the state, which would be to attempt to adjust for differences in talents, interests, effort and abilities, so that we all end up in a more or less equal social or economic position regardless of our individual talents, ambitions, accomplishments, or the employment positions we end up occupying because we acknowledge that what job you end up getting is going to be largely a matter of luck about what features you happen to possess.

Concerns of this sort are about equality of material resources. Some might think that the state should be concerned with equality of welfare, where we acknowledge that welfare can come apart in different ways from the opportunities we have, or even the material resources that we possess.



4.2. Equality as a constraint: legal and political equality


There are several answers to the question why should we have a state that focus on the promotion of welfare and happiness and on ensuring that demands of justice are satisfied. Many theorists argue that if there is to be a state and if it is to pursue these ends, it can morally permissibly do so only if the state abides by certain norms of equality. In this view the political value of equality is not just an aim of the state, but instead as a constraint on how a state with its monolithic power and potential use of course of force can permissibly operate.

This segment considers views that see equality as a constraint, particularly those that see equality as a constraint on legal processes and political decision making. The underlying idea behind seeing equality as a constraint in this way is that all human beings are in some morally important sense equals. This doesn't mean that we're equally nice, good, or talented or anything of that sort. What it means is that we all have a fundamental moral standing such that we must be counted and treated equally, at least for certain purposes.

 
all men are created equal
 
This is now one of the foundational tenants for modern liberal democracies, but it's worth mentioning that many modern liberal democracies, the places we now see as sort of leading lights of democracy, started out with much more racist and sexist basic foundations. So the United States, for example, was carefully structured so as not to affect or dismantle the horrific institutions of racial slavery.

The Declaration of Independence's famous phrase, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was really about white men not women or blacks. Rights to vote, own property, and be treated equally in law and politics were denied to all others.

It's worth remembering all of that, certainly as we look around the world and see societies developing, but there's been great progress along some of these lines, at least in terms of the formal or nominal rights to equal participation and equal treatment. Many think that we should have an equal say or an equal right to participate in politics. We've mostly rejected the view that just a few of us, such as those with noble birth or with the most land or money, should have the right to rule over the rest of us. Most modern societies have rejected the view that men should get to make political decisions while women have no say.

 
14th Amendment to the Constitution
 
Similarly, we think that the law should be applied to all equally. There shouldn't be one set of laws for rich people and a different set of laws for poor people, or one set of laws for white people and another set of laws for non-white people. Almost everywhere those kinds of views are now rejected. And in many places, there's at least the aspiration that justice under the law the application of the law to particular cases, is to be conducted the same whether a person is rich or poor, male or female, white or non-white. Of course as we'll see the values and ideals and aspirations we have for our system can often come apart from how those systems operate and practise.

 
reverse incorporation
 
Let me begin by talking about equality as a constraint on legal processes. One of the key developments in the United States after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery was the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and in particular Section One of that Amendment. It says that all persons born or naturalised in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

 
South African Constitution
 
This amendment applies directly to the states within the United States. It has been incorporated through a process known as reverse incorporation to apply to the federal government as well. Similarly, the post-apartheid South African constitution has Section Nine, which states that in part everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

In both of these cases the aim is to ensure that the laws of the state treat individuals in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances. A violation of this norm of equality would occur, for example, if a state prohibited an individual from owning property or entering into an employment contract because he or she was a member of a particular race.

 
equal protection clause
 
The Equal Protection Clause and other such norms of equality of legal process, are not intended to provide equality among individuals or classes in terms of what those individuals can attain, but only in terms of the equal application of the laws.

 
equal application
 
There's a great deal of complexity, however, when we move from equal treatment and equal protection of the law, to something that looks more robustly like a requirement of non-discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, race, national origin, religion, and other such characteristics. A law or policy can be facially neutral, so it might not mention race or or gender or national origin, but it can have a significant differential effect on people in these different categories.

For example, a law might state that to apply for a certain job one must be above a certain height. This law might not mention sex or gender explicitly, but if average height is correlated with whether one is male or female then the effect of such a law might a significant disparate impact on members of particular groups. Different states, different governments, and different legal systems will handle issues of this sort differently.

 
disparate impact
 
It's one reason that basic components of legal protection, so rights of legal process or due process, the right to trial, and rights to have the protections and enforcement, of law, so enforcement of property law, contract law, family law, and criminal law, are typically rights that everyone possesses unconditionally. So that way we don't have to get into these questions of whether some statute or some law is sort of burdening them in various ways in terms of the disparate impact. We just want to make sure that these rights are afforded to everyone.

 
political equality
 
Another dimension of equality that is seen as a constraint on states is political equality. Many philosophers have argued that one of the most important aspects of democracy is that everyone’s given an equal say in political decision-making, and further, this is a right that each of us is entitled to having an equal say in the political system.

Of course, spelling out the details becomes of vital importance. What does it mean that we should have an equal say? So many who discuss the right to an equal say take for granted that this is not to be meant exactly literally. In particular, there's the assumption that each of us will at most have an equal say in determining who has political power.

 
Thomas Christiano's view
 
An assumption often left unstated is that we'll be choosing representatives, and that those individuals will have the power to make political decisions directly. So we have influence only indirectly. We all get one vote, and the votes are counted equally, in choosing who will get to make the political decisions directly.

Thomas Christiano, one of the most important living philosophers working on democratic theory and one of the main proponents of the idea that there's a human right to democracy, specifies it as having a right to a formal or informal constitutional structure that ensures that persons are able to participate as equals in the collective decision-making of their political society. That set out the right that we have to democracy.

 
Thomas Christiano's view
 
He then says that democracy in a minimal sense can be characterised by three conditions. These conditions include that persons have formally equal votes that are effective in the aggregate in determining who is in power, the normal result of which is a high level of participation of the populace in the electoral process.

 
Thomas Christiano's view
 
And that persons have equal opportunities to run for office, to determine the agenda of decision-making and equal opportunities to influence the processes of deliberation. Individuals are free to organise political parties and interest group associations without legal impediment or fear of serious violence and they are free to abandon their previous political associations.

They have freedom of expression at least regarding political matters. These are among the conditions that Cristiano sees as part of the core of democracy. There are limitations to this kind of system. First, people are assured formally equal votes that determine who is in power, but, we don't have power ourselves.

 
Thomas Christiano's view
 
Second, people have equal opportunities to run for office and formally equal votes, but that doesn't mean they have an equal chance of holding political office, or a substantively equal amount of political power in determining who is elected. They may have no chance of holding political office, because even if they run, their campaign will be doomed by inadequate funding or media attention and support.

And a person may have a formally equal vote but a very unequal position with respect to actually influencing who is elected. So a very wealthy individual who owns or controls powerful media institutions or someone who can influence what candidates by donating to their cause or not and influencing how those candidates are perceived through the media might have vastly greater political influence than an individual without great wealth or great power of that kind. So despite Christiano's claims that these conditions he identifies, can be characterised as amounting to a right to participate as an equal in the collective decision making of one's political society, it falls well short of securing political equality or a right to participate as an equal.



4.3. Equality as a constraint: re-examining political equality


Political equality can be seen as a constraint on how states can permissibly operate. The basic idea, was that we are all in some fundamental sense morally equal. In particular, there's a sense in which each of us is an autonomous creature, and that we each have an equal claim to self-government in some sense. So if we're to be governed by a state, we'll have to have an equal right to some form of political equality. There's a question of what exactly this comes to.

 
equal say
 
An initially attractive idea about what political equality requires is equal say. Each person in a political jurisdiction, should be given an equal say in, A, the process by which the political institution governs, or B, the selection of the individuals who will run the political institutions, if there is such a selection process. So either we get to participate directly, or we participate indirectly in choosing the person who will participate directly.

 
equal right to participate directly
 
This already is departure from strict political equality. The principle equal say is actually something less than that. So we might think for instance, that these two principles will better capture what it would be to truly have an equal say.

There are two other principles. The first one is the equal right to participate directly. Each person in a political jurisdiction should have an equal right to participate substantively in determining what political action will be taken by that institution.

 
equal power to determine political action
 
The second principle is equal power to determine political action. Each person in a political jurisdiction should have equal power to determine what political actions will be taken by that political institution. The principle equal say, and in particular the second clause of that principle, already anticipates that most of us might just be selecting people who will actually run the political institutions and make political decisions.

Because systems of representative democracy employ representatives to make decisions about political action they're not going to satisfy the equal right to participate directly or equal power to determine political action. And it's worth stressing that from a perspective of equality of political power those two conditions are arguably more central and significant than something like equal say.

 
determiners
 
The move from those two conditions to equal say, with its acceptance of representatives, may be justified on grounds unrelated to political equality. The typical support offered for using representatives is outcome related. Direct democratic institutions, where we all have a literal equal say in every decision, simply would do too poorly from an outcome perspective at least when compared to representative democratic systems.

The defender of representative systems might reply. In a representative system, it's true that not every one has equal power to decide what's done, but anyone can run for office, and everyone has an equal right to vote to determine who will be in the positions of political power. The individuals who have a role in collectively or individually determining what political action will be taken by a political institution, can be called determiners.

 
substantive participation
 
Then we can introduce the idea of substantive participation. Which we can think of as participation that's based on one's actual beliefs and desires, so that if our beliefs and desires were different in certain ways, we'd participate differently, so that the contributions that one's participation would make would also be different.

 
equal right to attempt to be a determiner
 
In representative democracies all citizens will have two weaker rights of political equality. The first is an equal right to attempt to be a determiner. So each person in a political jurisdiction should have an equal right to enter into the process or competition by which individuals are chosen as determiners.

The second right is an equal right to participate in choosing determiners. So each person in a political jurisdiction should have an equal right to participate substantively in choosing the determiners. That's the equal right to vote part. Both are satisfied in modern representative democracies.

 
equal right to participate in choosing determiners
 
It's crucial to note how far they are from having political equality in the sense of having an equal right to participate directly or having equal power to determine political action. Almost no one in modern representative democracies has the power to participate in making political decisions. It's of course worth stressing that even this is a great historical improvement from the perspective of political equality.

There was a time when political system was authoritarian or dictatorial in which the vast majority of us have had no say in choosing who would be steering the political machine. We're in a much better place in many societies than we were 300 or 400 years ago, and many of these transitions to representative democracy, are much more recent than that.

There's a question. Is that enough? Should we be satisfied with representative systems of democracy? Is it an acceptable compromise with respect to political equality, where we trade off some political equality for better outcomes based on the use of representatives? Is it a tradeoff that we should be morally willing to accept given the apparent workability of direct democracy, where we would all have a say on every issue?

These are hard questions and there are many things to note here. One thing that's going to be important, is will matter how the elections end up going. How do we actually conduct the elections? Do we have real choices when we go to the ballot box? Do the candidate representatives really seem to be candidates who represent us and our values? Are the elections really a good example of political equality, or do the details of elections and campaigns make it so that a few of us, perhaps the wealthiest of us and most politically powerful of us, end up having far greater influence than others.

There are a related set of questions. What are the real alternatives to something like electoral democracy? Would direct democracy actually be any better with respect to political equality? Much of the empirical evidence regarding referenda and ballot initiatives in places like California, where voters do get to decide some things directly, suggest that powerful financial interests there too have a hugely outsized influence.

 
equal chance to determine what political actions will be taken
 
One value for example that elections fail to satisfy is equal chance. It means that each person in a political jurisdiction should be given an equal chance to determine what political actions will be taken by the governing political institutions. Perhaps attaining equal power to determine political action or equal political influence is politically impossible, or perhaps even undesirable from an outcome point of view.

 
lottery selection of representatives
 
Perhaps through lottery selection of representatives, where people are chosen at random from our community, we could achieve something like equality in the form of equal chance to have political power. Importantly, in the background to the discussion of the lack of equal chance of political power in electoral representative systems is the idea that we don't all have an equal chance of becoming president, or becoming an elected official.

The thought here is that even if we all have an equal right to run for these offices, and even if everyone has an equal right to vote in these elections, our chances of actually winning will vary dramatically depending on how much money we have and on how much financial support we're a, able to secure from the wealthiest people in our society. In the United States, for example, the average price of winning or holding on to a seat in the U.S. Senate averaged $10.5 million in the 2012 election cycle. Obtaining or being re-elected to the House of Representatives, which one must do every two years, cost an average of $1.7 million.

That's a lot of money to raise. Most of us don't have that in our pockets. One way to get that kind of money is to have it in your own back account. To get some sense of how non-representative the United States Congress is, in 2012 44% of congress persons had a net worth of over $1 million. Additionally, 82% were male, 86% were white, and more than half were lawyers, business people or people from the financial sector. Those who are not multi millionaires have to raise that money, and if we're advocating positions that the wealthiest people in our society favour, it might be much easier to get their support to raise that kind of money.

In the background of all of this are two features of elections in a place like the United States that might not be present everywhere. First, because of a certain interpretation of freedom of speech rights, there's a great deal of money in political campaigns in the United States, so that it's almost impossible to win an election without a great deal of financial support. If there were greater limitations on campaign spending or greater emphasis on public funding of campaigns, that might not be true. A second key background fact, is that in the United States and many other places, there's great social and economic inequality. One concern is that's it's very difficult to run a political system with real political equality on top of a society in which there's great social and economic inequality.



4.4. Equality as an objective: introduction to egalitarianism

 
egalitarian conceptions of justice
 

Almost everyone agrees that equality is good, but it's very hard to find agreement about what it is that should be equalised. Some views consider equality as a constraint on how political and legal institutions can act. They must treat people equally when applying the law to particular individuals, and they must give people equal political power or equal political voice.

 
what is egalitarianism
 
This segment considers equality as a moral idea. Many who discuss equality see it as a part of the theory of justice. Indeed some describe specifically egalitarian conceptions of justice, which are views that take equality to be a fundamental goal of justice.

The idea of equality itself can be seen as part of justice or as something of an independent moral issue. One can start by asking what is Egalitarianism? There are many different views that fall under this heading.

 
Temkin's view
 
The philosopher Larry Temkin has put it as follows, an egalitarian is any person who attaches some value to equality itself. That is, any person that cares at all about equality, over and above the extent to which it promotes other ideals. So equality needn't be the only value, or even the ideal she values most.

 
Temkin's view
 
Egalitarians have the deep and for them, compelling view that it's a bad thing, unjust and unfair, for some to be worse off than others through no fault of their own. There are at least two very important things to note here.

The first is the equality of what question. This definition specifies that we don't want some to be worse off than others, but worse off than others with respect to what? One's material possessions? Income? Talents? Education? One's job? One's position in society? These are all different things we might try to equalise.

 
equality of what
 
The second hard question is this. How should we understand Temkin's view about Egalitarians where he talks about being through no fault of their own. This is a central question for the Egalitarian commitment, so it definitely is for the luck egalitarians. The political philosopher Kok-Chor Tan has defended luck egalitarianism in papers and in his recent book, Justice, Institutions and Luck. He gives a helpful overview.

 
Tan's view
 
For luck egalitarians, he says, the idea of the moral equality of persons requires that each person take responsibility for her choices and assume the costs of these choices. Conversely, it holds that no one should be worse off just because of bad luck.

For some luck egalitarians, the aim of a distributive principle is to counter the effects of luck on a persons' opportunity for well-being; for others the aim is to mitigate the effects of luck on the social distribution of goods and resources among persons. But however different luck egalitarians work out it's implication, the intuitive idea that they all share is that persons should not be disadvantaged or advantaged simply on account of bad or good luck.

 
Tan's view
 
So if we didn't have the state and we'd just let things run their natural course, luck would play a significant role. Luck egalitarians think that's inappropriate. One crucial distinction on this kind of view is the distinction between outcomes that are the result of our choices and outcomes that are the result of luck. Caring about the moral importance of this distinction, the distinction between choices and luck, requires believing that some things we do really amount to choices, for which we are morally responsible.

 
choice versus luck
 
This has been challenged by some who think that even the choices we happen to make come down to something like luck. So luck in terms of our genes, our early environment and education and psychological development, might all affect the choices we make in deep ways. And those things might themselves be just a matter of luck. And so we don't get this clean distinction between luck on the one hand and our choices on the other.

 
strict egalitarianism
 
The Welker Galatarian view endorses this distinction and tries to explain and defend it and continues to hold up equality as an important moral ideal with respect to those things that are not our choices. A yet more radical view is the strict egalitarian view says that we should, through the state, aim for equality of income, resources, well being or whatever it might be, even if inequality with respect to these things appears to result from our choices rather than from luck. For the strict egalitarian, we just are focusing on trying to achieve equality, whether or not the inequality that appears to result from people's choices and decisions, things that they might be responsible for.

 
equality of what
 
At this point we've still said nothing about the quality of what question. There is a large debate concerning what it is that should be equalised with some of the contenders including equality of welfare or well being, equality of resources particularly things like income and education, equality of opportunities, equality of access to advantages, and equality of political power.

There are lots of different things we might think about equalising and there's lots of debates here. It's worth noting that however we answer this equality of right question, it's a distinct question from the question of whether one should be a strict egalitarian or luck egalitarian tolerating inequalities that result from our different choices or different efforts if those are not the product of luck.

 
hybrid positions
 
One can be a luck egalitarian or a strict egalitarian about different things. It is possible to have a hybrid position. A person might defend luck egalitarianism when it comes to income, and be a strict egalitarian when it comes to education and political power. On a view like this, we would want to make sure that the state plays a role in eliminating luck in determining one's income, but we wouldn't require strict equality of income. But we would want the state to require strict equality with respect to education and political power.

 
equality of what
 
The most foundational question in this area is why care about equality at all? Why should we promote equality? We might think that answering this why equality question will help us to figure out whether luck egalitarianism or strict egalitarianism is the better view. It might also help us answer the equality of what question. In what domains do we really care about equality?

At least two broad categories of answers to this question of why have equality at all why care about that. The first category offers an intrinsic defence of equality. So, equality is an intrinsic good in itself. The second category offers an instrumental defence of equality. So, equality isn't good just in itself, but it's good because of what it can bring about.

 
intrinsic versus instrumental
 
An absurd position is intrinsic strict egalitarianism about everything. This would say that is good in itself that everyone have an equal amount of everything, along every dimension. One reason this might be absurd is that there might be some things that you enjoy or value, but which I don't. Why would it be good for each of us to have an equal amount of chocolate ice cream?

 
levelling down
 
It seem particularly objectionable to take some chocolate ice cream from you to give it to me, just for the sake of equality with respect to chocolate ice cream. Some people have called this the levelling down objection to certain kinds of egalitarian views.

A focus on equality, and particularly on equality as an intrinsic good, may require that some people are made worse off just for the sake of making them equal with others, and not because this is in any way good for these others, but just for the sake of equality.

 
pluralistic
 
Robert Nozick and Larry Tempkin both discuss this levelling down concern in their work as do many other people. Sometimes inequality can only be removed by taking things from those who are better off, rendering them as poorly off as everyone else. This is where you really see the levelling down objection.

One response for the intrinsic strict egalitarian about everything is to be pluralistic about value. This means that although there would be something intrinsically good about bringing equality, equality is not the only thing of moral importance. And there might be cases in which the good of equality is outweighed by the badness of the decrease in the welfare.

For many it'll still implausible that there's anything intrinsically good about this. Intrinsic egalitarianism might be more plausible if we motivate the idea a little bit, and narrow the dimensions along which we measure our relative position, and limit the equality of what answers. So, if we think that we all are creatures that have a certain kind of moral standing, and are owed a certain kind of moral respect, there may be something intrinsically good about a distribution of political power that reflects this, so that we all have equal political power.

 
instrumentalist view on equality
 
The luck egalitarian view will often be motivated in this kind of way, noting that we are in some sense, moral equals, and that as such, we should have different outcomes and lives only to the extent that we are morally responsible for those different outcomes, but not otherwise. That's based on how we are as creatures. This is an intrinsic view about the value of equality.

A very different kind of egalitarian view is one that's instrumentalist about equality, noting the importance of various relations we might be in with respect to each other, such as social relations, economic relations, political relations, legal relations, and even interpersonal relations.

 
instrumentalist view on equality
 
This view is thinking of the importance of equality in all these relational contexts, and thinking about how our situation in those relationships may be dramatically different if there's significant inequality with respect to income, wealth, education, political power, or legal protections.

This view focuses on equality as an important relational value, and notes the great instrumental benefits that attach to people being relative equals along some dimensions. Equality is not just valuable in it's own right, but equality along one dimension allows for something else that is good.

 
Mary Wollstonecraft's view
 
An early proponent of this view was Mary Wollstonecraft, who was born in 1759 and died in 1797. Wollstonecraft is best known for her 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Women. In that work she highlighted how inequalities with respect to the education of men and women made it so that women were disempowered and dependent on others in other realms, such as the civil and political realm, the financial realm, professional realms such as medicine, and the personal realm including marriage.

 
Mary Wollstonecraft's view
 
Educational inequalities produced a lot of other inequalities at least in part. She also noted how this imperilled the social, emotional and moral development of men. She argued for educational reform on these grounds arguing for the co-education of boys and girls that they are to be in school together from an early age. And she argued for civil and political rights for women.

In an earlier work, vindication of the rights of men, she argued that social inequality undermines the possibility of society, harming the wealthy, the middle class, the poor and women. As she put it, among unequals there can be no society, since society is in part based on friendship which is based on mutual respect. And there are other problems that stem from class and economic inequality according to Wollstonecraft. There are ways in which inequality produces bad things and so we want equality to rectify that.

For example, the rich who live off their inherited wealth, and are not required to discharge duties to others, as a result don't develop social virtue. And they don't form true friendships, she argues, because they're constantly exposed to flattery because there's this kind of hierarchy. The rich eat unhealthily because they're able to eat lavishly anytime they wish, and they fail to be inventive in the face of necessity because they're never forced to do without.

 
Elizabeth Anderson's view
 
The middle class individuals, according to Wollstonecraft, waste time and their satisfaction with life, wanting to appear of a higher station than they really are. They spend a lot of time caring and trying to think about moving up to these upper classes, because of this inequality. Inequality harms the poor as they're forced to live in miserable material conditions.

 
Elizabeth Anderson's view
 
Elizabeth Anderson, one of the most important living political philosophers, has argued that recent work on equality has focused too much on luck egalitarianism or what she called equality of fortune.

So, in a very influential recent paper, what is the point of equality, she writes, recent egalitarian writing has come to be dominated by the view that the fundamental aim of equality is to compensate people for undeserved bad luck: being born with poor native endowments, bad parents and disagreeable personalities, suffering from accidents and illness, and so forth.

 
Elizabeth Anderson's view
 
She argues that the proper aim of egalitarian justice is not to eliminate the impact of brute luck from human affairs, but to end oppression, which by definition is socially imposed. Its proper positive aim is not to ensure that everyone gets what they morally deserve, but to create a community in which people stand in relations of equality to others. Here Anderson echoes Wollstonecraft.

 
Elizabeth Anderson's view
 
Anderson sets out something more like an intrinsic conception of the value of equality, or at least suggesting that being in a community in which people stand in relations of equality, is valuable in it's own right, not just because it might enable something like political equality, although she thinks that's vitally important as well.

She also suggests instrumental value to being in the sort of community of equals, suggesting that egalitarianism ought to reflect a generous, humane, cosmopolitan vision of a society that recognises individuals as equals in all their diversity. It should promote institutional arrangements that enable the diversity of people's talents, aspirations, roles, and cultures to benefit everyone and to be recognised as mutually beneficial.

She identifies this as one of the core values of society, and one that we can't really take advantage of unless we have a society of equals. So, we can think of equality as being of either intrinsic value, or instrumental value, and again a hybrid position here may be appropriate. Perhaps economic equality is not intrinsically valuable, but it's instrumentally valuable for bringing about political equality. And maybe political equality is intrinsically valuable.



4.5. Connections between material and political equality


Many people have noted that political equality and equality under the law, is difficult to achieve under circumstances of great social and economic inequality. If we think that equality, or something close to it, with respect to political power, is a constraint on how our state can operate, and if we think that equal treatment under the law is also a constraint, then if this is true, this would provide a strong reason to think the state also must be concerned with great social and economic inequality.So why do social and economic inequality, make political and legal equality difficult? The answer depends on certain assumptions about the political system in question.

We can take, for example, a relatively developed system like the United States. There're elections, everyone has a right to vote, there's freedom of speech and association, there's freedom of the press and the media, and anyone can run for office. Similarly with the legal system, everyone gets a trial, anyone can bring a case, everyone has a right to a lawyer in criminal cases, and no one can be barred from hiring a lawyer to help them. This all sounds pretty good from a perspective of legal and political equality, and from a certain perspective, it's definitely much better than systems in which we don't have these things.

The difficulty comes in the ways in which financial resources, social influence, educational advantages, and other forms of power, enter into these legal and political systems. In the United States, political campaigns are very expensive and require either great personal wealth or the support of enough people with enough money to donate to one's cause. Similarly, wealthy individuals control most of the press and media institutions. Most people who hold office come from a relatively wealthy and educated class of people.

Here and elsewhere there're concerns about political corruption and political officials being bought off by the rich and powerful. Legal outcomes are dramatically different depending on how much money one spends on a lawyer, or whether one can afford to hire a lawyer at all. So, having various formally equal powers or formally equal rights in the legal and political arena turns out to be insufficient to establish actual equal political power or actual equal treatment under the law. We don't see the kind of equality we might expect, given this sort of formal equal rights.

 
responses to inequality
 
There're at least two different kinds of responses to this situation. One response is to attempt to remove the effects of social and economic inequality by altering the institutions. For example, in the political context we might work on campaign finance reform and reducing political corruption, perhaps limiting how much candidates can spend on an election, and requiring that all the money they spend be from publicly financed sources. We might opt for choosing our representatives by lottery.

 
institutional solutions
 
In the legal context, we might make it so that all of us pay into a pool for legal defence and our contributions are proportionate to our incomes. If we need a lawyer, we might be randomly assigned one, who'll be paid some set amount from this pool. That would ensure that the very rich and the very poor get comparable legal representation. These are institutional solutions, where we take somewhat as fixed the background social and economic inequality, and try to craft institutions so as to eliminate the inegalitarian effects.

A second different kind of response is trying to eliminate the inequality itself. We might do this through the state, for example by nationalising all private property, so that no one owns more than anyone else. This was something that was done in many places in the 20th century. We might ban private schools or other private institutions that confer advantages on those who can afford to attend them. We might force people to work in all occupations, rotating through them over time. We might impose very high taxes and provide great redistributive benefits so that the gap between the richest and the poorest would become much smaller.

Many of these were attempted during the 20th century, sometimes with disastrous results. One worry is the levelling down concern that we might make everyone equal, but only by making everyone much worse off, for example by crippling the economy, and losing the epistemic and informational advantages that some argue come with markets and market prices, losing the benefits of specialisation and division of labour, and losing the productivity advantages that might come if we have certain kinds of incentives for effort and for innovation.

 
top down solutions
 
These arguments suggest that when you try to equalise in these ways the result is making everyone equal by making everyone much worse off. Another concern is that these state efforts at reducing inequality run into fundamental concerns about freedom. In some of these situations the state will be barring certain kinds of activity, association, contract, and employment. One thing to note is just the kind of conflict we can see by understanding freedom in a certain way and understanding equality in a certain way. This family of solutions are state-imposed, top-down equality solutions. This means that the state trying to get rid of inequality by taking affirmative steps.

 
bottom up solutions
 
We might try to eliminate social and economic inequality via changes to our social practises and our moral beliefs. This wouldn't then require the state to impose anything on us. The change toward a more socially and economically equal society, might at least in principle come from the people rather than from the state. We might see some of the successful experiments in states that do have more of an expanded social safety net and more egalitarian set of educational and social institutions, such as Sweden, and Norway, and Finland. These societies, and the people living in them, might have really embraced a more social and economic egalitarian vision. These kinds of solutions are social-change bottom-up equality solutions.

A worry might be that this is the vision that all reformers have. Nobody starts with the top-down state approach but the disasters have resulted when this vision didn't have adequate social support, or when it became corrupted, or insulated from change and reform, should such change or reform be desired or demanded. One worry about a lot of the experiments with communism and socialism in the 20th century is that whatever initial interest there might have been, when people stopped wanting the system, or wanted to change in various ways, rather than allowing that or figuring out how to accommodate that, there was instead a lot of repression going along with the vision for the society.

 
Julius Nyerere's view
 
There also might be ways in which local, ethical, and social traditions can be more or less supportive of these egalitarian ideals. Julius Nyerere was a political philosopher but better known as the first president of Tanzania from the country's founding in 1961 until his retirement in 1985. He'd developed a particular vision of equality and socialism, that connected socialism not to Marxist thought, but to African communal traditional societies.

In a 1962 work, Ujamaa, the basis of African socialism, Nyerere argued that socialism like democracy, is an attitude of mind. In a socialist society, it's the socialist attitude of mind, and not the rigid adherence to a standard political pattern, which is needed to ensure that the people care for each other's welfare.

 
Julius Nyerere's view
 
So what are the distinctive characteristics of these different mindsets that he is, he labels as being socialist and capitalist? According to Nyerere, the main difference is that the capitalist focuses on domination, exploitation, and acquisition, whereas the Socialist focuses on communal effort, equality, and a conception of the society as extended family, with everyone working and caring about others, and with everyone working to take care of each other.

 
Julius Nyerere's view
 
Nyerere argues that the first step must be to re-educate ourselves; to regain our former attitude of mind. In our traditional African society we were individuals within a community. We took care of the community, and the community took care of us. We neither needed nor wished to exploit our fellow men.

So importantly for Nyerere, the current society could look to traditional beliefs and moral views that Nyerere thinks are clearly superior to the more contemporary capitalist values. So he wrote, in rejecting the capitalist attitude of mind which colonialism brought into Africa, we must reject also the capitalist methods that go with it. One of these is the individual ownership of land. To us in Africa, land was always recognised as belonging to the community.

 
Julius Nyerere's view
 
Each individual within our society had a right to the use of land, because otherwise he could not earn his living and one cannot have the right to life without also having the right to some means of maintaining life. But the African's right to land was simply the right to use it; he had no other right to it.

 
Julius Nyerere's view
 
The foreigner introduced a completely different concept, the concept of land as a marketable commodity. According to this system, a person could claim a piece of land as his own private property, whether he intended to use it or not. I could take a few square miles of land, call them mine, and then go off to the moon. All I had to do to gain a living from my land, was to charge a rent to the people who wanted to use it.

Nyerere says, in tribal society, the individuals or the families within a tribe were rich or poor, according to whether the whole tribe was rich or poor. If the tribe prospered, all the members of the tribe shared in its prosperity. Similar points have been made about the moral and social beliefs to other so called traditional societies, including Native American groups such as the Lakota.

 
Julius Nyerere's view
 
One criticism of Nyerere's views is that in fact, many of the policies implemented in Tanzania under his presidency, based on these views, didn't succeed. Some are widely viewed as disasters. There's the question of the ideals and there's the question of the implementation. The full political and economic story is complicated and controversial.

Nyrere's Arusha Declaration of 1967 set out a socialist vision and socialist set of policies for Tanzania. Much of the economy of Tanzania was subsequently nationalised. So in 1967, the government basically became the largest employer, with the state expanding into almost every sector. There were serious complaints about corruption, cumbersome bureaucracy, misappropriation of public funds, widespread bribery, and even the literal destruction of private property, and the forcible transfer of people into collective farms if they didn't wish to go.

There was central government that controlled the economy, and in particular emphasised producing and selling tobacco and tea. As a result food production plummeted and famine was averted by foreign intervention. Tanzania, which had been the largest exporter of food in Africa, became the largest importer of food because of these choices. Many personal goods, things like toothpaste, became almost unobtainable.

 
Julius Nyerere's view
 
On the other hand, there were notable social gains. There was an increase in life expectancy, a reduction in infant mortality, an increase in the number of hospitals, and the quality of medical care, a dramatically improved literacy rate reaching as high as 85%, and 3.7 million children were enrolled in primary school. There're questions that might be asked about all of these numbers, and there're hard questions about the causal relationship between any of the policies that were implemented, and what happened, both good and bad.

There're also questions about how we want to measure social and economic success, to evaluate this kind of experiment. There might be limitations on thinking about GDP as a measure of success, in part because it doesn't focus at all on the distribution of wealth. Here we might be confronted with the question, what if the society as a whole is somewhat poorer, but the worst off people are much better off? That happened in a lot of places in the 20th century, often with mixed results.

One argument that's been made about our efforts to alter our social or moral beliefs in a more egalitarian direction, or to reduce social and economic inequality through state top down control and regulation, is that it goes against human nature. A part of this critique is that it goes against our natures as independent creatures, with our own specific concerns, ambitions, and attachments.