How Do Things Get Better?

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Charles Lipson contrasts equality with the modern pleas for “equity”:

On his first day as president, Joe Biden issued an “Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities.” Mr. Biden’s cabinet nominees must now explain whether this commitment to “equity” means they intend to abolish “equal treatment under law.” Their answers are a confused mess.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton raised the question explicitly in confirmation hearings. Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland responded: “I think discrimination is morally wrong. Absolutely.” Marcia Fudge, slated to run Housing and Urban Development, gave a much different answer. “Just to be clear,” Mr. Cotton asked, “it sounds like racial equity means treating people differently based on their race. Is that correct?”

Ms. Fudge’s responded: “Not based on race, but it could be based on economics, it could be based on the history of discrimination that has existed for a long time.” Ms. Fudge’s candid response tracks that of Kamala Harris’s tweet and video, posted before the election and viewed 6.4 million times: “There’s a big difference between equality and equity.”

Ms. Harris and Ms. Fudge are right. There is a big difference. It’s the difference between equal treatment and equal outcomes. Equality means equal treatment, unbiased competition and impartially judged outcomes. Equity means equal outcomes, achieved if necessary by unequal treatment, biased competition and preferential judging.

Those who push for equity have hidden these crucial differences for a reason. They aren’t merely unpopular; they challenge America’s bedrock principle that people should be treated equally and judged as individuals, not as members of groups.

The demand for equal outcomes contradicts a millennium of Anglo-Saxon law and political evolution. It undermines the Enlightenment principle of equal treatment for individuals of different social rank and religion. America’s Founders drew on those roots when they declared independence, saying it was “self-evident” that “all men are created equal.”

That heritage, along with the lack of a hereditary aristocracy, is why claims for equal treatment are so deeply rooted in U.S. history. It is why radical claims for unequal treatment must be carefully buried in word salads praising equity and social justice.

Hidden, too, are the extensive measures that would be needed to achieve equal outcomes. Only a powerful central government could impose the intensive—and expensive—programs of social intervention, ideological re-education and economic redistribution. Only an intrusive bureaucracy could specify the rules for every business, public institution and civic organization. Those unhappy implications are why advocates of equity are so determined to hide what the term really means.

While I am predisposed to agree with him, to support the now old-fashioned ideas of “colorblindness” and equality, I don’t think we should close our eyes to the problems faced by millions of blacks, particularly those who live in the primarily black neighborhoods of cities.

Those problems have been exacerbated over the last 30 years by the rapid importation of immigrant workers. A generation later some of those immigrant workers have become voters, are competing with blacks not only for jobs but for political power, and don’t feel the same obligations that at least some white Americans do. Problems that were once merely difficult are becoming intractable. IMO that’s among the reasons for the anxiety we’ve seen over the last year.

5 comments… add one
  • Grey Shambler Link

    Millions of blacks deserve equity because of past injustice at the hand of whites, and because they are loud and violent.
    Millions of native americans do not deserve these things , because they suffer silently.
    No word salad needed.

  • steve Link

    Equality seems like a value and equity a goal. I just dont think we can ignore the actual numbers while we are addressing the issue. If you think you are being color blind but the numbers dont change or get worse, then maybe things were not really color blind.


  • Now explain why progressive detest the Clinton era welfare reforms despite the substantially improved numbers it produced.

    Another factor to consider. The people you’re trying to help are human. Unless you deny them agency, they have a major role in bettering their own circumstances.

  • steve Link

    People were angry when the Clinton reform passed, but I haven’t seen a loofa anger over it recently. What I mostly see is stuff like this from CATO, which generally does not support welfare. What improvements we saw were temporary and the reforms have not really accomplished much. It didnt hurt much but didnt help much.


  • Grey Shambler Link

    freedom is messy.
    Under socialism these public health directors would have a lot more power, maybe even their own swat team.
    If all you have is persuasion, I wish you luck getting out of rural Missouri alive.

Leave a Comment