Essay Read by Constituting America Founder, Actress Janine Turner
The principle of equality, a cornerstone of democratic societies, is deeply rooted in the idea of “equal opportunity” – the notion that everyone should have a fair shot at success. This concept is fundamentally distinct from the ideology of “equal outcomes,” which guarantees identical results for everyone, irrespective of effort, talent, or innovation. Equality of outcome is a seductive concept; it promises a world without disparity or struggle. However, this notion undermines the core tenets of free markets, competition, and innovation that have been the driving force behind American society’s economic prosperity and advancement.
The Declaration of Independence’s statement that “all men are created equal” signifies that all individuals are endowed with the same inherent rights and that they are equally worthy of respect and dignity. This phrase is generally interpreted as a call for equal treatment and opportunities, rather than a guarantee of identical results.
This profound statement, however, does not imply that all men will achieve equal outcomes. Rather, it signifies that all men are endowed with the same inherent rights and that they are equally worthy of respect and dignity. It is a call for fair treatment and equal opportunities, not a guarantee of uniform results.
The Constitution of the United States, a document drafted by forward-thinking individuals who appreciated the dangers of tyranny, does not promise equal outcomes. Rather, it guarantees equal rights and opportunities. This foundational text ensures that every citizen has the same fundamental rights, echoing the Declaration, that of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution is essentially silent on the matter of ensuring equal outcomes, a silence that underscores the drafters’ understanding of human nature and the importance of individual agency, meritocracy, and free market principles.
Renowned Constitutional scholars also reflect on this difference. They argue that the Constitution’s promise of equality under the law is not a guarantee of equal outcomes. Instead, it is a promise of equal treatment, a commitment to impartiality and fairness. Legal scholar Robert H. Bork, for instance, argued that “In terms of the Constitution, ‘equality’ refers to the equal protection of the laws,” which does not extend to ensuring uniform outcomes in life.
The free market system, an essential aspect of our society, thrives on the principles of competition, innovation, and consumer choice. The market is a dynamic system that rewards efficiency, innovation, and hard work. It is a platform where individuals can compete on a level playing field, leading to the creation of new products, improved services, and economic growth. A guarantee of equal outcomes would stifle this dynamism, extinguishing competition, and discouraging innovation.
In contrast, the concept of equality of outcomes rests on the notion that everyone should have the same level of material wealth and social standing, regardless of their individual efforts or abilities. This idea, seductive in its apparent fairness, is a cornerstone of many communist philosophies. However, in practice, it has often led to disastrous consequences, both economically and culturally.
Consider the Soviet Union, a nation that wholeheartedly embraced the principle of equality of outcomes. Despite initial hopes for prosperity and fairness, the Soviet economy was characterized by stagnation, inefficiency, and widespread poverty. The central planning that drove the Soviet economy disregarded the intricate web of individual desires, talents, and efforts that naturally guide economic activity. This resulted in a mismatch of supply and demand, with shortages of basic goods and services becoming the norm.
When the rewards of hard work and innovation are stripped away, the incentive to strive for excellence diminishes. A system that does not reward individual effort or skill discourages initiative and creativity. The Soviet Union suffered from this stifling of innovation, with its technology and industries lagging behind those of its Western counterparts.
The cultural implications of equality of outcomes are no less severe. When outcomes are predetermined, competition becomes a threat rather than a source of motivation. This breeds resentment and hostility, turning people against each other in a society that should foster cooperation and mutual respect. In the Soviet Union, the state’s intrusive control over every aspect of life led to widespread distrust and fear, further fracturing social unity.
Moreover, the pursuit of equality of outcomes often necessitates a powerful central authority to enforce redistribution. This can lead to the concentration of power in the hands of a few, ironically fostering a new form of inequality. In the Soviet Union, this led to an authoritarian regime marked by brutal repression and a disregard for individual liberties.
As former Congressman and Director of the Office of Management and Budget David Stockman noted in his book, “The Triumph of Politics”:
“[Those who believe in equality of opportunity] start with history and society as they are, and places the burden of proof on those who would use the policy instruments of the state to bring about artificial change. [Those who believe in equality of outcomes] start with an abstraction—a vision of the good and just society—and places the burden of defense on the bloody process. Implicit in the [former] is a profound regard for the complexity and fragility of the social and economic order, and a consequent fear that policy interventions may do more harm and injustice than good. By contrast, the activist impulses of the [latter] derive from the view that a free society is the natural incubator of ills and injustices.”
The pursuit of equality of outcomes in the Soviet Union and other similar regimes resulted in economic inefficiency, social division, and the undermining of individual liberty. These historical examples serve as a stark reminder of the potential dangers of such an approach.
Critics argue that the pursuit of equality of opportunity can still lead to significant disparities in outcome. This is undoubtedly true. However, it is essential to remember that the goal is not to eliminate disparity but to ensure that these disparities are not the result of arbitrary discrimination or unfair practices. Moreover, a certain level of inequality can serve as a motivating factor, encouraging individuals to strive for betterment, to innovate, and to contribute to society’s progress.
The principle of equality of opportunity, rather than equality of outcomes, promotes a healthier society. It encourages personal growth and accountability, rewards hard work and innovation, and respects individual liberty. This principle aligns with the Constitution’s guiding tenets and the Declaration of Independence’s profound assertion that “all men are created equal.”
In conclusion, a focus on equal outcomes can lead to unintended consequences, including stifled innovation, suppressed competition, and a disregard for individual liberty and choice. Conversely, a commitment to equal opportunity fosters a dynamic society where individuals are free to chart their own paths, innovate, and contribute to societal progress. The Constitution and our nation’s founding documents endorse this principle of equal opportunity, a principle that has been instrumental in shaping the American ethos of liberty, hard work, and individualism. This is the path we must continue to tread.
Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty, as well as Chairman and Founder of the Institute for Regulatory Analysis and Engagement. IFL is a non-profit advocacy organization focused on advancing free-market and limited government principles into public policy at all levels. IRAE is a non-profit academic and activist organization whose mission is to examine regulations and regulatory proposals, assess their economic and societal impacts, and offer expert commentary in order to create better public policies. Andrew has been involved in free-market and limited-government causes for more than 25 years, has testified before Congress nearly two dozen times, spoken to audiences across the United States, and has taught at the collegiate level.
A globally-recognized expert on the impact of regulation on business, Andrew is regularly called on to offer innovative solutions to the challenges of squaring public policy priorities with the impact and efficacy of those policies, as well as their unintended consequences. Prior to becoming President of IFL and founding IRAE, he was the principal regulatory affairs lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s largest small business association. As President of the Institute for Liberty, he became recognized as an expert on the Constitution, especially issues surrounding private property rights, free speech, abuse of power, and the concentration of power in the federal executive branch.
Andrew has had an extensive career in media—having appeared on television programs around the world. From 2017 to 2021, he hosted a highly-rated weekly program on WBAL NewsRadio 1090 in Baltimore (as well as serving as their principal fill-in host from 2011 until 2021), and has filled in for both nationally-syndicated and satellite radio programs. He also created and hosted several different podcasts—currently hosting Andrew and Jerry Save The World, with long-time colleague, Jerry Rogers.
He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Troy University and his degree from William & Mary is in International Relations.