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October 24, 2006


james higham

Points 1 & 3 yes. Point 2: "Imagine we introduced a compulsory lottery." Chris, how is "penalty" an analogy for "reward"? Point 4: How can it destroy solidarity which you admit was never there - "feel they deserve". Your piece from 2004 on Harris was excellent - I didn't realize you'd been blogging that long.


I think it was Hayek who also pointed out that genuine equality of opportunity would require the elimination of all the advantages that a person might have due to their particular family background etc. In other words, it would require a level of state intervention that would be intolerable.

'Equality of opportunity' means careers open to talent - nothing more, nothing less. As a leftist idea, then, it's an insufficient ideal.


It's entirely the wrong ideal, because in addition to what you say above, it's also impossible (not simply "infeasible"). There's no way to equalize opportunity without addressing people's initial endowments. So, we could lobotomize 90%+ of us and raise us all in identical children's homes. I suspect that would be rejected as instinctively unethical, even if we could measure intelligence accurately enough to make sure we lobotmoized the correct 90%.

It's the wrong ideal, then, because it sounds so attractive, even intuitive and *fair* if you don't take a minute to think about it.


'Equality of opportunity': why must the left always talk in extreme, often belligerent, terms? Why must we have equality, why must this be maximised, that eliminated and t'other never happen again? How about just trying to move in a desired direction, with this improved, that ameliorated and t'other reduced in frequency?


Hmm... I'm a big supporter of equality of opportunity so let me try and put an opposing POV.

1) Sure it's unfeasible in it's entirety but so is getting rid of unemployment, inflation, Cot deaths and taxes. But surely that doesn't mean we can aspire to marginally more egalitarian world? Once the marfinal costs of imposing more equality of opportunity outweight the benefits, then you stop.

2) Sure... but that doesn't mean EoO should be the only policy of a progressive government.

3) I'm a bit confused here. EoO does not suggest people should be paid equally. The free-market does reward skills in demand and talented people, we just need to build a society where people from disadvantaged backgrounds also have the opportunity to get their talents and skills noticed. Or have I misunderstood this point?

4) I'm not so sure about this. I'd say there was more class-based smugness in the UK than the USA. But the latter is much more focused on equality of opportunity, even implementing positive discrimination to that end, than the UK.

In contrast in India, where equality of opportunity isn't really a big goal and everything depends on who you know (despite the quotas), there is hardly any class solidarity.
I think solidarity is more to do with local culture than how focused on meritocracy a country is.

Look forward to your thoughts.

Chris Williams

Sometimes I fantasise about kidnapping the Prime Minister, reading him all of Young's _Rise of the Meritocracy_, then kicking him in the balls and letting him go.

Especially that bit about the thin end of the wedge being when a member of the House of Lords got (it's a 'looking back from the disaster in 2020' book) made Education Secretary.



what's social solidarity? that sounds like as unfeasible as anything else...


of course it would be most amusing to see if there is some more 'social solidarity' in countries where say there's zero - like - zero equality of opportunity, like say - Bangladesh. If you can't afford university - probably can't afford school - can't afford anything - it would be interesting to look at the social dynamic there. i'm from bangladesh as it happens - and you know what? - it's as if people live in the same country, and are in completely different worlds.


I hope you don't mind me pasting a paragraph I wrote in the comments of my own blog a short while ago:

"But I am also against inequality of opportunity because it is inefficient. To choose one extreme example, if the “spaz” or “special needs” kid gets bullied, it is less likely that he will grow-up to be Stephen Hawking (yes, I’m mixing my immobilities here, but I hope you get the point). Likewise, if people are hitting glass ceilings because of race, gender or orientation, then we risk losing the best person for the job. That is a bad thing for that person – tough luck, you might say – but it is also bad whatever it is you are trying to produce. That is bad for economy. And when you begin to consider art, science and even sporting endeavour, its bad for humanity too."

Don't know whether that helps...

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