I’m sure you’re heard the aphorism about giving a hungry man a fish versus teaching him to fish. The first approach lets him eat for a day, the second for a lifetime. And it’s true enough, as far as it goes. But what if you allow one man to cast a line, another to cast a net, and a third to own a trawler?
This is how it goes with economic equality and equality of opportunity.
If you’ve missed this debate, it’s mainly conservatives and libertarians saying that we shouldn’t be worried about economic inequality in the U.S. As long as every individual has an equal opportunity at economic success, then it’s up to the individual to succeed or fail.
I got all fired up to write about this debate, and how people who say they support equality of opportunity are either deluded or disingenuous.
But when I turned on my computer, I immediately I found this Washington Post blog by Ezra Klein that makes nearly all my points, and makes them pretty well. So definitely check that out.
Folks are deluded if they think opportunities exist apart from economic resources. The opportunities that people can provide for themselves, their families, and their communities are directly related to their economic resources. You can’t take advantage of something you can’t afford.
In our fishing scenario, which man’s family is more likely to purchase a trawler for the family business? The folks who already have one.
But as the Post blog points out, and I agree, no one really believes in true and total equality of opportunity (or economics for that matter). It’s not an achievable, scalable proposition.
It is enough, and achievable, to have sufficiency of opportunity for everyone. As I’ve noted previously, in our social, post-hunter-and-gatherer society, it’s acceptable for some to have more than others, as long as everyone has enough. That goes for both economics and opportunity.
We’ve shown a tolerance for living with some people having more resources and opportunities than others, even when those who have more convert their extra resources and opportunities into ways to defend and expand their advantage.
But we have reached a point where many have-nots lack a sufficient amount of either economics or opportunity. They can’t catch a break, let alone a fish. The families who have monopolized the trawlers and bought up the best fishing rights have things locked up.
So what am I proposing here? I don’t think we need rely on Jesus’ miracle of the fish. There are innovative ways to provide enough opportunity for all. To continue our fishing story, the fishermen of Alanya, Turkey figured out a way, without government help, to provide equal access to fish in their local waters.
The fishermen of Alanya saved their environment, their community, and their livelihood through a much truer equality of opportunity than the U.S. is currently offering.
Let’s find news ways to fish.