FOR equality of opportunity

Chris Dillow has written an interesting blog arguing against equality of opportunity.

In short, his four points are:
1. It’s infeasible.
2. It’s insufficient.
3. It’s not meritocratic.
4. It destroys social solidarity.

I think all four of his points make sense, but they don’t quite sit comfortably with me. I posted a reply, which I reproduce here:

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.

I forgot to mention another point to this. In the case of the UK and especially USA, many ethnic minorities are overwhelmingly amongst the working classes. Here, most Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are working class while a lot of Indians are middle-class. This partly explains their different educational achievement.

Bringing in the race example, we can make a few more points for equality of opportunity.

5) It would help some ethnic minority families break out of a cycle of poverty and create role models that previously may not have existed. That may also destroy perceptions that racism keeps them poor.

6) Being working class comes with issues: more crime, higher unemployment, lower educational achievement, and lower representation in certain fields (politics and media primarily). So when you add race to this mix it becomes a bit more potent. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis may end up being very under-represented in these fields, and racists may use these examples to say that Muslims (as a catch-all term) are inherently anti-segregation or anti-education, as some currently do.

So what I mean is that racial underachievement, in the way of not having any middle-class representation, can become a political issue in certain cases. This is another reason why equality of opportunity is a good thing - it helps working class ethnic minority kids compete with middle-class white kids on the basis or merit, without the need for quotas.

26 / October / 2006  Race politics 
  • 1. sonia  |  October 27th, 2006 at 11:18 am

    interesting. i’m not sure why everyone thinks there is more class based smugness here than in the US? the same sort of smugness is there alright - people may not define it per se thanks to the fact they’re all meant to be holding up the ideals of all men born equal etc. But still - they’re even bigger suckers for titles, if i may so generalize.

    also there is very little equality of opportunity in the US of A given the huge expense university is - if you haven’t got parents who can afford to pay for you - or are very lucky and get a scholarship - it is extremely difficult to get any form of university education.

    ignoring the minority ethnic thing for a moment, countries where education is either almost free or not ridiculously expensive - have generally a much better relationship between ‘classes’. at the end of the day - in say a place like bangladesh - there isn’t even the concept of ’social solidarity’ going across the rich and poor -effectively there is no common understanding at all because the extremes are just too big - they may as well be living on different planets. it’s easy for people who’ve lived here (and nowhere else) to not have any concept of what that might be like -and be dismissive of the far greater equalities if opportunity available here. immigrants from the indian sub-continent know this very well - otherwise the vast majority ( im not saying everyone ) would be still in their countries of origin.

  • 2. sonia  |  October 27th, 2006 at 11:21 am

    and we’re talking big bucks - tuition fees in the US I mean - they make the whole issue about tuition fees here look like arguing about peanuts.

    that’s how bad the situation is. and i haven’t even mentioned the dire situation re: healthcare and mounting costs of healthcare which unless you have the super premium ones don’t even cover a lot of aspects of health care in something fundamental like pregnancy. I think most commentators here would actually have to live in the US before this kind of horribly mundane stuff to really sink in.

  • 3. sonia  |  October 27th, 2006 at 11:23 am

    sorry - crap typing - i meant -

    “would actually have to live in the US for this kind of horribly mundane stuff to really sink in.”

  • 4. chris  |  October 27th, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    You’re opening a can of worms here, Sunny.
    A big way to improve equality of opportunity is to increase spending on the schooling of diadvantaged groups; see for example John Roemer’s work.
    This would mean spending more on educating Afro-Caribbean boys (not girls - they do OK) and Muslims, but less on Indians, who do well as things are.
    Is this remotely feasible?

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