The Inequity of Too Much Equity
Okay, the title is sort of a play on words. But life is difficult, even for the rich. And growing up, maybe life is especially hard for the rich. Children face unique challenges growing up with rich or famous parents. (Its a “challenge” most of us might like to try, just to see if we are strong enough…)
When a family is the wealthiest in the neighborhood, or parents are famous, at first it’s exciting even exhilarating when people their children meet are impressed. Eyes light up when people learn of famous parents, or look around a very large house or boat or BMW. But after awhile reality sets in and no amount of wealth or fame can make people like or appreciate a young person for who he or she is. Fame and fortune attract people interested in fame and fortune. And children of the rich and famous have to learn to sort through false praise and conditional friendship.
Happily, most young people don’t have to worry about any of these things because we don’t grow up in ultra rich or famous families. Wealth and fame pose their own challenges, and maybe that’s not fair or equitable. Equity is “the quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality.” Being partial toward someone is a kind of inequity perhaps as much as being partial against that person.
A Megan McArdle’s post discusses “Money Won’t Buy Your Kids a Future.” Children of millionaires, billionaires, movie stars and sports stars can all bask some in the fame and fortune of their parents. But that’s not the same as earning one’s own fame and fortune, however modest.
M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled, was on the New York Times bestseller list for years (I used to check the list every week). The book begins: “Life is difficult” and then explains why learning to accept and deal with the difficulties in life is a key to success. An earlier writer put it this way: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”
The varieties of challenges people face across countries and cultures should give us pause when discussing the NCFCA LD topic: Resolved: In the realm of economics, freedom ought to be valued above equity. It is hard to figure out what is equitable. Pursuing justice is harder than dealing with injustice. We don’t quite know what a just society would look like, but we can identify acts of injustice (lying, cheating, and stealing, for example).
It is not at all clear what is fair and who has the advantage in growing up. It seems unfair that rich kid are spoiled by being given everything they want by inattentive parents. The middle-income American child, astonishing rich by historical and world standards, may well be less motivated to succeed than a child from a low-income family energized by wanting to escape poverty.
I posted earlier on the “realm of economics” and linked to Paul Heyne’s presentation to teachers on economic justice from sometime in the mid-1990s.
I also recommend Paul Heyne’s short essay: “Two Approaches to the Question of Justice.” A collection of Paul Heyne’s essays, Are Economists Basically Immoral? is online here. And here is a review of these essays.
Equity is treating people fairly, not trying to coercively reshape society by redistributing incomes and opportunities.