Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Equal treatment vs. equal results.

Originally published at American Thinker on April 27, 2010.

There has been, for some time in this country, a polarizing political discussion. The debate has hinged on people's idea of the term "fairness" and how this idea is to be applied. The result of the exchange has been the widening ideological gap between conservatives, who believe that fairness is best ensured by obedience to the rule of law, and liberals, who quite adamantly attest that fairness can best be realized through the satisfaction of individual wants as a consequence of a government redistribution of property.

Equal treatment vs. equal results.

And though the discourse has remained constant throughout the twentieth-century, it has not, as a result of its long duration, lost any of its heated contention.

As recently as the end of March, this year, Vice-President Joe Biden (God bless his soul) revealed, during an interview with Yahoo Finance, the philosophy into which his conviction was vested: "I don't call it [a redistribution of income]... I call it just being fair."

It is true, economically speaking, that people are not born into equal circumstances. And it is also true that life is not fair; what one strives diligently to obtain can be tragically lost. However, in a society where citizens are guaranteed equality before the law, those financially less fortunate or those who may be upon hard times can find solace in the fact that there would be, in the very foundation of their system of laws, no favoritism among the people; no privileged classes. In such a society, the rule of law would lay firm and every attempt made by any citizen to improve his condition would not be hindered by either individuals or the government, but instead fostered by the protection of an objective legal arrangement.

On the other hand, if by choice or dictate, a people were to enter into a system which navigates its laws not on the warrant of objectivity, but on the basis of the achievements or property of some as compared to those of others, then fairness and equality as they are typically understood would be, in all ways, lost.

F.A. Hayek, in "The Road to Serfdom," (1) masterfully explains that, in an economic and political system where equality is arrived at through the procurement of results, the rule of law cannot exist:
Formal equality before the law is in conflict, and in fact incompatible, with any activity of the government deliberately aiming at material or substantive equality of different people and... any policy aiming directly at a substantive ideal of distributive justice must lead to the destruction of the rule of law.

Because the government would be required to regard supposedly equal individuals or entire classes of citizens in a different manner than it regards others, the law would have to be applied inconsistently.

What the agents of the liberal philosophy do not understand, or perhaps what they understand so well, is that equality of results, as a necessary condition of its existence, forbids the equality of treatment. And by promising to distribute to the people fairness, the liberals would have instead delivered its counter and, in so doing, they would have crippled any chance that the ordinary man ever had to foresee the actions of his government that would keep him ordinary forever.

1. Hayek, F.A. The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents--The Definitive Edition. Routledge, London: The University of Chicago Press. 2007 (Originally published - 1944). Page 117.

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