Freedom and Equality
In a column, from May of 2007, George Will makes the not unreasonable observation that conservatives and liberals are on opposite sides of the tension that exists between freedom and equality, in particular equality of opportunity. The implication being that by promoting freedom, and freedoms, equalities of opportunities will inevitably be diminished.
For when people are given the freedoms to choose, be it education for the young, health care, and where to live, the greatest numbers of choices will always fall to those with the greatest means or opportunities. For means, and opportunities are terribly unequally distributed to begin with.
To set this right, to redistribute means and opportunities to those with less of the same, will inevitably involve taking from those with more. But the argument is persuasive and in the past conservatives, or freedom lovers, have bit the bullet and gone along with government attempts to redistribute opportunities, aka wealth, to the classes without.
The result has been that we now have, throughout the developed world, as a kind of remnant of socialism, entitlements. And entitlements have meant huge increases in the sizes of governments.
But the inequalities that entitlements, and the accompanying huge government bureaucracies, were supposed to diminish, if not eliminate, remain, and in some respects are more imbedded in our societies than ever before.
Furthermore the tension between liberals and conservatives is greater than ever before. Hardcore liberals go on believing that the failure of entitlement programs up until now is the result of our being niggardly in our funding of these programs, be it education in the inner city, health care for the impoverished, job training for the out of school and out of work.
Hardcore conservatives, on the other hand, go on believing that people can not be made whole by government, that only people can change people, be it by individual initiative or by the efforts of one or more voluntary organizations, those very groups of individuals working together to improve their lives together that so impressed Alexis de Toqueville while visiting our country nearly 200 years ago.
So where are we? Are we at an impasse? For more entitlements have not meant fewer inequalities of opportunities. And no one now believes that more freedoms would promote more equality.
At best there is a line to be drawn. For some entitlements are good — social security payments to the poor and the aged, compensatory programs for the handicapped and impoverished young, among others.
And some freedoms are essential — the freedom to travel, to live where one wants, to start a business, above all the freedom to take risks when one puts only oneself at risk. Our best hope is that a line, between to what extent we help people and to what extent we leave them alone, can be drawn. So far we just haven’t been very good about drawing that line.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized