Thursday, December 22, 2011

Equal opportunity, my hat

Some conservatives (I'm looking at you, Mitt Romney and David Brooks) try to sound even-keeled by describing their ideological differences with liberals as being the difference between being concerned with equal economic opportunities versus being concerned with equal economic outcomes. In other words, instead of playing Robin Hood, let's focus on making sure everyone has a fair shake. Sounds nice and it has a simple elegance, but do not be fooled: it's utter malarkey.

As an example of the problem here, ask how someone dedicated to creating conditions for equal opportunity can object to affirmative action, a policy pilloried by the right, yet one squarely aimed at providing historically disadvantaged people a hand getting up to the starting line? I suspect that what conservatives are really trying to express is ultimately a libertarian fantasy centered on the misguided notion that games would be played more fairly if only the referees would get out of the way.

This wouldn't be such a problem if the stakes weren't so high. Consider the shocking disparity outlined in the chart below (courtesy of Pew Research Center) and try to imagine a credible and fair solution that involves less government. We should remember this if at any point in the next year any of us catch ourselves wondering if Romney wouldn't be so different from Obama.

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