Saturday, March 13, 2010

Equality vs Equity: What to Choose?

The Purpose of Government

 It is a common occasion in policy debates for the interlocutors to skirmish over the principles of equity and equality. Depending on the ocular power of the lens one elects to view the stage through, there is a veritable glut of mallets and pick-axes available to any protagonist, for breaking the rock of these broad principles into smaller pieces of scary projectiles, to be hurled at the opponent, as time will unfortunately have stood him. Since skirmish we must, then we might as well understand the reasons for our opposed array on these fierce battlefronts.

Having no luxury of dictionary definitions I will, in their stead, present my 'surprised-out-of-sleep' understanding of the two, to explain why and when either is necessary.

To my mind, equity is best represented in the Gadhian expression: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. But since that only helps to address the supply side of the economic coin, we shall flip to the 'coat-of-arms' and observe on the demand side that to whom much is given, much is expected. Fair exchange! The goose will only lay the golden egg if she is fed on the finest grain and assured of life by the farmer; who will only secure these assurances if he must, without option of default, ultimately obtain his prized eggs.

Equality on the other hand is a concept born of all communal effort. At a certain basic level of humanity, all people are distinguishable only by the outturns of their mental exertions. We are just male or female, all requiring each other for successful accomplishment of our most basic endeavours.

Just as men cannot beget babies without women, geniuses cannot exist in a vacuum - they are born, raised, recognised and celebrated amongst the blundering hordes of the 'average.' They are children of someone, parents to someone else. We all, for the harmony and advancement of society, must shed our 'public airs,' hang the frock of fame and fortune on the office coat-stand and bolt the door behind us as we walk home to common society. At 'home' within society, we are mere participants, equal partners to everybody else co-operating in society's progressive trek though the treacherous plains of life. We become boys or men, girls or women; warriors, farmers, teachers, students, etc., each working for the final benefit of all. Selfish actions and restrained participation, aiming to reserve one’s best for own benefit is the bane of all societies.

Nature roots for equity, advancing its majestic law of survival of the fittest. In the wild, disability counts for certain demise. Human history - that is what we read, for we know nothing of the histories of reptiles: who are their heroes, which their wars, who their gods? - not only records but also recounts the deeds of our finest. Everywhere it is apparent, then, that life, left to its own vagaries, will always lead to equity. It is vain and wasteful effort, to fight for equity. Being the natural law, it does not require our weak slaps on a mountain to shake it.

Our business distils itself to understanding the purpose of social organization: why people seek groupings - to spread and share the high benefits of genius among the greatest number, to carry along those whose beneficial output is only but a future expectation, and to lend a helping hand to 'precious' laggards, those rare creatures amongst us whose value lies in extreme adaptation derived from debilitating deprivations of other 'normal' faculties, the sub-normal. This calls for a more compassionate look at all members of society. That what good one human deserves, is what all people deserve. Society, therefore, cannot afford equity. Compassion quickly resolves itself into equality.

Competition on the other hand will bring about equity. Consider an athletics sprint race at the Olympic Games. The organisers will provide a level track, in similar weather, at the same race time, with similar curves, a flat slope and accurately equalized distances for the participants to run on. The starting conditions are therefore equalized for all competitors from all over the world. When the race is started, by a ringing shot and ended later at the laser tape, the fastest and slowest runners are recorded by the time-stretch photo equipment. The athletes run an equal distance on an equalized track. The only difference, the main one indeed, in their positions at the tape is a product of their desire and physiques. That is the flower of equity blooming from the stem of equality. Nature wins out, again.

Where do I lead to with this? Just a simple point really! That we organise ourselves in groups to seek equality, because left to our own devices, we can only obtain equity. So, what is the role of common social organizations like Government? To provide equality - that level playing field - so that the individual brilliance of endowed individuals will separate common folk only when they advance well outside levels of tolerable life. That a boy in Turkana and a boy in Alego will have an equal chance in the Society's schools. That when a girl from Lamu beats them both, it should not be because her school was preferred, but because she has a higher IQ than these boys.

For national development, let us seek to equalize the facilities and amenities available to all persons and regions. Those that will squander their opportunities will thus be left behind, but from a tolerable starting point. Those who excel will, therefore, earn the respect of all, for their industry without imputations of graft, thievery and favouritism as are the usual fare here. And just like in the Olympic race, the winner will only be one metre ahead of the last to arrive, not a difference of the whole distance ran, as can be attested to by our rich-poor gap.

Government must be a tool for equality; equity is a natural grant.

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