Why? Why a fixation on an impossible chimera, equality of opportunity, and a complete disregard of a perfectly achievable end conducing to more opportunity for millions of actual people, namely teaching them to read and reckon with facility? The answer, I think, is that chasing chimeras is a source of endless job opportunities and bureaucratic expansion; trying to achieve limited, but achievable and invaluable, goals would demand painful change (and possibly even admissions of guilt). There is every reason why a child born to ignorant parents of degraded habits should not have the same life chances as a child born to wealthy and cultivated parents; but there is no reason why he should not learn – that is to say, be taught – to read and write.
Equality of Opportunity: The Perpetual Alibi of Bureaucracy
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At the Library of Law and Liberty, Dalrymple argues against the idea of equality of opportunity, provided it means more than just equality under the law. Any serious attempt to achieve such a goal, he notes, would soon lead to A Brave New World. But he also notes a corresponding lack of interest in concrete steps that could be taken to improve opportunity, such as better schooling:
The problem is that progressive circles have moved on to “Equality of Outcome”. For example, it is insufficient for a University to claim they have rejected applicants because of low A-Level results, which would be acceptable if the criteria were Equality of Opportunity. Instead they must now allow for students of poorer background to be admitted even though they achieved lower results. In other words they must pretend that the students would have achieved higher results had they the same background as a different higher achieving child.
Given that, it is unhelpful to argue against Equality of Opportunity without contrasting it with Equality of Outcome. Most people would regard equality before the law as a perfect example of Equality of Opportunity. The other examples cited could be regarded as closer to Equality of Outcome. This distinction is important because Mr Dalrymple risks fighting a strawman, or being misunderstood by the casual reader.
Let me make a parallel. Progressives deliberately conflate Negative and Positive Rights. That is because they understand that the former are rights of the citizen against the state and the latter are rights of the state against the citizen. Nonetheless, opponents do not argue against rights in toto. Rather they make clear the distinction and argue for the former.
Since Mr Dalyrymple does believe in equality before the law then he ought to define equality of opportunity in a limited way to exclude equality of outcome rather than risk being misunderstood.