What’s all too often overlooked by both left and right in the political name-calling and ego-bashing that passes for political discussion by the far right and far left is the issue of equal opportunity, what it is, what people think it is, and what each side passionately declares it should be.

More than a few partisans on the left confuse opportunity with outcomes. They believe that if outcomes are not equal, opportunity is not equal. They don’t put it that bluntly, but they certainly give the impression that they believe unequal outcomes reflect unequal opportunity. Now, on a large scale, unequal opportunities will definitely result in unequal outcomes, but because individuals differ in vastly in innate abilities, genetics, environment, and upbringing, the reverse is not true. Unequal outcomes do not necessarily prove unequal opportunities, and that’s why a closer look at the situation is necessary.

That being said, today in the United States, our current culture has enshrined and neglected to remedy, and in a number of cases, made opportunity for people even more unequal.

When business and industry pollute, they worsen the environment, and they do so in a manner most detrimental to the disadvantaged, because higher levels of pollution weaken health and actually impair intelligence. So when a business fails to comply fully with health and safety standards, or when government does not insist on adequate standards, the salaries of executives and the profits of shareholders are literally subsidized by the negative impacts on the health and intelligence of those too poor to move away from polluted areas and often without options for a healthier workplace. And because executive offices and the homes of those executives are usually removed from the factory floor, workers face less healthy work environments than do executives.

Given the way school systems are funded, the children of more affluent parents have not only better health, but better education opportunities. The same holds true for health care. And because poorer people often cannot afford the best of diets, that lack of balanced nutrition hampers the development of their children.

In a real and absolute sense, the most basic of opportunities, simply to grow up healthy with an opportunity to learn and develop, is heavily biased toward the more affluent members of society. Yet too many initiatives to create more equal opportunities for those whose opportunities are blighted are decried as social engineering.

But isn’t allowing excessive pollution for the sake of profits and higher incomes for executives also social engineering? Isn’t gerrymandering school systems by income levels to keep out the less affluent social engineering? Isn’t rigging healthcare based on income social engineering? Today, it’s accepted practice, at least by Republicans and conservatives, that corporations and moneyed individuals can engage in such social engineering, but that government shouldn’t.

But, if government doesn’t… just how long will the increasing numbers of the disadvantaged, and their numbers are increasing as the middle class continues to vanish, how long before they decide not to accept the current charade of “equal” opportunity? How long before matters get even more violent?

2 thoughts on “Opportunity”

  1. Michael says:

    Writing from Australia, I agree with you that having parents in a better socio-economic group gives great advantages. Although the situation in Australia is not so slanted against the comparatively poor, we still find that the benefits accrue to the top 20% disproportionately. As a parent, comparatively well off, I want my child to have the best start at life I can provide. Access to sport and sport coaching, music, medical and psychological support when needed, good schooling in schools dedicated to educating the whole child and so on. Also, our son has parents who give him a stable home-life and support him to develop a range of interests. Is this fair? Perhaps not fair, but inevitable! Good government should put a finger on the balance a little.

    1. Tom says:

      While I agree that money is power that can both create and make use of opportunity; there are many examples of millionaires and billionaires who lead their children astray by their less than exemplary life style.

      I do not mean to imply that those without money cannot make use of opportunity or lead their children astray. There are innumerable examples of people raising their own living standards above those of their parents and siblings without their being a difference in opportunity and where there clearly has been a difference in opportunity.

      One of the primary social responsibilities of government is to provide equal opportunity: but a government has yet to develop a system for creating equal outcomes from a source of material that can never be equal in basic quality (h. sapiens).

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