Equality is one of those words that is thrown around like it has a single, universal meaning. It doesn’t. Anyone who says it does is either ignorant or dishonest. There has never been a society, nor can one ever exist that is populated by humans, that ensures equality in all it’s forms for all of it’s citizens. In fact, the attempt to create that society has oft resulted in death and destruction on an epic scale. Utopian visions have led to torture chambers, gulags and mass graves. Does this mean that we should not try to improve? Does it mean that we should not strive for more equality in meaningful, beneficial ways? This is where the definitions and details make all of the difference. And this is where we can separate dangerous utopian visions of equality from real, purposeful and moral applications of the principles of equality.

First, let’s look at the impossible. Equality of outcome for groups of people or nations is very nearly impossible to achieve in real terms. Equality of outcome means that one group has everything material, emotional and circumstantial that another group does. Why should one group have more than another? That’s not fair, one might correctly say. However, we live in a real world with real, factual considerations. Equality of outcome or circumstance requires that there be equality of input of energy, time and resources. Equality of outcome or circumstance must take place in a setting or external circumstance very nearly identical in both groups or people. Equality of outcome or circumstance requires that both groups have equal intellect, drive, motivation, ability to overcome obstacles and a host of other psychological factors. In other words, everything must be equal at the beginning to achieve equality at the end. Granted, this is self-evident to most thinking people, if they would stop to actually think.

Let’s take a small example to illustrate. Consider Bill Gates. One of the richest people in the world. Would he, in another setting than his life or with other circumstances have done so well? It’s unlikely. He had a serious of beneficial circumstances that helped propel him to his success. An intellect sufficient to the task, the necessary friends to help him, a set of personal values or goals that are part of his upbringing and part of his brain chemistry, a time in history where those things could combine to make a large impact, the motivation to pursue it (again from life circumstance and his body/brain) and a series of other things that, when combined, helped propel an amazing contribution and life and wealth. Take away his motivation and nothing would have happened. Take away his intellect and nothing would have happened. No Paul Allen as his partner? Who knows what would have happened. Born 20 years earlier? Born 20 years later? Born in another country? You get the picture. This is but one small example of how outcomes are based on many, many factors and that it is quiet difficult to insist on equality of outcome for a single person let alone a large group.

But can equality of outcome be forced, say by Government mandates? There is a great temptation to use the mighty force of government to create equality of outcome. Whether than be income equality or living situation equality or working circumstance equality. However, Government cannot manage the massive number of details to force a beneficial equality of outcome on a society. Bureaucracies are terrible at this. Many socialist experiments have tried to do that over the centuries. The mass graves in Asia or Russia or Europe lie in silent, horrifying testament to the failed attempts of academics and utopians to impose an equality of outcome on societies.

So is equality something to ignore? Heavens No! In reality, we simply need to have definitions and understandings of equality that are both possible and beneficial. And we need to draw stark contrast from those types of equality of outcome that cannot be made to effectively work and usually cause pain instead. The American founders understood that the equality of value of every person was indeed something that could and should be insisted on. Equality for each person’s goals and actions to not be interfered with or actively hindered by government or by others. Equality to pursue the outcomes that one wishes and to succeed or fail. The equality to make the most of circumstance, intellect, drive, upbringing, associations, physical attributes and such is indeed the hallmark of an intelligent and compassionate society. Of course, we all start with different levels of physical, mental and circumstantial benefits or hindrances that we can apply to our goals. This is just reality. To deny these facts is to deny the way universal laws operate. It’s foolish. Some people are better at some things than other. Some people are smarter, stronger, better looking or have better life circumstances than others. This will influence their outcomes in positive ways. Just as the unfair disadvantages that people have may hinder them from achieving their desired outcomes. Is this fair? No, of course not. Is this the way the universe is built? Obviously.

For a society or government to enforce true equality of outcome, everyone must be made a slave. But even in this situation, some will have to direct others in their slavish tasks, so a truly equal society in that way cannot ever be achieved. Look at Soviety Russia or Maoist China.

Equality of outcome can only truly be achieved by suppressing the ambition and drive and intellect of some so that others don’t feel bad. This helps neither group and in fact leads to despair and degradation for the entire society.

Equality in a just, compassionate and fair society must all each person to achieve as much as they have the capacity to achieve without directly interfering in the activities of others. Of course, society has a role in regulating when the rights of one person to do as they please will proactively interfere with the rights of another. But as Governments are notoriously inept at morality, this involvement should be kept to a bare minimum of essentials. Laws forbidding stealing from someone, or murder or slavery are all examples of just regulation. Unjust regulation often involves Government becoming involved in economics. Wage and price controls, as an example, are most often damaging and are ill-advised in mature societies.

So should one worry about his neighbor having or achieving more than he does? Of course not. Would a just and fair society have many different income levels? Of course. Different people live life differently. We must insist on the equality for all people to do as they wish without hurting others directly. And we must avoid thinking that we can have equality of outcome or equality of circumstance without equality of input of every other factor. To see it any differently is to be deluded.