Equality is the great theme of American politics, but is equality rightly understood as equality of rights or results? Equality of rights is deeply rooted in the foundational documents of the United States. It is, you might say, the American way. Equality of results is the great error that continues to exert its powerful attractions.
In the Federalist Papers, Publius recognizes “the diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate,” and asserts that “[t]he protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results…” Publius ascribes the possibility that men might “be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions” to destructive and erroneous theory.
The American Glob site has retrieved the video below deriving from Thomas Sowell’s brief encounter with Frances Fox Piven in the minutes following one of Milton Friedman’s episodes of the PBS series Free to Choose, based on Friedman’s book of the same name. Their encounter focuses on the difference between equality of rights and equality of results.
Friedman enters the discussion to concede the attraction of equality of results while making the point that equality of rights is most conducive to equality of results. Friedman thus raises an empirical question beyond the question of principle. Let’s get the principle right first, and take our stand with the Constitution of the United States.