Equality, Equity, and the Knowledge Problem

It is nearly impossible to turn on the news or read an article without hearing someone calling for equality. No matter the specific subject or minority that is being discussed the conversation goes the exact same way without fail. “Well this privileged group can do/is free from this form of oppression, so this disadvantaged group should get it too!” Whether they are talking about gender, race, orientation, class, or anything else; the conversation always revolves around the idea of leveling the playing field. Well what if I told you that equality is a terrible goal? What if I told you that fighting for equality only continues to perpetrate the existing system of oppression that you are trying to fight against? Why should we be fighting for equality instead of getting to the root of the problem and chopping away at the whole privileged/oppressed dichotomy? And what insights can be gleaned from bringing a libertarian approach into this discussion? The problem with equality is that what I want isn’t necessarily what you want. You may want to live in a nice house with a white picket fence, but I may want to live under the stars. What would be good and right for you, would be soul crushing and boring to me. The push for equality may have at its center a desire to right the wrongs of oppression, but it is misguided at best. Worse than that, it assumes that the privileged group got it right, that their way and system is what the oppressed group should be striving for. Why should the queer community be fighting for marriage equality? What makes the system of heterosexual marriage so wonderful and inherently ideal that the queer community should see achieving it as their utmost goal? Equality not only presupposes that everyone is exactly the same, it perpetuates the idea (intentionally or not) that the privileged are the pinnacle of culture and philosophy and that the oppressed have nothing to add to the discussion. Maybe I don’t want to live with a white picket fence, and maybe you don’t want to embody the lifestyle of your oppressors, and for that reason alone equality is far from the ideal to which we should strive. So if equality is out, what takes its place? Continuing with the example of housing, two houses may look similar on the outside but very differently on the inside, or they may be vastly different types of houses; but they all serve the same purpose and all appeal to the desires of those that live in them. The concept of equity is that instead of putting an oppressed community into the same system as their oppressors, the system of oppression is abolished and everyone is then free to find their own happiness as they define it. So where equality would be granting the queer community marriage rights, equity would be total liberation of the queer community and an environment where people could form any consensual relationships they desired. Equity requires the complete liberation of the oppressed. Equality addresses one subset of issues from one point of view, equity addresses the entire structure of oppression and can be approached from as many angles as there are individuals. As the economists amongst you have most likely already realized (and the title was a big hint) this all sounds remarkably like Hayek’s knowledge problem. If you don’t know of this idea, it is that no one has perfect knowledge of all things, people, and events and therefore no one person can make decisions for others and especially not for groups; their lack of knowledge ensures that any decision they make will have unintended consequences. The push for equality suffers greatly from this problem, no one person or group knows what every member of an oppressed community wants, because there are no truly homogeneous communities, and their lack of knowledge ensures that their solutions will be colored by their limited understanding and will fail to benefit those in that community. Equity on the other hand, is a market solution in that it is accomplished through voluntary means and embraces individuality. Most importantly, equity stands firmly against the concept of oppression much in the way that a truly freed market stands in opposition to the concept of State oppression. Where equality seeks to cover up the problem with a new coat of paint, equity burns down the entire oppressive structure. Equity not only helps find a solution to the knowledge problem through embracing individualism and voluntary interaction, making it appealing to the libertarian community, it helps to achieve true and total liberation of oppressed communities instead of placating them and idolizing the system of their oppressors, something everyone should be able to get behind.

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