The Problem With Equity

by Chris Horner

Equality v Equity

How should society go about the business of redistributing resources? Many people will be acquainted with the image featured at the top of this article. It is supposed to show the superiority of the notion of ‘equity’ – that is, giving people what they need to succeed, thus satisfying the demand for fairness that the equality approach is depicted as failing. Since people don’t start in the same place, due to gender, race, disability and so on, so the argument goes, an equal distribution is unfair: everyone goes up a bit, as in the image on the left, but since the differences haven’t been addressed, the result is unfair. So we need equity rather than equality. This is an example of an argument that looks persuasive at first glance, but which is deeply problematic when we consider it further. To see why, we need to go beyond the thought experiment approach to this issue, to see the social and  political context in which it has become popular.

A first point to make is that no thoughtful advocate of greater equality has been blind to the importance of considering the needs of recipients. If equality is about justice, then it can’t just be mathematical equality. Giving the same amount of food to a malnourished person and a replete one would obviously be unfair. So if the current equity over equality argument is just saying this we could just see it just a difference in the terms one uses. But there is more going on with it than that. Read more »