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Real Equality of Opportunity

  • Barry R. Gross (a1)

We are often told that we are morally obligated to produce equal opportunity for all. Therefore, it seems we should examine what power we have to produce that desirable state. For it would be nonsense to say we are required to provide what is beyond our power to provide. When we examine this question, we find our power limited by two sets of constraints. One set comprises formal constraints upon the idea itself of equal opportunity. We cannot do the logically impossible. The other set comprises limits upon our ability to produce the directed socio-economic change, getting known outputs for known inputs. I illustrate the formal constraints by outlining the work of Douglas Rae. The constraints upon our abilities I illustrate with evidence from sociology and politics. At the end, we shall discover that our power to make opportunities equal is sharply though not unbearably limited. A critical but unbaised survey will reveal that in the past fifty years we have gone remarkably far towards doing all that we are presently capable of doing to equalize opportunities. Perhaps we shall go even farther when we learn how.

The word ‘real’ in the title is opposed to ‘ideal’ or even ‘chimerical'. It may seem an interesting question what equality of opportunity should consist in were we able to produce directed socio-economic change at will. But we are not. Therefore, a more interesting and more important question is what equality of opportunity consists in given the very large number of constraints within which we must work to achieve it.

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1 Of course, Dworkin asserts that there is an objective morality, e.g., in “Hard Cases,” Taking Rights Seriously (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), pp. 81131. Otherwise, one essential element would be missing in the way Hercules, J., decides cases correctly. But the assertion is not there argued for.

2 ibid., pp. 134–136, and Dworkin Ronald, Law's Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 7172.

3 Hart H. L. A., The Concept of Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp. 120131.

4 Rae Douglas, et al., Equalities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), ch. 5. Philosophers would do well to study Rae's interesting work.

5 University of California Regents v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 57 L.Ed.2d 750 (1978).

6 Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson: Containing the Public Speeches of the President, 1965, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1966), pp. 636ff.

7 See my Discrimination In Reverse: Is Turn-About Fair Play? (New York: New York University Press, 1978), chs. V & VI.

8 See Williams Bernard, “The Idea of Equality,” Laslett P. and Runciman W. G., eds., Philosophy, Politics, and Society: Second Series (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962), pp. 128130.

9 See, e.g., Hawkins David, The Science and Ethics of Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1977), and Fishkin James, Justice, Equal Opportunity, and The Family (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).

10 Fishkin, Justice, p. 46, thinks that budget makes such a constraint. Therefore, he says the project “… to supply every student in society his own full-time team of elite private tutors …” is unrealistic. I should have thought we would have choked on the air of unreality well before we got to money. Where on earth will we find so many “elite” tutors?

11 Recall the passage from John Schaar, quoted by Rae.

12 Williams, “The Idea of Equality,” pp. 127–128.

13 See, e.g., Coleman James S., et al., Equality of Educational Opportunity, (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966); Jencks Christopher, et al., Inequality (New York: Harper and Row, 1972); Mosteller Frederick and Moynihan Daniel Patrick, eds., On Equality of Educational Opportunity (New York: Vintage Books, 1972); Levin Donald M. and Bane Mary Jo, eds., The Inequality Controversy (New York: Basic Books, 1975); Sowell Thomas, Ethnic America (New York: Basic Books, 1981); Jencks's Christopher review of Sowell, New York Review, March 3, 1983 and March 17, 1983; Wilson William J., The Declining Significance of Race (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978); Burstein Paul, Discrimination, Jobs and Politics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985); Smith James P. and Welch Finis R., Closing the Gap: Forty Years of Economic Progress For Black (Santa Monica: Rand, 1986); E.E.O.C. v Sears Roebuck & Co., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Div. #19 04373 (1986). Moynihan Daniel Patrick, Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding (New York: The Free Press, 1969), and The Politics of a Guaranteed Income (New York: Basic Books, 1973).

14 See The New York Times, October 3, 1986, p. A32, and The Economist, March 14, 1987, p. 31.

15 Jencks, Inequality, pp. 4–5.

16 The New York Times, October 3, 1986.

17 The Economist, February 7, 1987, p. 80.

18 See the interesting survey by Sandra L. Hanson and Alan Ginsburgh, “Gaining Ground: Values and High School Success,” prepared for the U.S. Department of Education (Contract #300–83–022), which correlates belief in “traditional American Values” with success in high school for the underprivileged. See also Coleman James S., Hoffer Thomas, and Kilgore Sally, High School Achievement (New York: Basic Books, 1982), which argues with statistical apparatus that students in Catholic and private high schools out perform public school students. These results hold when the students are matched by race and socio-economic class. They find that the order and discipline in such schools and an atmosphere of cooperation fully account for these facts.

See also, the interesting and sympathetic account in Auletts Ken, The Underclass (New York: Random House, 1982).

19 For a full account, see Paul Burstein, Discrimination.

20 See, e.g., South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 745, 86 S.Ct. 1170, 16 L.Ed. 2d. 239, (1966); Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641, 86 S.Ct. 1717; Allen v. State Board of Education, 393 U.S. 544, 89 S.Ct. 817, 22 L.Ed. 2d. 1 (1969); White v. Register, 412 U.S. 755, 93 S.Ct. 2332, 37 L.Ed. 2d. 314 (1973); City of Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55, 100 S.Ct. 1490, 64 L.Ed. 2d. (1980); City of Rome v. United States, 446 U.S. 156, 100 S.Ct. 1548, 64 L.Ed. 2d. 119 (1980).

21 See, e.g., Chandler Davidson, ed., Minority Vote Dilution (Washington, DC, 1985); my review, “Voting By Color,” New Perspectives, vol. 17 (Spring 1985), pp. 34–37; and my exchange with Davidson, New Perspectives, vol. 17 (Fall 1985), pp. 37–39. See also the New York Post, February 12, 1987, p. 22, and The New York Times, February 12, 1987, p. B20, for a new misdemenor: “Racial Insensitivity.”

22 For confirmation see, e.g., Schuman Howard, Steeh Charlotte, and Bobo Lawrence, Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986); the penetrating review of it by Thernstrom Abigail, “How Much Racial Progress?” The Public Interest (Fall 1986), pp. 96101; and Paul Burstein, Discrimination.

23 Rae, Equalities, p. 74.

24 ibid., p. 79.

25 See, as an example, the way in which Korean immigrants in the United States raise capital. A group of families meet once a month in a gyeh, a practice where each family contributes a fixed sum of money to a pool, and in turn each month one family takes home the entire pool. Involved are 12–30 families and sums ranging from a few thousand dollars to six figures; New York Times, September 28, 1986, quoted in Issues And Views: An Open Forum On Issues Affecting The Black Community (November/December 1986), p. 2.

26 Walzer Michael, Spheres Of Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. xi.

27 See, e.g., Moynihan, “Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding”; Pressman Jeffrey L. and Wildavsky Aaron, Implementation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1984); and Okun Arthur, Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1975).

28 Jencks, Inequality.

29 James P. Coleman, Equality of Educational Opportunity.

30 Interview with Coleman James S., Southern Education Report (November/December 1965), quoted in Mosteller and Moynihan, On Equality, p. 9.

31 Christopher Jencks, “The Coleman Report and The Conventional Wisdom,” Mosteller & Moynihan, On Equality, p. 69.

32 For the record, having taught in an inner city college for some 17 years, I find my experiences confirming Coleman.

33 See note 13, supra.

34 Moynihan, Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding, pp. 190–191.

35 The literature is this area is well known. I cite here, eclectically, a few less well known works: Boudon Raymond, The Logic of Social Action, trans. David Silverman (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), and The Unintended Consequences of Social Action (New York: St Martin's Press, 1982); Hirsch Fred, Social Limits to Growth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976); Krauss Melvyn B., Development Without Aid (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983); Lipton Michael, Why Poor People Stay Poor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976); Usher Dan, The Economic Prerequisite to Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981); Pressman and Wildavsky, Implementations; Douglas Mary and Aaron Wildavsky, Risk and Culture (Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1982).

36 Fishkin, Justice, p. 9.

37 Williams, “The Idea of Equality,” pp. 126ff.

38 Edwards Paul, “Bertrand Russell's Doubts About Induction,” Antony Flew, ed., Logic and Language: First Series (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1960), p. 60.

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