Senator Marco Rubio (Rep, FL) spoke on the floor of the Senate last August; a recording of that speech was posted by Senator Rubio here: This Debate Will Continue. I agree with almost all of his words, but there is one critical passage with which I must take issue, albeit at a late date.
Senator Rubio said (these words can be heard beginning at about the 5:20 mark of his roughly 10 minute recording),
One the one hand, there are those who believe that the job of government is to deliver economic justice, which basically means an economy where everyone does well or as well as possibly can be done. There’s another group that believes in the concept of economic opportunity, where it’s not the government’s job to guarantee an outcome but to guarantee an opportunity to fulfill your dreams and your hopes.
One is not more moral than the other; there are two very different visions of the role of government in America.
Senator Rubio has fallen for the siren song of moral equivalency: one group’s belief is as valid as another’s on the sole basis that each group has a belief. Yet these two positions—equal outcomes and equal opportunities—are not at all morally equivalent; one is plainly immoral from its inception.
John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many others, have shown that all men have an inalienable right, a right inherent in a person’s very existence, to an exclusive property in their bodies and minds, their labor, and the fruits of their labor.
Our Declaration of Independence acknowledges this in so many words,
[A]ll men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
John Adams pointed out, as he wrote Massachusetts’ 1780 Constitution, that “Happiness” is nothing more, or less, than this:
All men are born free and independent, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
So, what does it mean that government will guarantee equal outcomes, or substantially equal outcomes, for all? How can government guarantee this? The only way this is possible is for government to give something to the less successful to bring them to the same level of outcome as the more successful. Government, though, has nothing of its own; it must first acquire what it intends to give, and it can acquire only by taking from those enjoying greater success. Yet this taking can only reduce that very success; government, of necessity, must circumscribe the success of one group in order to “improve” the lot of another.
This only saps the morality of both groups, though. It teaches the less successful that they do not have to work as hard, they do not have to acquire skills to the same degree, as the more successful: they do not have to work to the fullest of their own potential. Equal outcomes teach the less successful that they can rely, instead, on government to make up any shortfall. Equal outcomes give those receiving a portion of the others’ success a measure of dominion over those others by asserting for the recipients that claim on those others’ property.
This outcome redistribution, by circumscribing the result of effort, also teaches the more successful: there is little point to effort; government will simply take much of what they have earned and give it away. This deprecates success and thereby reduces incentives to work, to seek success. This combination of one group not having to work hard and the other group not caring to work hard reduces the outcomes for all.
Equality of opportunity, though, guarantees to each member of our social compact that chance to work to our own maximum potential, free of the threat of government confiscation. This ability to keep what we have earned, to dispose of the fruits of our labor in accordance with our individual imperatives, combined with the knowledge that we are responsible for our own futures, that none of us can claim a portion from another, combine to provide ample incentive to each of us to work hard and to live our lives to their fullest.
Further, that equality of opportunity is central to our morality: each of us is responsible for our own actions. All of us must work to our own capabilities, not to the capabilities of others; all of us are morally obligated not to assert any claim on the produce of others.
Equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, gives each of us the fundamental equal right to fulfill our own potential without outside interference. This equal opportunity is the grand implementation of our rights and liberties that are acknowledged, and the fulfillment of our moral needs that are implied, in our Declaration of Independence.
In the end, the only way government can guarantee equal outcomes is to guarantee equal poverty. This is a direct violation of our endowment of fundamental equality, it reduces all of us to government dependents, and it removes from us our morality—including our explicit Judeo-Christian teachings, which also are implied in the principles identified in our Declaration of Independence—and transfers that morality to government.
By guaranteeing equal opportunity, however, government leaves us true equality—our ability, each of us, to reach the fullness of our individual potentials. The quality of life we gain from this, the confidence we gain from achieving our successes on the basis of our own hard work and our own struggles, reinforces the morality that we also now retain—to see, ourselves, to the least among us, rather than running from that responsibility into the comfort of government dependency.