Equality is not what you think

by | February 1, 2012

For democracy to work everyone has to understand what it means. Take the concept of equality. Democracy derives its power from the people: because no class or group has a monopoly on political power, democracy minimizes prejudicial behavior against a group. However, this equality does not mean that everyone should be treated the same. For example, in many democracies criminals can not vote since they have given up their rights by breaking the law. We have argued in this forum (Who should be able to vote?) that civil servants should not have full voting rights because they have a conflict of interest by the nature of their positions. Working in the civil service is a voluntary act so civil servants can regain their right to a full vote simply by leaving the civil service.

Equality is a difficult concept because it is often difficult to understand what aspect should be made equal. No modern political group (left or right) defines equality as meaning that every citizen has the rights to exactly the same income or exactly the same material benefits as every other citizen. It is taken for granted that equality means equality of opportunity. So left and right must then argue as to what opportunity means. Does it mean opportunity for health care (as the current health care issue in the United States would imply)? Does it mean opportunity for education? Does it mean opportunity for well paying jobs? Those are issues for the various political factions to argue.

But here, at Democrasi.com, we are not so much interested in political viewpoints as in the underlying structure of the political system. So, for us, equality is a fuzzier concept. Take for example, our point about voting rights for civil servants. For us, this is a non-political issue. The fact that civil servants are voting for their own bosses means that this conflict of interest needs to be neutralized by reducing their voting power. We want to reduce their ability to affect their own jobs and pay because no one in the private sector can vote for his boss. In other words, we want to equalize civil servants and private sector workers. We want to improve overall equality by making the voting system less equal. In so doing, we believe we will make the system fairer and more stable.

As an apolitical site, we are neither for nor against big government. We are, however, concerned about conflicts of interest that can destabilize a country. A case in point is Greece’s recent riots. Greece has pumped money it could ill afford into its civil service for many years. As the civil service grew ever more bloated, the civil servants became used to their “entitlements”. Unfortunately it was unsustainable and, as a result of its behavior, the country is now all but bankrupt. Member countries of the Euro are now willing to bail Greece out so long as it signs up to some very difficult measures. And yet, though the agreement has been all but concluded this week, Greeks have taken to the streets to protest. This represents a naive view of the problem. What these protesters do not realize is that they (and their countrymen) have overdrawn their account and that they are now bankrupt. If they do not accept the austerity measures on offer to them, they will suffer a much worse collapse. This particular situation shows exactly why civil servants can not have a full vote. If Greek civil servants did not have full votes it is unlikely they would now be in this predicament.

So beware of equality. Support it in principle but make sure it is the right sort

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