If the government has the power and responsibility to promote equality of income, then how do we define the concept of equality? Jefferson, in his Declaration of Independence, meant equality before the law, a concept necessary precisely because people are not equal in tastes, values, or capacities. Later, equality came to mean equality of opportunity—the chance to run a fair race. Within a free market system, both definitions are consistent with other values: Efficiency, justice, and liberty. More recently, equality has come to mean equality of outcome. Equality of outcome cannot be mandated, cannot be insured. Any serious attempt to achieve it would destroy freedom.
In Milton’s own words, “There is no way in any literal sense you can achieve equality of opportunity, and yet the concept has a meaning and a significance. What we really mean by it, I believe, is not the literal sense that people shall have equal opportunities, because that’s impossible. What we really mean is something else…that every career shall be open to every individual who shall have the talent, and the ability, and the good fortune to have had the upbringing which would qualify him for it. The meaning of equality of opportunity, in this sense, is that there shall be no arbitrary obstacles placed to prevent people from achieving those careers, those positions, those opportunities for which they have the ability, and the capacity and the taste to qualify. In that sense, equality of opportunity, as we shall see, is also a necessary condition for freedom.”
So how do we correct course? Take a listen and find out in the podcast Milton Friedman Speaks – Equality and Freedom in the Free Enterprise System.