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The difference in “created equal”

January 12, 2011

we all know this phrase so well – do we really understand the implications?

Wikipedia: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all 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

We see a lot of attempts to gain more equality between people. The spectrum of attempts seem to cover some primary differences between liberal governing philosophy (equality of endstate) and conservative governing philosophy (equality of starting point). What did Jefferson likely REALLY mean? “people are of equal moral worth, and as such deserve equal treatment under the law”

I have two comments on this “created equal” statement

First – look at implications of the word “created” and the idea of moral worth. If the assumption is that God can create man, and man is unable to create man in the same manner (by breathing on a lump of dirt) – there’s a bigger distinction between God and mankind than there is distinction between one person and another person. Said another way: we’re all human having been touched by the divine, He’s 100% divine even when He was in human form. Christian doctrine states that to God, we have equal “moral worth” – Christ had to die to save everyone because no one was capable of doing it for themselves 

Second comment – From a different blog (Matt Brundage)

The government should by all means promote legal equality — as it has — but its responsibility should extend “no further than the removal of legal barriers to equality.” (Patterson 153) De facto equality will be a reality when people cease to be prejudicial

The assumption – de facto equality is a reality when people cease to be prejudiced – isn’t exactly true. Greg Mankiw’s blog (thanks Jim) today is titled “The Half-Full Glass of Economic Mobility” and in it he points out that

it is well known that if your father had high income, you are more likely to have high income than if you father had low income. …the elasticity of son’s income with respect to father’s income is about 0.5 in the United States.  
what strikes me about that 0.5 number is not how large it is but how small it is.  … the percentage of variance of son’s income explained by father’s income–that is, R-squared–is only 0.25.  This last number is sometimes called the “heritability” of a characteristic.

….the heritability of IQ is usually estimated to be much larger than that.  At least some of the heritability of income must come not from inequality of opportunity but from the genetic transmission of talent

In light of the heritability of talent, it would be shocking if we did not find some significant heritability of income.  And that would be true even if equality of opportunity were perfect.

Freakinomics had issues, but it did a study on what factors DID seem to result in the success of progeny which appears to agree with Greg’s conclusions. Equality of outcome is hardly equal if it holds opportunities away from some because of ‘heritability’ – my hopes for my kids is that they aren’t disadvantaged in starting point because of where our family sits relative to others – but are “judged by the content of the character.”

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