Equity, What Is It?

Posted on March 15, 2021


I have written about “equity” in this column, especially last summer focusing on the University of Alabama’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I figured I’ve had my say and am done with it.

Then I read a piece, “Equity Is a Mandate to Discriminate” in the March 4, WSJ, and recall, of course, that sometimes, maybe more often than we think, someone expresses it better. Charles Lipson, of the University of Chicago, wrote it. And I like the University of Chicago, devoted to learning without being tied down to particular ideologies.

Here’s what Lipson wrote. In a nutshell, Equity is “the new buzzword [that] tries to hide the aim of throwing out the American principle of equality under the law.”

As usual Senator Tom Colton of Arkansas spoke with clarity, this time on confirmation hearings on some new Biden nominees: “Just to be clear,” Mr. Cotton asked, “it sounds like racial equity means treating people differently based on their race. Is that correct?” The nominee waffled on her answers.

“There is a big difference.” Lipson wrote, and in a key description, he wrote with absolute clarity: “the difference [is] between equal treatment and equal outcomes. Equality means equal treatment, unbiased competition, and impartially judged outcomes. Equity means equal outcomes, achieved if necessary, by unequal treatment, biased competition and preferential judging.”

Lipson continues, “those who push for equity have hidden these crucial differences for a reason. They aren’t merely unpopular; they challenge America’s bedrock principle that people should be treated equally and judged as individuals, not as members of groups.”

And even though a political scientist, he turns to history for some answers. “The demand for equal outcomes contradicts a millennium of Anglo-Saxon law and political evolution. It undermines the Enlightenment principle of equal treatment for individuals of different social rank and religion. America’s Founders drew on those roots when they declared independence, saying it was “self-evident” that “all men are created equal.”

He explains further, “that heritage, along with the lack of a hereditary aristocracy, is why claims for equal treatment are so deeply rooted in U.S. history. It is why radical claims for unequal treatment must be carefully buried in word salads praising equity and social justice.”

And how to do all this? “Hidden, too, are the extensive measures that would be needed to achieve equal outcomes. Only a powerful central government could impose the intensive—and expensive—programs of social intervention, ideological re-education, and economic redistribution. Only an intrusive bureaucracy could specify the rules for every business, public institution, and civic organization. Those unhappy implications are why advocates of equity are so determined to hide what the term really means.”

Where did the name equity come from? “One measure of how unpopular these unequal programs are is how often their proponents need to rename them. ’Quotas’ were restyled as ‘affirmative action.’ The goal was still to give special benefits to some groups to achieve desired outcomes. Now “affirmative action” has also become toxic, rejected most recently by voters in deep-blue California. Hence, the new name, ‘equity.’”

“Instead of making their case openly and honestly,” Lipson finishes, “advocates of equity twist and turn to avoid revealing their radical goal of re-engineering society through coercion. If the results fall short, as they inevitably would, the remedy is obvious: more money, more rules, and more indoctrination. Why not tell us who will receive these special benefits and for how long? At whose expense? Who will administer these programs? Who will judge whether the outcomes are fair enough? When will it all end?”

And finally, the old prof (emeritus status; a noble category) ends: “Since the ultimate goal is achieving equal outcomes, these evasions raise the hardest question of all. Isn’t equity just a new brand name for the oldest program of achieving equal outcomes? Its name is socialism.”

At the core of the differences between equality and equity is the emphasis by equality on individual rights and freedoms to be all you can be (sounds like an old ad for the Army) or be the recipient of outcomes determined by others in the name of promoting social justice and ending, once and forever, racial, sexual, and ethnic differences.

In a way, recognizing “diversity” is one of the constants in American life built by immigrants and founded on Christian principles and the heritage of the best of western civilization. To promote diversity in the same breath with equity is nonsensical, for one celebrates independence and freedom, and the other the control of outcomes by those who think themselves especially endowed with truth and wisdom.

That much of this is taking place within the university and college communities in our country is an astounding denunciation of the freedoms to work, invent, think, grow, and behave as free individuals who recognize the reality and truth of responsibility for one’s actions, thoughts, and behavior.

Published as “It’s time to examine what equity really is,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday March 21, 2021.