Column on There’s no Level Playing Field or Equal Opportunity

There’s no Level Playing Field or Equal Opportunity

Tibor R. Machan

Yet another excuse for some people to gain power over others is this idea of the level playing field. It’s a metaphor, of course, but used often to mean starting in a race with no advantages for any of the participants. Another term by which to indicate this is equal opportunity. Even those who see through the ruse of peddling equality for all people tend to cave in to this one, agreeing that at least everyone has the right to an equal opportunity. The opportunity for what is not often spelled out but it may include obtaining a job, entering a school, embarking on travel, winning a contest or whatnot. The image that’s called to mind is that when people start out to achieve some goal, none may be favored or disfavored, none may have special advantages or disadvantages, etc.

But the the idea is hopeless. In no actual or even imaginable endeavor do people enjoy the level playing field or an equal opportunity. Take those who begin a marathon race at the same starting point. Looks like they are enjoying an equal opportunity or level playing field since none is provided with extra time or less distance to complete the race. Surely this amounts to treating all those in the race as equals.

Not really. Some of them will have gotten a good night’s sleep, others tossed and turned for who knows what reason that’s certainly unavailable for control by those who organize the race fairly. Some will have had a decent breakfast, others were too nervous to keep any food down; some had loving fans seeing them off to the races, others went it alone. There are, in short, innumerable sources of inequality right from the get go. People are simply too different and face different situations as they embark on various tasks that others, too, attempt.

But by holding out some vain hope for the true level playing field or genuine equal opportunity, meddlers can insist that they must butt in and that their legally mandated manipulations and interference are needed for the noble purposes of serving this utterly misconceived version of justice. It is all bunk. Not only are there predictable differences among virtually all people who embark on similar missions but there are always fortune and misfortune, like the weather or just a plain old cold, that can hit and tilt the odds in favor or disfavor of certain of the participants. Even in sports wherein every possible effort is made to put all participants on a level playing field, this is an unrealistic aspiration. Everyone knows that it is unattainable and any serious attempt to attain it will be futile.

Then quite apart from the natural, given, and unavoidable inequalities that place people into different categories with different chances of winning, there is also other people’s preferences, wants, hopes, and such that upset the apple cart all the time–some athletes are loved by fans, others aren’t so much. Or the sex appeal is simply missing.

More significantly, say you are a farmer planting and harvesting a crop but the purchasing public just lost interest in it and the price you can ask for it plummets, while the efforts of others, say those diving for seafood, are in high demand all of a sudden? Maybe this is because a popular TV chef has come up with some very appealing seafood dishes on the show and the audience is now smitten and demand for the the farmer’s crop has subsided markedly. Surely this upsets any hope for a level playing field between farmers and seafood merchants.

So how is all this to be rearranged without sending in the police who will have no clue what to do about it all but will insist on trying to do something, anything, so as to seem important? And how will the disparity between the power of those embarking on the rearrangement and those who are subject to it be eliminated so that equality obtains between them? Impossible.

The dream of full, robust equality is a nightmare, let’s face it, and it is best to distance ourselves from it as far as possible.

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