Thursday 9 September 2021

Equality, Equity & The Great Race Of Life.

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis: For many – perhaps most – people, the word ‘equity” is a synonym for the word “equality”. And, to be fair, this is very often the way politicians expect the word to be understood. But the assumption that “equity” and “equality” mean roughly the same thing could not be more wrong. The difference between these two words is as important as the difference between “reform” and “revolution”.

THE WORD “EQUITY” is appearing more and more frequently in New Zealand’s political conversations. It is the new “go to” word for activists, journalists and, inevitably, politicians. It peppers political speeches, media releases, newspaper articles, television interviews and, naturally, it’s all over social media.

For many – perhaps most – people, the word ‘equity” is a synonym for the word “equality”. And, to be fair, this is very often the way politicians expect the word to be understood. But the assumption that “equity” and “equality” mean roughly the same thing could not be more wrong. The difference between these two words is as important as the difference between “reform” and “revolution”.

Most New Zealanders believe in and expect to enjoy “equality of opportunity”. They recoil from the idea of people receiving preferential treatment. Everybody is expected to line-up straight behind the start-line before the starter’s pistol sets them off and running in the great race of life. Very few people, however, expect the runners to cross the finish line at the same time. Most accept that in a contest someone comes first and someone last. A race in which everyone crosses the finish-line at exactly the same moment is not a race – it’s a jack-up.

But “jacking-up” the race (also known as “affirmative action”) is precisely what the proponents of “equity” believe in. What they are seeking is not “equality of opportunity”, but “equality of outcome”. If there are people in the race who have had the advantage of professional coaching, then those denied that advantage need to be advanced several metres ahead of the start-line. If there are runners who have enjoyed excellent nutrition all their lives, then those who have been poorly nourished since childhood must be similarly advanced along the track. If there are competitors who, on account of their ethnicity, enjoy a greater measure of confidence in their ability to win the race than those whose ethnicity has accustomed them to coming last, then those so afflicted also deserve advancement. Calculate these handicaps correctly and every runner should cross the finish-line simultaneously. Hey Presto! – Equality of Outcome!

Except, of course, that’s not the way it would go – not unless the people calculating the handicaps had guns. What sort of seasoned runners are going to accept others being positioned so far ahead of themselves? Rather than compete on such terms, many athletes would simply walk away from the contest altogether. Those awarded handicaps in the name of equity would then have to be reassessed and assigned a new handicap. How else could everybody be guaranteed to cross the line together? Not that anyone would be there to applaud them when they did. If the outcome of a contest has already been thoroughly engineered, why would anyone turn up to see it? Life is uncertain. So is sport. That’s why people watch.

The partisans of equity insist that their only goal is “fairness”: all they are seeking is a society in which everyone gets to enjoy life’s bounties; a society without “winners” and “losers”; a society in which the very idea of some people being allowed to “succeed” while others “fail” is regarded as obscene.

“Team Equity” will always get a hearing in New Zealand, where “fairness” is celebrated as the Prince of Virtues. What they will not find so easy to sell, however, is the idea that fairness requires people to be treated differently. That’s because Kiwis understand “fairness” to mean everybody being treated the same. Just watch what happens to someone who tries to jump a queue in New Zealand, or is given more than others are getting. Those responsible will be told in no uncertain terms that while everyone is entitled to a “fair go”, that does not mean they’re entitled to receive special favours from people who don’t know the meaning of the words.

This is where the propensity of New Zealanders to treat equity and equality as synonyms leaves Team Equity facing an enormous problem. In regard to Māori-Pakeha relations particularly, the argument has shifted well beyond the generally accepted notion that the indigenous people and the beneficiaries of colonisation were guaranteed, and continue to receive, equal treatment. But, “equal treatment”, in this context, can only mean that all the advantages accruing to the destroyers of Māori sovereignty must be left untouched, while the tangata whenua, stripped of their autonomy by “the imperial project”, are condemned to play a never-ending game of catch-up. Team Equity is demanding a solution considerably “fairer” than that.

What that fairer solution might look like is set out in the He Puapua Report. Its authors have come up with a twenty-year plan to give effect to what they see as the promises of equity (not equality) embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Essentially, they see Māori and Non-Māori running in the same race, but on separate tracks, until such time as both sets of runners become genuinely competitive. And the handicap? Well, that will come in the form of a more “equitable” distribution of the New Zealand state’s fiscal resources, achieved by the construction of a more equitable, te Tiriti-based constitution. He Puapua is much more than a blueprint for reform, it’s a road-map to revolution.

An exciting plan, then, but the chances of selling it to Pakeha New Zealand are as slim as the chances selling the idea of some runners being advanced ahead of others on the great racetrack of life. Its only possibility of success lies in selling equity as equality – which was the great achievement of the First Labour Government. How did they do it? Not by saying they were going to advance the interests of exploited working-class New Zealanders ahead of privileged middle-class New Zealanders, but by promising to build a nation in which everybody had the same access to a job, a home, universal public healthcare, and an education system which gave every citizen the best possible start in life. How did they pay for it? By handicapping the rich through progressive taxation. What did they call it? Equality of Opportunity!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 September 2021.


oneblokesview said...

I guess we must have different copies of the treaty?

You say.
that they see as the promises of equity (not equality) embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Having studies the treat and its surrounding documents over the years as a background to learning Maori and having spent a lot of time with a Maori Court Judge.

I think you have transposed the words equity and equality in your writings.

The principle of being all one people (Article the Third) has no other meaning than equality.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Equality of outcome" does not mean that everyone passes the finish line together. It simply means that everyone comes to the at the start line with an equal opportunity to win. I'm sorry, but the analogy of the foot race completely fails. Not to mention the interpretation of equality of outcome. This is yet another one of those conservative doggy chew toys, where reason is set aside in favour of hysteria.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon

Hilarious! You've just described equality of opportunity.

If the equitable outcome being sought is for no runner to be judged inferior, then "fairness" can only be served by ensuring that all the competitors cross the line together - in first-equal place.

And affirmative action is very much analogous to positioning some runners nearer the finish line than others. How else would you describe a racially-focused quota system accepting a lower standard of academic achievement from disadvantaged students?

Also, I'm noticing a worrying trend towards flat-out ad hominem attacks from you GS. It's standard operating procedure on the Right, I know, but not one I like to see employed by those who position themselves on the Left as academic champions of "reason".

Rob said...

I agree Chris and would add that while many of the woke middle class can't undermine democracy fast enough, they're a whole lot less enamoured at seeing the value of their real estate fall. A measure that would help improve equality in a much more tangible way.

Shane McDowall said...

He Pupua is not going to fly. It is a Lead Zeppelin.

The Treaty of Waitangi is not a praise worthy device for the amusement of savages, nor is it a document in which the British government agreed to enter into a partnership with New Zealand's indigenous clans.

The truth is somewhere in between.

I believe that the British government was motivated by genuine Christian based humanitarianism. Given that the British had only recently abolished slavery in their colonies, the Treaty of Waitangi is a remarkably enlightened document.

Simon Cohen said...

Excellent comment Chris on GS. Unfortunately many of us on the left do employ the same ad hominem attacks as those on the right but we at times have an holier than thou attitude if we are criticised.

The Barron said...

The Biblical character of Solomon was notes for his wealth and wisdom. Few studying the Near East can find evidence of the riches or empire, attributed wisdom though parable is still worth a look. Two mothers claim a baby, Solomon's justice is to split the child in two. Obviously, this is a story to determine the real mother. However, equality is the solution chosen - but one that does not suit either party.

Equity is the just outcome that our legal system has sought. Mediation for industrial relations, family relations and other disputes is built into the system. An equitable outcome, based on good faith and the agreement of the parties. In criminal law, outcomes will always look at extraneous circumstance, this includes the background of the convicted. Rehabilitation is recognized as strengthened through cultural connection, or drug and mental health focus. Equity is looking at circumstance to bring about the outcome.

Affirmative action is always a program that can immediately look at the make up or culture of an institution, it should never be the long-term strategy. There should be an examination as to why some sectors are under-represented. There should be a look as to what are the contemporary and historical barriers. There should be an examination as to whether the institution itself have imbedded into it exclusivity.

Liberal Feminism worked in getting women to positions of power, NZ was famous for having the PM, Chief Justice, Governor General and top CEO as women. This was good, but did not bring about equity. NZ required the Kristine Bartlett case for recognition that inequity is not just trying to get women into positions formerly occupied by men, but that positions traditionally held by women should be given equitable terms, conditions and remuneration as the male dominated equivalence. This is Structural Feminism. The Equal Pay Act was 1972, Pay Equity was recognized in 2020. It should be noted: there has been no negative impact on male wages or terms and conditions as a result of equity.

As Chris suggests the maxim 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs', is a standard and long standing expression of equity. It shapes social progression.

The Treaty has rights for Tauiwi (those who have rights having arrived under the auspice of the Treaty), and Tangata Whenua (those that have pre-existing customary rights), for many people there is an over-lap in their decent. For those that see the third article as providing equity under British protectorate, there is recognition that there can be different systems to achieve equity. Of course this is modern interpretation, but through the modern lens which seeks equity.

As posted previous, if there is a system that is working for the majority, then that is good. If it is not meeting the needs of a minority, then a complimentary approach that takes accord of the minority needs should be uncontested. The opposition to this is simply those that are afraid they loose control of the narrative.

Nick J said...

I had the same conversation with Barron. He spouts theory, I ask for empirical evidence.

Ive told this before but as a student I heard a sociology professor wax lyrical about wonderful events in Cambodia where a new Utopia was being rolled out. Millions of deaths later I wonder if he ever reflected on where theory and evidence diverged. I suspect not, ideologues always say, "If I were doing it" or "It needs following through, done harder". Its a common refrain from Douglasites, from Marxists, from all ideologically possessed on all sides.

So for the record from the dictionary Equity defined the quality of being fair and impartial.
"equity of treatment"
I dont see outcomes mentioned.

Kiwi Dave said...

The cartoon raises a number of questions which it does not address, though our host does address some of them.

Did the seated spectators inside the stadium pay for admission? If so, are the three in the foreground freeloaders who have contributed nothing to support the grounds and players? Were the three outside unable to pay because they spent their money at a music concert last night, whereas those inside preferred to spend their money on a ball game? What would the spectators, inside and outside, consider a satisfactory outcome to the game?

Were the players amateurs having a fun game or professionals? How were they selected for their teams? If professionals, on what basis are they paid? What would the players consider a satisfactory outcome to the game?

To what extent is life a passive activity, like spectating, to what extent is it active, like playing a sport?

PS. The only racial statistic I know in sport is that about 75% of NBA players are black, clearly inequitable, since only about 15% of the US population is black; given the different white/black median ages, the proportion is probably somewhat higher in the relevant age group. What steps would equity enthusiasts take to remedy this inequity?

PPS. My family doctors from childhood (I was born in NZ) to the present were West Indian, English, Indian, Chinese, Chinese, NZ European. When I had a basal cell carcinoma cut out at a hospital clinic two years ago, the registrar who cut it out was Korean (I think), her supervisor was Indian, NZ born/raised to judge by his definite Kiwi accent, and the nurse a Filipina, judging by her accent. And NONE of this matters to me as a consumer of their services, only competence.

John Hurley said...

I would add that majority ethnic groups are the architecture on which nation states are built.
At the infamous hui someone asks a question as to how te ao Maori would help prevent terrorism and the two speakers are stumped.

Apart from activists like Anjum Rahman I imagine the various ethnicities are comfortable with our institutions. Te ao Maori is a bit of a pet rock.

Trev1 said...

"No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets". Every day New Zealand seems to be becoming more and more a feeble imitation of Animal Farm. While our political and tribal elites may pay lip service to the Seven Commandments of Animalism, of course while all animals are equal, some are indeed more equal than others.

Nevil Gibson said...

A classic case of a politician employing the term “equity” as opposed to “equality” was Sue Kedgley on today’s The Panel (RNZ) when she defended race-based access to health services rather than, say, a needs-based one on grounds of actual health, poverty or socio-economic status regardless of race.

The Barron said...

I have to say, I am reasonably taken back by people who's comments I have previously had some respect for loosing themselves and the plot over settled social, political and legal concepts if equity. Using Pol Pot as a counter example is not just stupid but insulting to the survivors of the regime.

Equity has always been a progressive focus, even if that was not comprehended by some, surely the Pay Equity debate in the courts and Parliament should have been noticed.

Equity is a process. Equitable outcomes is an aim.

The Barron said...

As you see only theory, perhaps Nick, you may wish to explain how you envision a disability strategy devoid of equity as a process and equitable outcomes as an aim?

Nick J said...

I read this and had a Grima Wormtongue moment, sounds great, silver tongue. Better look under the covers for equality and equity.

Equity is the just outcome that our legal system has sought. Really? The job of the legal system is to administer the law, hopefully fairly and impartially. If the law is unfair it will still be administered.
Mediation for industrial relations, yes Ive done a lot of that and equity is not the point, employers dont say lets go and be equitable, its a negotiation for who gets the coin.
family relations and other disputes... An equitable outcome, based on good faith and the agreement of the parties. Youd hope that but how come it so often ends in Court with a disatisfied party?
In criminal law, outcomes will always look at extraneous circumstance, this includes the background of the convicted. Rehabilitation is recognized as strengthened through cultural connection, or drug and mental health focus. Equity is looking at circumstance to bring about the outcomeThe point of the legal process is not equity, in criminal cases it is to establish innocence or guilt. Once guilt is established it is to set penalties according to those set out in law. Where the judge has discretion youd hope the verdict would be impartial, such as non race biassed. If it is you would expect calls for equality before the law, not equitable outcomes.

The Equal Pay Act sought equal pay, not equity. Same job, equal wages regardless of gender. Equality, not equity.
As for negative impacts on male wages consider that in 1972 one income gave a standard of living that now requires two. That might need some detailed analysis with regard to equity of outcome.

Its good NZ got so many women to roles previously the domain of men. Whats so unusual there? Its called equal recognition of talent and capability. Thats equality of opportunity and then its down to the individual. Structural prejudice and resistance? Sure, but that only causes those to lose out on talent and become less capable or competitive.

I wont go into the Tiriti and equity. I doubt very much that equality of outcome is what either party is looking for. Its a battleground where territorial control trumps all. Power and equity are not friends.

Nick J said...

Barron, re Pol Pot, you might wonder if the ghosts of his victims might just want some justice for the stupid position of the professor. I certainly do. And if I use it to illustrate the thinking behind calls for equity and the need to be careful so be it. Its not a game.

The Barron said...

I note the lack of a non-equitable disability strategy.

Your understanding of equity is sadly limited. In an earlier post you suggest -
'So for the record from the dictionary Equity defined the quality of being fair and impartial'

Then you later state -
'The job of the legal system is to administer the law, hopefully fairly and impartially.' while decrying equity within the system.

Yes, industrial and family mediation has equity as an outcome, that is why both parties must agree at that stage in the legal system. Yes, Judges adjudicate 'blind', but sentencing will and must take account of the individual circumstances. Your fall back on 'race' is again silly, cultural support can be a factor (especially in youth Court), mental health and dependency needs are taken into consideration. Looking at circumstance for rehabilitation aims has equity factored in.

As for Pay Equity ... I think every Unionist and every employer know that the Bartlett was about pay equity, I am not going to go back over what over half the population understands.

AS you work on your inequitable disability strategy you might ponder the fate of the disabled under Pol Pot if you think there was even the theory of equity.

Nick J said...

Barron, equity for the disabled? No, equality of access and opportunity to everything other citizens take for granted. By definition being disabled means having different requirements to the abled, we are talking how to deliver those so that as far as possible their experience is equal to the able. How well we deliver to the disabled might give us a clue to the health of our society.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"And affirmative action is very much analogous to positioning some runners nearer the finish line than others. "

I see it more akin to making sure everyone has Nike Vaporflys and a decent breakfast before undertaking the run. Thereby giving a broadly similar result from all groups, privileged or not. I don't think anyone – except maybe you and the right perhaps – believe that it means everyone crossing the finish line at the same time. That's beyond absurd.

Incidentally, your rather glib example of "lowering academic standards" by admitting less privilege students to university won't wash. For one thing they are not necessarily intellectually inferior, just haven't performed particularly well at school because of family circumstances.
Not only that, but admitting them can be done without lowering academic standards, and when they do get there they tend to do quite well.They just need help and guidance coping with the system. I know this from personal experience, because I went to university there was none. From what I can gather a study done in Australia has shown that wealthy schools tend to inflate their students academic abilities in order to get them into university anyway.

As far as the ad hominem attacks goes, I'm simply replying in kind. I've noticed that you have a habit of letting someone get away with an ad hominem and then pinging those who reply. Which is usually me. Considering what you used to say about your blog, and perhaps still do, I can't find it this time - about you wanting a standard of behaviour that is respectful - whatever - and a cut above other blogs in the comments, I'm sorry you have not been doing a particularly good job of policing it. Censor me if you will, it's your blog. Just make sure you police everyone else as well.

John Hurley said...

These dating apps show how uneven society is - but that is personal choice. As a young man looking for a place in a flay was brutal - and it had nothing to do with race - it was achievement and class.

That was from a link about baby boomers on Unherd. it made me think about the politics of getting heard.

The Barron said...

Perhaps the penny has dropped (Perhaps not). Yes, Nick, recognizing different needs and finding different pathways to meet them in order to strive for an outcome equitable to others is the very basis of am equity approach.

Different starting points, whether ability, resources, culture, gender should be recognized and given status. If the current system is failing those sectors in relation to the majority or the already empowered, it is necessary to see what different pathways can get equitable results, as the empowered or majority have formed the systems and institutions that have provided inequitable results for some sectors, it it obvious to work with those sectors in designing pathways that may work. Empowering the minority sectors, and recognizing autonomy when it is the best pathway is a system of equity

This would seem what you envisage for a disability strategy (I am sure you would've involved disabled people in design of the strategy).

Welcome to the modern world of social, legal and political mindset

So, extrapolating to structure service delivery sectors, I think the equity modle you designed for the disabled is a good follow through.

Nick J said...

I replied to you Barron to point out to other readers the reality of your position. We are at opposite ends of the spectrum and will never agree. You wish to impose results that you call equity. I wish to enable results by removing barriers and then leaving well alone.

Id describe your world view as revolutionary and authoritarian, your wish to impose equity as a power grab for your own idea of Utopia.

My worldview is more evolutionary, I dont believe in forcing ideas and results. I'd rather social improvements occur because we all agree that it is right, that we persuade those in opposition.

We could go ad hominem but lets say we are both barking up wrong trees. I will leave it there.

sumsuch said...

From an arguing clan, in adulthood reason and good faith are accepted by us, more or less, as the only basis of interaction. Ad hominem was what the 'New' Cameron Slater Right did before Nicky Hager took them out of the picture. I'm glad, personally, that American situation has no relevance here thanks to Nicky.

sumsuch said...

I do think you take 'the art of the possible' too much to heart. All that leads to is a cliff now.

Unlike misself you have grand powers of persuasion -- I've alienated everyone I've talked to about ideas.

Talk your most important truth now. It's apt.

I don't give a fuck for your defeats and bruises as you should not. I don't care what Labour won't do, just what they should do. Your beautiful oratory is meant for polemics for the people.

You've got superann and we're all willing to send money. You've always been on the right side of reality like Sanders and Corbyn, don't take into account in any way the pain of not being paid off, like everyone but your fellow not common heroes.