Sunday, May 3, 2009

Freedom & Equality.

Free people are not equal and equal people are not free.

It is one thing to comprehend freedom and equality as utopian ideas and quite another to explore its relevance in a given anthropocentric context. As far as utopian ideations are concerned there is little scope for individual disagreements on what it is to be free and what it is to be equal. However, applied to any anthropocentric or moral issue, we would find emerging disagreements with regards to what is the more desirable of the two. Even if it were possible to build a universal consensus regarding the desirability of any one over the other, there would still be unending debates on whether at all the two are mutually exclusive possibilities.

Most often the so-called civil society who would resist attempting theorizations on physical reality beyond their own academic specializations be tempted to conveniently have a convincing view about social reality as arm chair social theorists, since it is perceived by them that every individual by virtue of existing in a social context automatically qualifies themselves as theorists capable of commenting and influencing public opinion about the polity. This frequently results in a certain situation where individuals shouting the loudest about social ideals are those that are least informed or trained to reach relevant conclusions about something as complicated as social causality.

The challenge therefore remains to explore freedom among inequality and equality among people who are not free by cleverly avoiding conclusions of arm chair social scientists. With such an objective in mind we need to acknowledge that the crucial concept that is being explored is which of the two among being free or equal is the overriding human identity and whether being free limits the collective capacity to be equal. Attention needs to be drawn also towards the dichotomy that exists between the personal and the collective. And freedom - economic or political is more likely to always be a personal desire as opposed to the desire for equality which is a collective conception arising from an altruistic desire of mankind.

Adam Smith tried to account for this dichotomy in his classical free market advocacy wherein he stated with conviction that what is in the interest of an individual consumer or producer can and also would be in the interest of other actors involved in the free market process. However whether that would lead to an equal distribution of resources is arguable as the most effective means of economic activity does not guarantee the most equitable allocation of productive resources; it simply implies that resources are distributed in such a way that is the most efficient for the economy.

Furthering this free market economic determinism it would be but natural to conclude that free people cannot always remain equal since free people do not necessarily have equal access to productive resources and secondly equal access to productive resources does not always guarantee equal efficiency in using them since if individual freedom is employed to decide on the choices of using those resources then the efficiency of usage would be severely limited by individual capacity. This would mean therefore that the only way to ensure equality in a world of unequal ability is to artificially limit individual ability thereby furthering the cause of equality.

Equality therefore does not seem to be as much of a noble idea anymore when the only ground for its establishment is through the curtailment of individual freedom. However, this reasoning cannot be used to justify unequal access to opportunities since then it again is a direct attack to individual freedom. Therefore the challenge to public policy making appears to be to establish a society with emphasis on individual freedom. And as far as equality is concerned equality of opportunities instead of equality of outcomes should be the cornerstone of an ideal society

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