In recent years there has been growing interest in the relationship between inequality and personal achievement. Some people believe that individuals can achieve more in more egalitarian societies. Others believe that high levels of personal achievement are possible only if individuals are free to succeed or fail according to their individual merits.
What is your view of the relationship between equality and personal success?
The issue of equality and achievement has occupied people throughout history. Some argue that because people vary in terms of talent and initiative, inequality is inevitable. The job of the government is to ensure freedom for each person to achieve his or her personal best. Others believe that because wealth and therefore opportunity tend to concentrate in the hands of a few, the government must actively redistribute resources. While I believe there is some truth in both views, the latter is likely to yield greater satisfaction for the majority.
Societies that are very unequal in terms of income and resources often achieve average rates of success. Finland and Korea, for example, which invest heavily in free public education for all, tend to rank high in international comparisons of literacy and numeracy rates. Although such countries do not always produce many internationally successful ‘superstars’, they tend to have a high proportion of moderately successful people in terms of employment and income. More importantly, they have lower rates of absolute deprivation and underachievement.
In short, if we allow individuals to achieve their potential, some inequality is inevitable. However, success usually generates wealth, which can be passed from one generation to another resulting in inequality of opportunity regardless of individual’s merits. It, therefore, makes sense for society to level the playing field.