The Biden Equity Controversy
Today, I want to talk about the controversy surrounding President Joe Biden’s recent emphasis on equity. Some have expressed worry about this ‘equity’ thing turning out to be about equality of outcome or group-based equality, which would mean inequality of individual opportunity. Of course, if that’s the case, it would be incompatible with classical liberal values. But how valid is this concern?
Let’s look at what this equity thing is all about. The Biden administration has apparently defined equity as “the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”
Now, some people may worry about all the identity groups mentioned in the statement, but I think it’s important that we don’t become inherently opposed to recognizing that some people are still disadvantaged based on their characteristics, and there is still a need to make things more equal. So, let’s take a more open-minded approach to this. I think the encouraging thing is that the definition opens with ‘the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals’, before expanding on that. Therefore, it is individual-based fairness, not group-based fairness. Theoretically at least, it should lead to an aspiration of colorblind and genderblind society. This definition would also be theoretically incompatible with critical race theory.
Of course, as some people may say, the devil is in the detail. And to be honest, I do have my concerns here as well. There have indeed been examples where people, perhaps too eager to rectify injustices, forget about the importance of the individual dignity, equality and liberty that is the bedrock of classical liberalism, even opening the door to critical theory-style practices. However, given that the intention to do it right is there, I think we should take everything in good faith, at least in the first instance. I think that, for those of us who want to rectify injustices but want to do so using classical liberal means, it’s important for us to join the conversation, so that we can steer the process towards one that respects individual level liberty and equality.
The good news is, there are ways to address systematic injustices while staying true to the universalist aspirations of classical liberalism. For example, during the 2019 primaries, Andrew Yang repeatedly touted his UBI as being especially able to benefit certain communities, because of the socioeconomic disadvantage they are starting out with. Therefore, on a systematic level, it helps fix historical disadvantage. However, on an individual level, everyone is still treated equally. Everyone gets $1000 per month regardless of skin color, everyone is treated the same regardless of race, which is the most important thing. I think this is a good example of policy that addresses the equity problem, while also being consistent with individual level equality.