The Equality Myth

Written By: Leon Felkins
On 1/8/97
Revised 3/12/97
Web Page: "A Rational Life" at

A self-ordained professor's tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
"Equality," I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

From Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages", 1964
I am amazed at the number of myths that adult, educated, sophisticated, civilized Americans live by. Yet, I am actually quite thankful as it provides me with a generous source of subjects to write about. Since -- as far as I know -- no major attempts have been made on my life for the other myths I have attacked on these pages, I might as well go after the big one, the myth that WE ARE ALL EQUAL.

And why not. Just a few short years ago, we were told that (at least some) women, in fact, like sex as much as men do, destroying a major myth that many of us were raised up to believe. In the '50s and '60s, we started to get an inkling that the politicians were not always acting in our best interests which was further confirmed by the writings of Buchanan, Tullock, and others which stated that, in reality, politicians practically never act except in their own best interests. Further we found that it is virtually impossible for anyone to do anything about it.

While we are happy that women really do like sex, it is quite distressing to find that politicians will do almost anything to get reelected -- including sending thousands of young men (and now women) into harm's way. But we learned to live with it just like we have learned to live with the recognition that maybe the existence of Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny is also doubtful.

But we still have our myths. Lots of them. No need to mention all of them in this brief note as myth busting usually requires some elaboration. Instead, I will just jump right on the biggest myth of all, the myth that we are all equal, or created equal, or equal under the eyes of the law -- whatever, they are all baloney! And for you meme students, the myth of equality may be the most powerful meme of all!

Actually, I am quite aware that most of you do not really believe the "equality" myth/meme but simply pay homage to it to stay out of trouble. I respect your decision to do so, but I believe such actions create more harm than good. So, I will proceed.

But before I do, let me make one comment on the meaning of "equality" (about which I will go into more detail later on). Like so many terms in common use by the press, the public, the academic crowd, and the government, it is not clear as to what it means! You should not be surprized at that revelation as people are routinely sent to prison as a result of some encounter with an ill defined term -- e.g. pornography and indecency! It is very unclear as to what we mean by equality and if that surprizes you then as an amusing exercise for yourself you might try to precisely define what our "Founding Fathers" meant when they said, "All men are created equal". Equal in what way? Opportunity? Capability? Good looks? Surrounding environment? or just equal with regard to legally based rights?

Following convention, however, I will use the term, "equal", throughout the rest of this essay as if we all knew exactly what it means -- with some elaboration later on on the different types of equality.


1. I have to qualify that just a bit. More accurately, no two analog objects are ever the same but in fact, digital objects can effectively be the same. While no two digital pulses will ever be the same in magnitude or duration, due to the nature of digital communication, it just doesn't matter.

2. "Affirmative action" programs being a possible exception.

3. Since it is a continuous function, there are only two points that can be logically defended: none and absolute equality. All other distributions are purely arbitrary and the amounts cannot be logically defended. See my essays on "Vagueness".

4. See "Income redistribution: An international perspective": Public Choice 89:305-323. 1996, for a discussion of the ramifications of trying to bring everyone in the world up to some minimum level of income.