Short Note on Substantive Equality of Opportunity

The most essential requirement for proper implementation of Equality of Opportunity is to provide a genuine opportunity to become qualified. For instance in the earlier days, it was the nobles who were given the top positions in bureaucracy. It was much later that they were chosen through competitive examinations. Thus Equality of Opportunity was created.

To ensure the implementation provisions should be made for these competitive exams would be conducted all over the country, so all the bright educated persons are able to give these exams notwithstanding the fact that they are from villages or small towns or big cities. These kinds of provisions, along with the formal announcement of Equality of Opportunity would satisfy the complaints of all the sections of the society. It would lead to the development of a general feeling in the society that sufficient or good enough opportunities to become qualified were provided to all.

The development of equality of opportunity in this manner would greatly help in summating the ―good enough‖ level of opportunity provisions. This could be deduced by comparing the costs and benefits of greater provision of opportunities, with the costs and benefits measured in terms of other conflicting values. The ―good enough” level of provisions deduced, would actually give a description of those classes of the society, who do not enjoy equality of opportunity. For instance there could be a class of children, who in spite of being given the provision of scholarship, fail to enjoy equality of opportunity, because they are unable to compete with the wealthy children whose parents impart them private tuitions and training. Therefore, in such cases, the motive to achieve equality of opportunity is lost.

In order to reduce the advantages that may be conferred to some wealthy individuals, several methods have been suggested. One such ideal suggested by John Rawl is popularly known as “equality of fair opportunity”. Equality of fair opportunity (EFO) is a condition in which individuals possessing similar inborn talent and similar aim will witness prospects of success in competitions. They would receive benefits and posts according to their capability and performance in the competition. For instance, there are two individuals Vibha and Rakesh, who possess similar inborn talent and similar aim, but one belongs to a wealthy as well as educated family whereas the other to a poor and uneducated family. In spite of this if they have the same prospects of achieving their ambition of becoming a scientist at NASA, then this condition can be designated as Equality of fair opportunity (EFO). (But it should be taken into account that the specification of EFO is quite different from the specification given by Rawl in 2001. In this Rawl has explained that socio- economic status of an individual does not have much impact on one’s competitive prospects. He also explains the broader ideal of EFO).

Thus EFO has led to the development of the idea of a classless society. For instance, if in a society prominent positions and posts are passed on to other members of the social group from generation to generation, then such a society does not qualify the condition of EFO.

Thus a society satisfies the condition of EFO if it is classless and no advantages are passed on generation by generation except genetic features and socialization that instils ambition. (Thus individuals gaining advantage by gifts and inheritance will be violating the ideal of EFO.) The concept of EFO completely eliminates the benefits (such as trainings, tuitions, better education, access to influential social network etc). In an EFO society, if certain individuals enjoy the benefits such as training and tuition to enhance their skill on account of wealthy parents, then the society will provide the same benefits (such as public education provisions) to children of non-wealthy parents. But on the other hand, an EFO society may have some parents, (wealthy or poor) who are strongly motivated to help their children in achieving certain aims. These concerned parents do not harm the society in any way and can by all means continue to help these children. Thus, a society fulfills the condition of being an EFO even if certain individuals are benefitted by the support of their parents, as long as their competitors with the same kind of talent and aim are also benefited similarly by the society itself.

A society could provide more resources for the education of children belonging to poor and uneducated parents, because they take it for granted that the wealthy and educated parents will do it automatically for their children. Thus the enormous state expenditures on less privileged children by the state would be counterbalanced. Thus policies of these kinds would greatly help in establishing EFO. Thus there is no other greater ideal in a society than EFO, that needs to be achieved. This ideal is more precious than all the money in the world. Thus we should not keep waiting for reasonable and cost-effective measures for its realization as there is nothing as valuable as EFO.

Although it is unconvincing to eliminate the word ‘ambition’ from the EFO formula, it is extremely essential to analyze the issue of differential ambition. Thus if any two individuals have the same ambition but one works hard to achieve it and the other does not, and then the ideal of EFO will not be applicable on them. For instance, two individuals, Molly and Simmi have the same ambition in life, i.e. to gain admission into I.I.T. Molly does not work as hard as Simmi, to achieve the ambition. Due to this Simmi qualifies the I.I.T Entrance examination but Molly does not. In such kind of cases the ideal of EFO will not be applicable. The concept of EFO enfolds the division of responsibility between individual and society. This ideal upholds the ambition of an individual without placing any social responsibility on them.

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