Equality and liberty, These two values lie at the heart of all democratic societies. Yet, the tension between them has caused endless debate. If the case for equality is pressed too hard in the name of “maximizing overall social utility” – for example, by taxing the well-off at punishing rates – liberty will inevitably be curtailed. Furthermore, each citizen’s standing in society should not depend on her contribution to the maximi- zation of some ethereal, aggregate social utility function. We are individuals, each with rights of self-determination.
However, if the scales tip too far to the libertarian side, if we let the chips fall where they may, according to the ruthless logic of the all-powerful invisible hand, we run the risk of denying the equal right to exploit life’s opportunities to thousands of our citi- zens. The fact remains that each person commences his life with an economic endow- ment he cannot be said to rightfully deserve. In our society, starting points are irrevo- cably shaped by parental wealth and position. It cannot be denied that the children of the wealthy commence life with many advantages – they get excellent preschool care, go to first-class schools, attend the most prestigious colleges, have access to important social networks, receive financial help from their parents and may eventually receive a good inheritance. Yet, libertarians ignore the morally arbitrary nature of this initial distribution of economic endowments and focus only on the protection of individual freedom to use these entitlements.
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