By John Baker
Booklet by way of Baker, John
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Additional info for Arguing for Equality
To many people, that question seems oldfashioned and irrelevant. Even the English language conspires against it: how can you take an idea seriously when its noun form, 'desert', is spelt like an and wasteland and sounds like ice cream? But in fact the concept of desert is one of the most common ideas in moral discussion, which you can hear practically every day of the week. If that sounds exaggerated, just listen for a few days to what people say and you'll soon change your mind. A particularly fertile environment for desert is pay differentials.
There's a similar point for merit desert. You may be brainy or good-looking or creative, and these are valued qualities, but can you really take any credit for them? Maybe you were born -59that way; maybe you went to good schools; maybe you were pushed by your parents. Why should you benefit, when you're only what you are due to circumstances? The general argument is that no one is really responsible for their actions, so desert can never get a foothold. Its main problem is that the basic premise is so contentious.
No one's denied that. The argument has only been that they aren't all they're cracked up to be, and that they'd be surpassed in a truly egalitarian society. But at least equal opportunity makes the competition for inequality fair. In self-contained, specialized competitions like flower shows and chess tournaments, we have a good idea of what counts as fair play: the competitors enter under the same conditions, are afforded the same facilities, are judged by the same standards, and everything is set up to reward what everyone agrees on as -50excellence.