Human equality is the foundational principle of liberty. It means that no person inherently has authority to do violence to any other. It means that no person inherently has authority to control or command any other. It means that no person inherently has authority to take the property of any other. The Declaration of Independence summarized these three principles as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Most Americans won’t argue against human equality outright. The arguments begin when the principle is applied to real life situations.
Consider the statement “every child is entitled to a good education.” It sounds nice, very generous and caring. Politicians love to say things like that because it brings in votes. After all, who doesn’t want to help children have a better chance at a successful life? Proponents argue that equality itself requires that every child be given an equal chance to learn and to develop his or her mind. Such claims sound persuasive, but they grow out of a misunderstanding about what “equality” means.
These misunderstandings about what “equality” means are often caused by ignoring the human labor required to create the conditions of everyday life. If you assume that the world naturally produces shopping malls, educational institutions, health care services, housing developments, grocery stores, etc., then it is easy to feel entitled to an “equal” share of them. But these things don’t naturally appear in the world like rocks and grass and water; they are the product of someone else’s labor. To say that every person is entitled to education equates to saying that students have a right to force teachers, pencil factories, textbook publishers, power companies, construction workers, and so on to give them an education. This clearly violates the description of equality above, that no person has the authority to take the property of any other or control or command any other.
The correct understanding of what human equality means only becomes clear when you start with an accurate description of the world: the world is made up of many natural resources, but most are only useful or valuable if someone works to make them so. It takes hard work by other people to create things like education. With this in mind, it is easy to see that you can’t take goods or services produced by someone else’s labor just because you want or need them; that would be treating the laborer as your slave rather than as your equal. Instead, you have to set up a voluntary exchange: give the laborer something he wants and he will give you what you want in return.
So next time you hear about a government plan to provide some wonderful and beneficial service, remember this: the socialist, utopian view that all mankind must be harnessed to the plow so that a few central planners can transform the world into the Garden of Eden sounds nice to those who don’t intend to do much pulling. It also sounds wonderful to the ones who manage to get behind the plow and take hold of the reigns. But forcing a yoke on another person no matter how well-intentioned your goal, is never compatible with human equality.