Over on Left2Right, Don Herzog is talking about equal opportunity, using a race as an analogy. Not that I object to his conclusion, but I’ve never liked the race analogy because it can be misleading.
Wealth is not a race, or at least not a normal one. A race is about more than just a race, it’s about winning the prizes at the end. When it comes to personal financial success, there are no prizes at the end. The prize is awarded for every mile you run, not for running the most miles. The very act of accumulating wealth is itself the prize.
(I’m simplifying by talking about wealth. The real goal is happiness for you and your loved ones, but happiness is also about how you live your life and not about who was happiest when it’s all over.)
If someone in a real race gets a head start, he has a better chance of winning the prize. This reduces everyone else’s chances at the prizes, and that’s where the real damage occurs. But in the wealth race, there’s no prize. Why should I care if some rich kid has a head start? I’m paid by the mile, not by my standing at the end. He may get more, but that doesn’t mean I get less.
(Unless he’s getting more because he’s stealing from me. That’s a whole different problem.)
Now, if you want to help me, the Harrison Bergeron plan of tying an anchor to the rich kid’s leg does nothing to speed me up. Making him poorer won’t make me any wealthier.
Herzog’s argument for an opportunity floor is not incompatible with this line of reasoning. The problem he will run into, I think, is that the very nature of government and taxation is that in order for government to provide anything to the poor, it has to take something from somebody else. This makes it complicated.