what is Equality (Equality of Welfare)
Equality of Welfare
The problems of social justice and equality of welfare could be explained as the most important theoretical problems of social philosophy. The equal opportunity of prosperity means that all people should have a similar access to the goods and services provided by society. Therefore, the issue of social justice is an essential component in the equality of welfare. There is no real model of a social system, in which this issue could be realized. People from birth are not equal in their abilities and opportunities. Therefore, it is not their fault or merit. The matter of welfare equality reveals the eternal problem of stratification of community where people with talents and initiatives deserve a greater reward in comparison with others being deprived of such qualities by nature, society, and, even fate. Thus, even if equality of welfare means equal conditions and rewards for all individuals, it could be unfair. It is not good from the point of view of social justice to neglect individuals that have skills, which they use for the development of society. The concept of social justice is historically united with the equal opportunity of prosperity. When society suffers from the struggle for the political power and resources among various social groups, the notions of social justice and equality could be distorted. Therefore, this issue had been thoroughly discussed within the history. Thus, in view of the notion of social justice of certain society, it has various definitions and implementations.
In order to understand the meaning of equality of welfare, one should comprehend the notion of equality itself. This concept could be divided into four types, which compile the principle of the equal opportunity of prosperity. The first type is the similarity of people or their ontological equality. This idea is usually associated with the monotheistic religion. For example, the Christian doctrine postulates the fairness of people and before God. The second one is the fair opportunity in achieving goals (George, 2010, p. 74). It means that all positions in society should be reached due to the competitive selection in view of educational achievements and personal talents. Increasing the persons well-being and acquiring property, as well as moving to higher levels of the social pyramid should be dependent not on ones initial position but primarily on the efforts, the degree of diligence, enterprise, efficiency, sharpness, and other personal features. The third type is the equality of conditions, when living circumstances are equalized legislatively. This idea is aimed at changing community more by means of reforms than by eliminating the existing system of inequality. The fourth type is social equality. It ensures the achievement of happiness and welfare. It implies the implementation of the program of political and economic revolution that eliminates the social causes of inequality. The goal of socialism is precisely related to the destruction of unequal opportunities (George, 2010, p. 77). Radical socialism determines the main source of actual inequality in private property. In such case, the problem of equality intersects with the issue of individual freedom since private property is one of the guarantees of this authority.
Since ancient times, social scientists and philosophers have thought about the nature of relationships among people, the problem of the oppressed and oppressors, and the fairness or injustice of welfare equality. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato reflected the stratification of individuals into rich and poor. He was convinced that country had to be divided into two states. One is made of the poor persons, and the other one is inhabited by the rich (George, 2010, p. 126). These people live together, but they try to take advantage of one another. Plato was the first political ideologist that thought in terms of social classes. In his work Republic, Plato argued that the right state could be scientifically substantiated without suggestions and improvisations. He assumed that such new and scientifically projected society would not only implement the principles of justice but also ensure social stability, equality of welfare, and internal discipline (George, 2010, p. 129). Thus, it could be stated that the equality issue is an essential element of genuine and just community.
The society, according to Plato, has the class character. However, Plato excluded any possibility of inheritance of the class status and assumed the complete equality of opportunity for all children. Therefore, everyone had equal chances to manifest their natural abilities and was trained to fulfill the own role in life (George, 2010, p. 139). To avoid the influence of relatives, Plato proposed the abolition of the family in the class of rulers and established the following matter. The members of this group should not own any private property, except for the minimum necessary, so that they do not protect their own interests. They should focus only on the public welfare. In Plato’s dialogues, there is a rule that individuals should not take into possession another’s property. In turn, the one should not be deprived of the just reward (George, 2010, p. 142). Therefore, the equality of welfare reveals in the statement that every man should have the things that belong to her or him since it is also unfair to take the occupation of another person. On the other hand, in Politics, Aristotle also considered the issue of equality of welfare. He claimed that all states comprised three classes. The first one includes rich individuals; the poor people belong to the second class. The third one is middle (George, 2010, p. 157). The third class is the best one, as its members are willing to follow the rational principle in terms of living conditions. The rich and poor individuals face some difficulties in keeping this concept. The best society is formed from the middle community because social balance and the equality of welfare are ensured.
The issue of private property, as a crucial element of the equal opportunity, has been highly discussed by the philosophers. Aristotle was aware about the woes that accompany this system (Miller, 2012, p. 94). He believed that the imperfection of society could not be corrected by the equation of states or private property but by the moral improvement of persons. In order to reach the equality of welfare, there is no need in achieving the similarity of property. However, it is possible with teaching noble individuals to restrain their desires for power and money (Miller, 2012, p. 97). Therefore, Aristotle praises society, where the middle class is the strongest one. The community where the significant inequality of welfare is present could trigger two highly negative extremes. The one is the plutocratic one (oligarchy), which protects the interests of the rich people, and other one is proletarian (democracy). It acts in the interests of the urban poor individuals (Miller, 2012, p. 102). Any of these extremes could lead to the tyranny and distortion of society. Accordingly, it is not important to know the owner of the private property, but rather it is determinative how it is used. Thus, the presented Greek philosophers were the first ones that outlined the statements, notion, and consequences of the welfare equality.
In order to understand the philosophical concept of this issue, one should realize the following fact. This principle is deeply connected with the issue of social justice. Moreover, it could be assumed that the matter of justice defines the meaning of equality. Social justice is one of the most common social ideals. Its specific content as well as its name, which has been changed throughout the history, is always connected with the certain ideology. Thus, Francis Bacon spontaneously protested against the idea of justice in the conditions of the bourgeois state. Hobbes argued that justice was the natural law; and the state and power are merely appendages of justice (Miller, 2012, p. 142). Hobbs was convinced that if justice could be conducted in other ways, then there were no need in state and power. According to Bacon, justice reveals the assumption that people should not do to others what they do not want to be done towards them (Miller, 2012, p. 145). He argued that justice was the matter that united people and served as a basis for legal relations. Thus, it becomes obvious that social justice, according to the philosophers of Renaissance, is the first and foremost element of community where the equality of welfare is present. On the other hand, classical liberalism did not separate the problems of freedom from moral questions and the requirements of equality of welfare. People were represented as morally equal as well as with equal rights and freedoms. Later, the ratio of liberty and similarity in the theories of liberalism was interpreted more difficult. In some of them, the compatibility of freedom and equality was again affirmed. However, the idea of justice was raised when deciding on the question of their relationship (Miller, 2012, p. 173). Hereby, according to Rowles, it is not a distributive norm but honesty leading to the maximization of minimum (Miller, 2012, p. 177). Therefore, people cannot achieve equality actually. It is unproductive for them. However, when carrying out joint political actions, they are forced to share the fate of one another. In the concepts of neoliberalism, represented by Freedman, the priority of liberty over equality was affirmed. In addition, the Marxist principle the equality of welfare puts the priority of equality over freedom. It is related not only to formal legal equality but also actual one (Miller, 2012, p. 184). Conversely, in the concepts of social democracy, the balance between liberty and the equal opportunity was established. Therefore, it becomes obvious that the principle of welfare equality is highly dependent on freedom and social justice defined by the society.
In order to define this issue, one should realize that it is not the same one as egalitarianism. The one-dimensional concept of equality as equalization in practice becomes the disguise of the uniformity tyranny and does not correspond to humanistic ideals and rationality (Cohen, 2011, p. 62). The equality of welfare could not be explained by equalization since the latter one presupposes ignoring social results of people’s activities, their various features, achievements, and the contribution to the welfare of the whole community as well as the accumulation of material and spiritual wealth. Equalization is irrational from the point of view of society and its members. It does not stimulate the creative activity of people, inhibits the development of their abilities, and leads to the emergence of social dysfunctions. The latter ones, in their turn, distort the notion of welfare (Cohen, 2011, p. 66). In every period of communitys development, there is a complex problem of choosing the rational combination of some ways for combining equality and inequality. Thus, equalization, as the way to fight the stratification of community, could not be the tool to obtain the equal opportunity.
Nowadays, this notion is also based on the stratification of society. However, in comparison to ancient times, the period of Renaissance, and the age of Enlightenment, the problem of welfare equality includes additional components such as equality of race and gender, as well as healthcare problems. Due to the fact that modern community has already coped with the problems of private property and granted the freedom for all people, it still handles racial and gender matters. They hinder the achievement of the equal opportunity (Fitzpatrick, 2011, p. 105). People do not have an equal access to jobs and public services due to their race or gender. The problem of providing affordable healthcare also distorts the notion of equality. While one social class has a financial opportunity and access to healthcare care services, other social groups suffer from severe mental and physical diseases. The reason is that healthcare policies do not cover all minority groups of the population. Since the equality of welfare is a public merit, it could be stated that the contemporary society lacks equality. As ancient philosophers have claimed, the equality of welfare depends not only on the abundance of resources, but also it is reachable when people know how to use them.
To conclude, this problem had been discussed in all periods of history and defined using the notion of social justice. The equality of welfare is a complex concept, which includes the ontological equality, equal opportunities and conditions, and social equality. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato has claimed that society is divided into the poor and rich people; and it is an essential structure of all states. However, he has emphasized the complete equal opportunity for everyone and refuted the possibility of the social class inheritance. On the other hand, Aristotle stated that the society, which is built on the middle class and available on the value of welfare equality, is the strongest and most beneficial one. In addition, it protects the community from the tyranny. Social justice is one of the most common social ideals, which defines the equal opportunity. The philosophers of the Renaissance era were convinced that social justice was the natural law, which should not be distorted by the political power. According to the ideas of classical liberalism, the issue of equality of welfare is connected with the notion of freedom. Moreover, equalization of community is not similar to the welfare equality. Equalization does not stimulate individuals to use their skills, which, in turn, leads to the decrease in the welfare of people. Nowadays, this concept has become even a more complex issue since in order to reach the equality, individuals should cope with the racial and gender inequality.