Good government provides opportunity, not perfect equality

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:53 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

Among the most popular buzz phrase panaceas for curing the majority of our society’s real or imagined ills is “level the playing field.” Promoted largely by media pundits, social engineers, chronic underachievers and those who believe in government as the solution rather than an avenue, this pie-in-the-sky philosophy is guaranteed to receive standing ovations on a campaign trail but is neither practical nor achievable in the real world.

Whether in the context of politics, education, employment, general welfare or even athletic competition, economics is the common denominator. The idea that if only everyone could begin on an identical plateau, the instances of poverty, inequality in the workplace, imperfect health care and the division between the wealthy and the rest of us would somehow disappear is an idea shared primarily by socialists, champions of class envy and dreamers who see the world as they wish it as opposed to reality.

This notion of a level playing field is wishful thinking in that it ignores fundamental differences among people. We are all human; however, dissimilarities abound in terms of education, environment, initiative, ambition, intellect, curiosity, leadership, ad infinitum.

Consider, as an example of a level playing field, the familiar board game, Monopoly. If I remember this Parker Brothers favorite correctly, each player begins the game with fifteen hundred dollars, and the contest then proceeds with each player enjoying an equal opportunity in rolling the dice. In a perfect world, the game would guarantee each participant a reasonably equal return on his or her initial outlay and conclude with everyone a winner.

That fallacy should be obvious to anyone, whether in the board game or in life itself. Those who win consistently at Monopoly are those who are competitively serious, pay attention, show initiative and see and act upon opportunity. That is also the way of life — some are smarter, stronger, more experienced, more educated and have more drive and natural talent. And, there are inevitably those not so gifted, nor industrious, nor achievement-oriented ­— there are also the ones who expect entitlements without earning them.

Neither government nor wishful thinking can promise an unobstructed path to equality, as that is a direct antithesis to human nature and behavior. Primary examples of this are the failures of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China, Cuba and other Marxist-influenced societies in the promoting of socialist or communist agendas based upon society managing the distribution of goods; the standard being “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Readers of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” will recognize the delusion that collectivism is an enduring proposition. To those not familiar, this is a satire in which the animals eliminate the farmer in order to divide fairly the product of their labor. This lasted only so long as the pigs, they being the intelligentsia, usurped power. The other animals discovered the porkers had become the capitalists, thereby reestablishing the old order — hence the famed Orwellian quote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

In spite of that which your candidate for public office may promise, an arena in which everyone is equal is not in the realm of possibility. The very best government or society can offer is the equality of opportunity for each individual to pursue success in one’s chosen field in accordance with that person’s work ethic and ability. One of the more recent recruiting slogans employed by the U.S. Army, “Be All That You Can Be,” is very appropriate.

Accordingly, the field available to all is one of opportunity. In that realm, leveling, plowing, removal of stones and weeds, tilling and harvesting is the responsibility of the individual, the reward being commensurate with the labor. The government does provide a safety net for those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to compete; however, it must be based on need — there is no entitlement to free lunch.

Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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