Inequality is part of existence and no matter how hard those who believe all inequality must be eradicated, inequality is a part of the human existence. Accepting inequality does not mean that you accept all inequality as there are certain areas where inequality must not be tolerated. The foremost of these is justice and treatment under the law and in access to services and other areas where inequality is an anathema. We must have equal application of the law, equal access to legal defense when charged with a crime and equality in all applications of the powers of government. But even in this there are limits which we must address and decide whether these areas of unequal treatment are acceptable. We can easily give an example where even the most adamant proselyte of equality likely will confess to their acceptance of an inequality. The tax code and such support programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance payments and welfare payments are all areas where society has agreed to not only allow inequality but to strictly enforce and apply these inequalities in perpetuity. There will be candidates running for office in the United States this fall who will base much of their campaign on the application of inequalities in how the government treats members of the American public. They will favor supportive programs which apply largely to their electorate and against any supportive programs which are not applicable to their electorate. An obvious example would be any candidate running for office in the areas around Washington D.C. will support increased wages for Federal Government employees while somebody running for office in central Nebraska or central Montana would call for limiting or even freezing government workers’ salaries. Somebody running in an area where there are a majority of union employees would favor pro-union legislation and programs and probably also the raising of the minimum wage to $15.00/hr. as many union salary scales are figured using the minimum wage as a scaling point.
Inequality is a fact of life and the sooner people understand that, equality in all things can never be accomplished. What one should not accept is inequality which is unnatural or selective in manners other than those inequalities which are a result of natural abilities or differing efforts or difficulties of task. Obviously the greeters at the neighborhood box store and a brain surgeon will not receive equal income. Though the greeter interacts with and potentially can make a positive influence on more people; if you or a friend or relative needed brain surgery, the greeter would not likely have the necessary expertise. The brain surgeon invested a large part of their life and developed a specific and vital skill which may only have an effect on a smaller number of lives. The inequality of skill levels and number of people mastering the skills of the brain surgeon is a much smaller and more elite group of people. Of course there will always be the equality in all things who will make the claim that had the greeter had similar opportunities and training they too could have become the brain surgeon. Where that could be accurate, there would be no means of discerning the reality because, believe it or not, life itself is not equal; but if we are lucky, it is fair.
Equality is one of the important qualities we should use as the basis in how we treat one another. We should not accept biased treatment in our societies, from our judicial system, by law enforcement, in service in public areas such as restaurants, in residential opportunities and numerous places all of which have some relation to interpersonal interactions or opportunities. Even when a society achieves equality in all of these areas, there will still be inequalities for which any solution would require the force of government and would in and of themselves be a form of unequal treatment. Where equal pay for equal work can be a sticky area, equal pay for all people is not actually equality, it’s communism. The problem with full equality for all incomes is that many people will choose the easiest work rather than work harder at a more difficult profession and not receive greater remuneration. What would be the reason to work at some taxing job requiring great exertion of physical energy or years of training and constant continuing education to learn the most recent developments or techniques rather than seek easier employment such as the greeter’s job we spoke of earlier? Granted there are those driven few who seek the challenge but there would be far too many capable people who would not work to their fullest if there were to be no opportunity for additional remuneration. Enforcing universal equal pay would result in losing one of the main incentives which drives many to achieve greater achievement. Without inequality in pay scales there would be little incentive to attempt to advance or perform at a higher level than your fellow employees. Across the board equal pay no matter the level, difficulty or dedication of an employee in their choice and enthusiasm and commitment is the quickest path to across the board disinterested and lazy employees who have little drive or will to exceed or even succeed.
Most of the inequality we find in our day to day world has a direct relation to effort, level of education, difficulty of vocation or physical requirements. The one inequality we most often hear people complain over are the huge salaries paid to professional athletes. Every time the same point needs to be driven home. The discussion usually starts off asking if the top salespeople working on commission making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year selling top products such as real estate, high end jewelry or other high end items deserve what they earn. The answer is always a definitive affirmative. Then we ask about the top medical physicians who perform the most difficult procedures such as heart surgery deserve their high paychecks? Again we hear the answer stating of course. We then mention CEOs and the other heads of industry. Then we point out that all these people have one thing in common, they are in the top five to ten percent in what they do and so are professional athletes. People at the top of their professions, and especially in the top of high money making professions such as sports, make the large salaries in proportion to the money flowing in their line of work. Are ticket prices ridiculous, yes but on the other side the average person can have a better than front row seat with slow motion replay and professional commentary watching the same game or event on television. Pay for view being one of the most expensive television viewing protocols still is often no greater than one hundred dollars and if you have a party with nine friends then it costs only ten dollars each and you get a front seat and reasonably priced refreshments with a wider range of foods from which to choose, and you’re watching it with your closest friends, what could be better.
Equality is something which is a target which we aim to satisfy as best as we are able. Will we ever attain complete equality in those areas where it serves society? Very likely not but that allows for improvement which gives us a reason to try that much harder. We need to fall short from time to time such that we have reason to improve and find new and better means to achieve equality. The one caution we need to remember is that equality in all things should never be the goal. Equality in measure to difficulty, level of performance, importance to society and other considerations will always provide inequality in payments to individuals who satisfy the most demanding needs of the society. Sometimes the inequalities may not be apparent to all people but as long as there is a segment of society willing to put out the money, there will be those who will find the means to satisfy those demands. The good side is that as long as there are these opportunities which offer unequal pay scales, there are opportunities for anybody to find such a niche and make some of those higher paychecks for yourself. Most of us will not take the high risk route and settle for a more equal salary which is guaranteed steady and less risky, which is our choice to make. Sometimes we can make inequality work for us but the one thing we need watch is that we deal with greater equality with the people whose paths we cross. As long as we deal with care and equality we can expect similar treatment ourselves and if we have quality friends and business associates, then we can consider ourselves fortunate and thank Hashem for such goodness in our lives. As a last note, we are all equal before Hashem and Hashem alone judges our goodness.
Beyond the Cusp