Front Page Titles (by Subject) Equal Opportunity - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1
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Equal Opportunity - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1978, vol. 1, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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“Competitive Equality of Opportunity.” Mind (UK), 86 (1977): 388–404.
One version of equality of opportunity is “competitive equality of opportunity.” This refers to principles that insure fair competition and that guide persons in distributing scarce opportunities. Two such principles are advanced. The first principle specifies that we must limit the criteria of selection in awarding these opportunities to those characteristics relevant to taking advantage of any opportunity. For instance, being a Catholic is not relevant to whether or not we admit someone to a university. The second principle requires that we guarantee all persons equal possession of all factors that affect the success of the competition and which are open to human manipulation.
The second principle is the crucial and questionable one. If persons compete for college enrollment, they compete unequally, on this principle, if their secondary education—whose quality is open to human manipulation—was unequal. Equal competition for some opportunity depends on an entire network of past opportunities which, on this view, we must make as equal as humanly possible.
Two basic flaws appear in this notion of equalized competition. The first problem surfaces from the following consideration. Suppose at time T-1, when the persons competed, all the relevant factors which affected one's success were as equal as possible, that is, the competition was conducted “fairly.” But at time T-2, following this competition, some win the opportunities this competition provides and some do not. However, the stated principle sees this as just since everyone competed fairly. But further suppose, as is likely, that the next generation then receives unequal benefits which result from the fair competition at time T-2. When this next generation competes at time T-3 they do so with unequal factors. These inherited unequal factors which affect the success of these competitions are now unfair according to the principle in question.
Thus, the second principle stated above is incoherent. At time T-2 the distribution of benefits is just; yet once competition is conducted following the principle of competitive equality of opportunity, the distribution of benefits at time T-3 becomes unjust because it achieves a distribution of benefits which violates the second principle. This incoherence continues as long as one generation relates to the next.
The second problem arises since equality of opportunity, as described, inevitably conflicts with liberty. The opportunities which a person enjoys largely depend on the choices of others. The only way to equalize opportunities for any competition is to infringe upon the choices of those who have the opportunities to dispense (unless, of course, the dispensers voluntarily choose to be egalitarians). Some might object that it infringes on no one's liberty if those dispensing the opportunities are doing so among those who have achieved equal opportunities. But this objection ignores, once again, the historical nature of the problem. In order to consider the competitors equal in their opportunities at the time when the dispensers of opportunities conduct the competition, one would need to equalize past relevant opportunities. This equalization entails infringing on the liberty of those who earlier dispensed opportunities.