Equality Isn’t Natural

A New York Times article from the day after Thanksgiving falls into a familiar trap of assuming that equality – among people, among regions, among growth rates, etc. – is a natural condition, so that any deviation from equality is not only worthy of note but a “problem.” Reporter Ian Austen writes:

But [Canadian finance minister Jim] Flaherty did not address a much broader economic problem that has been troubling people who follow the nation’s economy. Although Canada’s economy as a whole is expected to grow by a healthy 2.8 percent this year, there is an expanding gulf between the eastern and western halves of the country.

Indeed, in the past year economic growth has been stronger in oil-rich Alberta than in industrial Ontario, the largest province. Alberta remains the wealthiest Canadian province. But Ontario is not far behind, and it’s wealthier than the other western provinces. The main point is that it would be absurd to expect Canada’s provinces to show the same growth rate each and every year. Yet the Times calls disparity in annual growth rates ”a much broader economic problem that has been troubling people.”

The reality is that nothing is equal. The world is diverse and complex. Different provinces (or states or nations) have different resource endowments, different histories, different policies. Why would we expect them to have the same outcomes, annually or otherwise? The same is true for individuals; we’re all different in infinite ways, so it’s crazy to expect us to end up with the same incomes or assets or accomplishments. And crazy to think that Harvard or the NBA or the Wal-Mart workforce would “look like America.”

Footnote: Google isn’t helping any. When I searched for the New York Times headline “In Canada’s Economic Divide, West Surges While East Struggles,” Google responded:

Did you mean: In Canada’s Economic Divide, West Surges When East Struggles