The Real Meaning of Equity

President Joe Biden and others of his ilk pimp the word "equity" to earn political profits for themselves.  They have prostituted a good word by giving it a new and illegitimate meaning.

President Biden has just imposed on our federal government an executive order on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity that mandates using racism to determine government actions and selection of its public servants.  This executive order violates the norm of equity set forth by Aristotle, Aquinas, and the Common Law.

The basis for equity is showing personal responsibly to deserve individualized consideration, rewarding our character and good faith.  Equity is not an entitlement, but something to be earned and well deserved.

The word that should be used by President Biden and those who advocate DIE discrimination is compassion — compassion for those who have drawn the short straw in humanity's age-old war of all against all, where the "strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

Aristotle asked long ago, how is equity different from justice but nonetheless still linked to justice?

Equity, he says, is better than being just but is not superior to justice.  He means that, while being just is following the law, sometimes enforcing the law to the letter is not justice.  In those cases, the law must be corrected by mercy in special cases, where individuals deserve unique consideration of their personal situation.

For Aristotle, a rule of law is universal when there are some circumstances that do not completely fall within the rule.  Imposing a general law in unusual cases can lead to injustice.  For example, the law says you must fulfill your contract obligations.  But what if, in your case, you were deceived when you agreed to the contract?  To force you to keep your promise under those circumstances is not justice, but oppression of your personhood.

Aristotle argues that when a case arises that is not covered by a law, then it is right — because the law-giver has fallen short in predicting the facts of that case and has over-generalized in writing the law — to correct the oversight by deciding what the law-giver would have decided had he known the facts of the case.

Thus, not every just outcome can be determined in advance by law; for some circumstances, it is impossible to lay down a law in advance that will be just in those unusual and unpredictable circumstances (Nicomachean Ethics, Ch. V, 10).

Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle's understanding of equity:

[W]hen we were treating of laws, since human actions, with which laws are concerned, are composed of contingent singulars and are innumerable in their diversity, it was not possible to lay down rules of law that would apply to every single case. Legislators in framing laws attend to what commonly happens: although if the law be applied to certain cases it will frustrate the equality of justice and be injurious to the common good, which the law has in view. Thus the law requires deposits to be restored, because in the majority of cases this is just. Yet it happens sometimes to be injurious — for instance, if a madman were to put his sword in deposit, and demand its delivery while in a state of madness, or if a man were to seek the return of his deposit in order to fight against his country. In these and like cases it is bad to follow the law, and it is good to set aside the letter of the law and to follow the dictates of justice and the common good.

It would be passing judgment on a law to say that it was not well made; but to say that the letter of the law is not to be observed in some particular case is passing judgment not on the law, but on some particular contingency.

It is the function of equity "to moderate something, namely, the observance of the letter of the law" (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 120).

Following Aquinas, in England, special courts, called Courts of Equity, were established to "correct" the king's law on a case-by-case basis with judicial decisions based on equity.  If a person felt that the law was being misapplied in his case, he could ask that the case be taken away from the law court and decided by a judge in a Court of Equity. 

Now, in the United States, courts of equity have mostly been merged with law courts so that here, any judge is empowered to decide a case based on the law or the law as modified by considerations of equity.

But to have equity applied to your case is not a right; it was and still is a privilege, which must be earned with good behavior.  The requirement in equity is that you must come to equity with clean hands, which means that to demand equity, you must first do equity.

This means that any person asking for special treatment must do something special to be worthy of being so well treated, something that merits special consideration, something based on the goodness and honesty of his work or intentions.

He who asks for equity must have done everything that in good conscience he could have or should have done to merit special consideration.  If one asks for fair outcomes but has not taken advantage of opportunities to earn those outcomes — become educated, work hard, develop the right skills — then one has no claim in equity to have the government gift him what he asks for.

Grifters and free-riders, those who are negligent or manipulative, don't qualify for equity.  Nor will asking for equity as a personal favor or as charity qualify you for special treatment in equity.

Equity was not invented to provide the same life outcomes in status, education, income, and wealth accumulation for different people.  Equity can only modify a law to help deserving individuals in special cases.

But contrary to this, Section 10 (A) of President Biden's order says:

The term "equity" means the consistent and systematic treatment of all individuals in a fair, just, and impartial manner, including individuals who belong to communities that often have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, Indigenous and Native American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander persons and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; women and girls; LGBTQI+ persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; persons who live in United States Territories; persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality; and individuals who belong to multiple such communities.

This is not equity; this is government dictating favorable allocation of employment and access to government benefits for some groups of people, regardless of how deserving the individuals belonging to those groups are.  This is tyranny of the few over the many.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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