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equal opportunity

Paul de Vries


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A standard of decision‐making, stipulating that all people be treated the same, except when distinctions can be explicitly justified. This standard has been used to define fairness in lending, housing, hiring, wage and salary levels, job promotion, voting rights, and other concerns. Artificial barriers, prejudices, and personal preferences should neither restrict nor enhance the opportunities for anyone. Affirmative action programs set goals and quotas for hiring, promotion, and suchlike, but equal opportunity focuses on breaking down the artificial barriers and stereotypes. The standard of equal opportunity is a frequent theme in American culture and tradition. Perhaps the most basic notion of the American free enterprise economy is the value of equal opportunity. Thomas Jefferson used equal opportunity as the foundational theme of the Declaration of Independence: Jefferson's argument is that God made us equal, and that equality is protected for basic opportunities: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is also at the core of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He dreamt that his four little children would someday “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Major thinkers in intellectual history have championed equal opportunity as well. Adam Smith made it a necessary part of an efficient and fair economy. For ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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