EconLog | David Henderson | Is Equality Before the Law Always Good?(1) "Discrimination" is a fancy way of saying a decision is being made. What people complain about when they say they object to discrimination is a decision being made based on dimensions they think are inappropriate. What we argue about when we argue about discrimination is actually what dimensions we think are legitimate to include in a decision making process. We can change what dimensions are used, but it is impossible to eliminate the decision all together.
In an article today in The Freeman on-line, economist Steven Horwitz makes a case for allowing same-sex marriage. In doing so he makes the following statement:
Government must treat all its citizens equally, and nothing paid for with tax dollars may involve invidious discrimination.I hasten to point out that I agree with his bottom line about allowing same-sex marriage. What I'm not sure of is his general principle quoted above. What one person regards as "invidious discrimination," another will regard as justified discrimination.
Consider an example that my co-blogger Bryan Caplan and I have argued about and that he has convinced me on: means testing for government benefits. [...]
Means testing means explicitly violating equality before the law. Equality before the law is not as straightforward a principle as Steve seems to think.
(2) "Equality before the law" requires us to define what equality is. This is not always straightforward, as anyone who has done enough programming could tell you.
Say you're writing an equality operator for vehicles. You could decide two vehicles are equal if
- they have an identical VIN
- they have the make, model, year, trim, and color
- they have the same make, model, year, and trim
- they have the same make, model, and year
- they are in the same class of vehicle (eg trucks under 3 ton GSW with engines less than 4 liters)
- they have the same make, model and year, and are driven the same distance each year in roughly the same ways by the same types of people