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By William Letwin

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But then, if workers were allowed any freedom to choose the number of hours they worked per week, some would earn more than others per week. Does it mean that every worker would be paid the same amount annually? But then, if different workers worked different numbers of hours per year - because of ill health, breakdown of machinery or involuntary unemployment - their hourly pay would be unequal. And if they worked different numbers of years during their lives (as differences of health and opportunity would ensure), their lifetime incomes would be unequal.

It might be said, for one thing, that a larger income is not really better for the recipient than a smaller income. Such an assertion would rest, presumably, on some variant of the primitive idea that 'money isn't everything'. Yet giving full credit to this notion, issue could still be joined by positing a hypothetical measure of 'satisfaction' or 'happiness', and asking whether a community in which half of its members enjoyed 5000 units of happiness per year and the other half 10,000 units of happiness ought to be rationally preferred to a community in which every member enjoyed only 5000 units of 26 THE CASE AGAINST EQUALITY LETWIN happiness.

What those precepts really mean is that certain rights should be enjoyed by everyone and not only by a few or many: a notion misrepresented by 'equality' but precisely conveyed by the term 'universality'. That the demand for universality of rights came to be expressed in terms of equality is partly due to historical accident and partly to slovenly misuse of language. Though now embedded in our language, 'equality' is in this context an unfortunate term, because many people read into it the implication that everyone should possess and exercise these rights in equal degree.

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