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Is Equality Fair? Tom, Dick and Harry

April 4th, 2009

I am now going to examine the word equality. I don’t think we should revere it quite as much as we do. We should use the words equity and fair play more often. You may think that equality and equity are really the same thing. Here is a story to show you that they are different.

Two friends, let’s call them Tom and Dick, are on a day’s walk. They encounter a third hiker, Harry, and they stop for a bite of lunch. Tom has three buns for his lunch, Dick has two, and Harry doesn’t have any. Tom and Dick decide to split their buns with Harry. They cut their buns into three so that each can have five pieces. Harry is very grateful for this, and to show his thanks hands over £5 to Tom and Dick. How should this be split?

£3 to Tom and £2 to Dick? Or, £2.50 each? Neither, if you want to be strictly fair.

Consider this. The five buns have been cut into threes, making fifteen portions in all. If Harry had not come on the scene, Tom would have had nine portions, and Dick six. But when Harry comes on the scene they each take five.

Tom has lost four, Dick only one. To be fair Tom should take £4 and Dick £1.

You may prefer equality here; you may want to be generous. But equity is different. The moral of the story is that sometimes equity/fair play will be positively unequal.

But what about the legal maxim ‘equity is equality’? The small step you have to take here is to accept that equity is not always equality. Sometimes it is actually unequal. The world will never look quite the same again once you have recognised the difference.