Jeebus, Greg. Context, please!
The whole point of inheritance—financial, cultural, sociological—is precisely not to give everyone "the same shot". Inequality of Result + "inheritance" = Inequality of Opportunity. And that's not a good thing. Unless, that is, you think that you choose your parents, and should benefit if you were smart enough to choose them wisely...
Hoisted from February 12, 2007: May I Have My Context Back, Please? http://www.bradford-delong.com/2007/02/may_i_have_my_c.html:
Ummm... Greg? Greg?! GREG!! Greg Mankiw writes:
Greg Mankiw's Blog: More on Inequality: Ben Bernanke gives a talk on inequality, concluding that
the challenge for policy is not to eliminate inequality per se but rather to spread economic opportunity as widely as possible.
By contrast, Brad DeLong concludes
An unequal society cannot help but be an unjust society.
These quotations go to the heart of the policy divide behind right and left. The key question: To what extent is inequality of outcomes a source for concern in and of itself? People will always differ in productivity. Should policymakers act to offset these innate differerences, or should their goal be to give everyone the same shot and not be surprised or concerned when outcomes differ wildly? To a large extent, policymaking often comes back to Rawls vs Nozick...
Quoting often comes back to giving the reader the proper context.
Greg shoulda quoted my whole paragraph.
An unequal society cannot help but be an unjust society. The most important item that parents in any society try to buy is a head start for their children. And the wealthier they are, the bigger the head start. Societies that promise equality of opportunity thus cannot afford to allow inequality of outcomes to become too great...
It's not "Rawlsian equality of outcomes vs. Nozickian equality of opportunity": it's that inheritance makes Nozickian equality of opportunity impossible without previous Rawlsian equality of outcomes. Mankiw uses equality of opportunity to trump equality of outcomes, and then he uses freedom to dispose of your property to trump equality of opportunity. And so he claims to wind up with no equality at all...