The left is obsessed with inequality, according to Professor Arthur Brooks of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Administration. Writing for the Wall Street Journal (link here requires registration) on July 19, 2007, Brooks says:
The general view among liberals is that economic inequality is socially undesirable because it makes people miserable; they propose to solve the problem through redistributive policies such as higher income taxesâ€¦.[E]vidence reveals that it is not economic inequality that frustrates Americans. Rather it is perceived lack of opportunity.
Brooks has not written about feminism, to my knowledge. But what application would his claim have to feminism? Presumably Brooks would argue that feminists improperly focus on actual inequality between men and women, instead of equality of opportunity for men and women. In other words, feminists should not ask whether men and women are in substance treated equally to men, but whether they have the chance to be treated equally. This is a version of the formal equality (Reed, Frontiero) vs. substantive equality (Cal. Fed. v. Guerra) analysis that runs throughout much of feminist jurisprudence.
The formal/substantive binary is misleading in both Brooks’ economic analysis and in feminist theory. Economic inequality and inequality of opportunity intertwine. Those who have more opportunities typically have greater earnings. Those who have fewer opportunities typically have less earnings. So, too, are women’s formal equality and substantive equality linked. Without one, the other is meaningless.