Equality of opportunity: What the people want vs. what is given

“Therein lies the problem with the idea of equal opportunity for all. Some people are simply better placed to take advantage of opportunity.”

—Deborah Orr

In the first panel at the ERF 20th Annual conference Marc Fleurbaey (Professor of Economics and Humanistic at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University) gave an interesting presentation on alternative approaches to comprehensive measurement of equality of opportunity and how it could be implemented in developing countries. We caught up with Fleurbaey after the session and recorded the short interview below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5VtPe9tLdo]

Fleurbaey explains that despite the lot of interesting research on the measurement of equality of opportunities, the majority only looks at opportunities, but then one would wonder what happens to the people who fail to seize the opportunities. In fact, he argues, it is rather hard to measure opportunities if you want to encompass all the circumstances that constrain people.

What to do?
He thus argues that an alternative perspective would be to look at satisfying people’s preferences, and trying to incorporate the dimensions that are important to them in a more comprehensive measure of their situation. The challenge there though is with acquiring accurate data sets regarding people’s specific preferences, which “ideally” requires working on the individual level. This allows for more accurate insight into the quality of life, which gives a more comprehensive picture of the inequalities such as access to public goods, infrastructure… etc.

So far, prototypes of this kind of in-depth studies are only limited to the OECD countries. The challenge presented in the case of developing countries, argues Fleurbaey, regards the measurement of certain inequalities on the basic level; such as public goods, services and infrastructure, which are taken for granted in developed countries while they are still pretty much unequally provided in some developing countries.

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