In this nation of supposed equal opportunity, the prevalence of unequal outcomes begs the question: Is the path from opportunity to outcomes guided by a set of rules that can be considered fair? The importance of the answer to this question cannot be understated. If we accept the rather generous assumption that equal opportunity exists at the outset, then we may consider two cases. First, if the rules of the game are fair, then unequal outcomes are the justifiable result of some mechanism(s) originating with equal opportunities for all, and proceeding forward within universally applied guidelines to some natural conclusion.
Conversely, if the rules of the game are unfair, then unequal outcomes may be the unjustified result of some mechanism(s) originating with equal opportunities for all, and proceeding forward at different rates and under different constraints for various persons towards a variety of conclusions. The difference between end points in this latter case can be considered an inequity because of the manner in which one decision rule is applied to one group while another decision rule is applied to another group, without any underlying ethical reasoning.
The question asked briefly here is: “Are the rules of the game fair?” To consider whether the rules of the game are fair, I make use of the popular game Monopoly as an analogy to life in these United States. There are both striking similarities and considerable differences between the world of Monopoly and real life in the United States. These similarities and differences can help us elucidate the difference between fair and unfair rules, and help us see how the rules must be changed to work towards social justice.
At the beginning of the Monopoly game, all players are given the same amount of money without having done anything to earn that money. What a player does with this money (i.e., how he or she chooses to spend it) determines the difference in outcomes by which someone wins the game and the others lose. That there is a difference in outcomes under this scenario is not considered unjust, because the rules that guide the game from beginning to end are considered fair.
For instance, the majority of the game is dictated by rolling the dice, which leaves the majority of happenings within the game to chance. The properties upon which you land determine what you can or cannot buy or how much rent you owe. Chance and Treasure Chest cards are also randomly selected and aptly named, and they apply to all players. The rules that determine who must go to jail and how long they must stay there are uniformly applied to all players as well. Everyone who passes go collects the same $200. Even though certain groups play with special rules (e.g., all taxes go into the middle of the board and are collected by the player who lands on the Free Parking space) within any particular iteration of the game, all players are entitled to the chance of striking it rich under this special rule. With all of the players subject to these vary same rules, the combined elements of random chance and players decisions in the face of opportunity eventually culminate in there being a winner and a loser (although the game might go on for quite a long time), and so long as no one violated these rules during the course of the game, the outcome is considered fair.