Regarding equal treatment of equals, I think that a good reconciliation between socialism and market economies is the point of view of Sir Anthony B. Atkinson, British economist, senior research fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics.
Nowadays, economic thought about equality has been that of equality of opportunity, meaning that in a society, every person must be given the chance to fulfill his desires of personal growth. As Atkinson writes as example, “If some people work harder at school, pass their exams, and get into medical school, then at least part (but not necessarily all) of their higher salary as a doctor can be attributed to effort. If, on the other hand, their place at medical school is secured through parental influence (for example, preference being given to the children of alumni), then there is inequality of opportunity.”
Usually for contemporary economists, the discussion about equality will end here, if the government assures that such basics conditions for people to thrive then it can be said that equality has been achieved but, does that really mean that the discussion ends really there? For Sir Anthony Atkinson it doesn’t. Atkinson’s point of view is that inequality of outcome indeed matters even in market economies and that those who think that inequality of outcome is irrelevant or the concern for ex post outcomes is illegitimate are wrong, he then provides three main reasons to sustain his hypothesis.
The first approach is that even if individuals exert all the possible effort, they might just have bad luck, for example, people who fall into poverty because of reasons outside of their control according to Atkinson, in any humane society, help should be provided to them.
The second reason goes even deeper in the analysis of inequality of outcome and it focuses on the terms of competitive and noncompetitive equality of opportunity. The second term refers to the equal chance that all people have to fulfill their independent life projects, Atkinson uses the example of a swimming competition, in this case of noncompetitive of equality of opportunity, everybody can take part in a swimming competition and the winners will receive swimming certificates. In contrast, competitive equality of opportunity means that even though everybody has the chance to participate in a swimming competition there is an unequal distribution of prices, a rather extreme example is that the third place gets a chocolate bunny as a reward and the first place gets three million dollars.
The underlying concern of reason number two which is the argument of reason number three to support equality of outcome, is that inequality of outcome today affects tomorrow’s ex-ante playing field, meaning that the beneficiaries of inequality of outcome today can transmit an unfair advantage to their children tomorrow.
Perhaps the most important point in Atkinson’s analysis is the one I quote as follows “Inequality of outcome among today’s generation is the source of the unfair advantage received by the last generation. If we are concerned about equality of opportunity tomorrow, we need to be concerned about inequality of outcome today."
Rogelio Antonio Melo Juárez