[Internet MPP] On Equity

A slice of strawberry cake.

Who gets a piece of the cake? How do we know?

I think this is a first in at least a two year series where I take what I’m learning in my Master of Public Policy program and using the concepts to develop my blogging — and more than that, develop my empathy and my activism. For my State and Local Policy Analysis course, we read four chapters out of Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making by Deborah Stone. Each chapter outlined a dimension of policy analysis — i.e. how we know if a policy is good or bad — and how these claims are political and relative. Equity, efficiency, liberty, and security are all goals of public policy, justifications for government action (or inaction), as well as criteria to judge policy.

The first chapter we read was about Equity. I actually have mentioned equity before, in my talk on chores, but in policy we talk about equity because equality isn’t always fair, but equity is an attempt to make a division that is fair, even if it isn’t always equal.

So, what is equitable? Equity is, of course, a political claim. It’s a discussion about who gets what, when, where, and how (which is the classical definition of politics I learned in high school). Or, in the case of chores, who has to do what, when, where, and how. But what might seem straight forward is actually fraught with questions.

How do we define the recipients of a good, or the participants in a policy? A lot of politics has to do with how you define the “in” group versus the “out” group. Since I started with the chores example, I might as well follow through. The current participants in the running of our household are myself and Tim. You might argue that my mom also participates in the running of my household as she sometimes pitches in and does a lot of child care. But I choose to define the household participants as my nuclear family. My mom is in the “out” group; she shouldn’t be assigned any chores. However, Tim and I need to be part of the household management.

What is it, exactly, that is being distributed? When I talk about household management, I am talking about chores that keep our household running; I’m holding parenting as a completely seperate list of tasks. If I were to define household management as inclusive of parenting, it would make sense to add my mom into the participants pool — but because of the way I’m defining the tasks (dishes, laundry, vaccuuming, etc, instead of diaper changes and naps), the participant pool is narrowed.

What is the process by which the good or resource is distributed? I described the process that I used to distribute chores in my marriage already. Part of the reason that process worked was that it was transparent at every step. When I wrote the list, I checked with Tim. When I distributed the chores, I did it with Tim. But other processes might have been seen as fair — like a random number generator. Or a lottery. But it seemed fair to us that we could pick chores that we liked and were good at.

Equity, in some ways, is the most straightforward of these four policy yardsticks, but as you can see — it’s all relative, even as we’re trying to be fair. Different political philosophies might come into this; how you define the “in” group and the “out” group all depends on your philosophy, but these are the basics.

I wrote this as a way to have a framework for my blog, and future discussions. Do you think this is helpful?


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