There is equality of opportunity where differences in individual's wealth, status and power are not so great as to create advantage and disadvantage in the pursuit of personal achievement. The American ideal has been to provide equality of opportunity, whereas the European Social Democracy seeks equality of outcomes. The American ideal has been to provide equality of opportunity.
Liberal ideology and consensus theory claim that broad equality of opportunity exists in modern societies. Equality of opportunity is a political ideal opposed to caste hierarchy though not to hierarchy as generally understood. The assumption is that there is a hierarchy of more desirable and less desirable, superior and inferior positions in a society.
Equality of opportunity is undermined by inequality of condition. But is not the same as two runners given an even start, and equally good tracks. Equality of Condition is a form of egalitarianism which seeks to reduce or eliminate differences in material condition. Inequality of condition does not necessarily lead to Inequality of opportunity. But inequality of condition does undermine equality of opportunity. Marginalization or social exclusion occurs when some people or someone is left out of mainstream society, and denied equal opportunity to participate in social, economic and civic processes.
In a caste society as in India where even today untouchability is practiced in every nook and corner of the country, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is fixed by birth. The child acquires the social status of his or her parents if their union is socially sanctioned. Social mobility may be possible in a caste society, but one is admitted to a different level of the hierarchy based on their initial ascriptive social status. When equality of opportunity prevails, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is determined by competitive process, and all members of society are eligible to compete on equal terms. We cannot have equality of opportunity without equality of condition. Inequality of condition, like soft discrimination, hurts a child throughout a child's life.
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