“Equality” was one of the three famous rallying cries of the French Revolution, the others being “Liberty” and “Fraternity.”
“Equality” has been a goal of numerous political and social movements, Communism among them. “All people are born equal” had in it the assumption that if people are born equal, they should remain so. Inequality to them is an anomaly.
The kibbutz movement in Israel, which I am advising now, has always had equality as a cornerstone of its philosophy. And it is a cornerstone of many religious movements, as well. I consulted to such an organization years ago: Kripalu, a USA yoga spiritual center. The Catholic Church, to whom the Adizes Institute consults today, has many Orders whose members commit to equality, poverty, and service.
I encountered something similar in consulting to some Jewish families, originally from Halleb, Syria. The brothers in the family work as hard as they know how, earn as much as they can, but share equally, regardless of how much each of them has contributed. The same is true in traditional Albanian families.
But, how does it work? Does it work?
First, we should realize that there is no equality in nature. Look at animals; there is a clear hierarchy.
But the same holds for humans. Look at your children: Don’t they fight for the toy their sibling is holding, even if an identical toy is sitting on the floor next to them? In other words, if they want equality, there it is: two toys, exactly the same. So why are they fighting? For dominance. For a position on the totem pole, in the hierarchy. Not for equality.
A hierarchy is one of the causes of inequality. Since hierarchy cannot be avoided, nor can it be eliminated either legally or politically, since it is a natural phenomena, inequality can not be eliminated either.
When equality is forced like in income levels, for instance, in order to return to the natural state of inequality, inequality in non-pecuniary differentials will appear with extra force(Status will become more important than when there are income differentials). And if equality is forced both in income levels and in status, somehow the dynamics of the social interactions will find a way to bring the system to its natural state of inequality.
Take the kibbutz example. In my opinion, the insistence on equality in the monthly allowance for each member, as well as the insistence on the principle that leaders get no more recognition than anyone else, is causing much of the internal discord, even backstabbing, that characterizes some kibbutzim. Inequality is created by the negative feedback people give each other. They put themselves up by putting others down.
A condition for finding a solution I believe is to first of all emancipate ourselves from a utopian expectation of equality. We should accept that there is not and cannot be equality, always and forever. Instead, we should be vigilant in ensuring that the inequality, at any point in time is not hopeless: the “losers” should not perceive the inequality as impossible to overcome, that there is no future opportunity to be equal even through multi-generational efforts.
In the meantime what to do? What is a “workable inequality”?
Regarding income differences, I found out from experience that a multiple of seven is tolerable: the top person in the organization does not earn more than seven times what the lowest paid in the same organization earns. A multiple of five is not only acceptable but recognized as being legitimate. A multiple of three is tolerable, but not sustainable; It will discourage people from taking leadership positions.
I found out, again from experience, that those multiples work not only in financial terms, in income, but also for non-pecuniary rewards such as recognition and status symbols. For example, when structuring companies with the Adizes methodology, we insist on no more than seven layers in the organizational structure, regardless of how big the company is. (The largest company we ever restructured was a multi-national company with 250,000 employees.)
I also insisted on this principle in designing a structure for the armed forces of a country: from private to the chief of staff, there should be no more than seven ranks. (Unfortunately, the client did not accept the principle, and the result has been an increasingly bureaucratic military establishment.)
How about a family structure?
Obviously, children are not equal to parents. But what about equality between the parents? Women have been demanding equality in all aspects of running family life. But in reality, has equality been achieved, or has a new and different but still unequal balance been established? I have noted a burgeoning movement of men demanding equality, because, for instance, they feel that women are increasingly getting a preferential treatment from courts in time of divorce.
The multiple principle will not work here. No one is on salary and there is no such a thing like a multiple in recognition. What to do?
With some effort, a workable inequality can be achieved in a dynamic way.
How would that work? In certain areas of life, one party will have more than the other. For instance, the cosmetic needs of women exceed the cosmetic needs (so far) of men. So be it. At the same time, men’s need for gadgets exceeds that of most women. (Please do not take this differentiation literally. Of course it is sometimes true that a woman wants more gadgets and a man more cosmetics. What is important is that there is give-and-take. The principle will obviously not work if one of the parties wants more of everything, in every arena, than the other party gets.)
How about the hierarchy in decision-making?
A workable solution is that on some issues the wife has final authority, while the man has final authority on others. The decision about who has final authority on which issues should be negotiated.
There are extreme situations where “equality” is a social or political or religious requirement, a value statement that is forced. I found it can work (more or less) but it requires a very strong “parent,” or leader, who is accepted unequivocally by all the stakeholders, who ensures that the natural forces of inequality are dealt with, one who instills religious, political, or social pressures to overcome the natural tendency for inequality.
In the case of the kibbutzim, in the past, when Israel was being established, the dual ideologies of Communism and Zionism to build a homeland for the Jewish people, temporarily created a unifying force that obviated the need for a “parent” to solve the problems caused by forcing people into an unnatural environment requiring total equality.
That unifying ideology did not last: the country was established and the Israeli pioneering society has been replaced by rampant materialism, and the kibbutzim inside that society that are still trying to live by the principles of equality are in serious crisis. Some have dissolved utterly, while others have become somewhat privatized and continue to struggle with how to define “equality”-and, indeed, how to define “kibbutz”-under these new organizational principles.
The goal should not be equality in results. It is not natural. The goal should be equality in opportunities. The inequality in results should be carefully managed by the leadership of that system, in order not to become dysfunctional. At the minimum, leadership must provide hope that the inequality can be overcome.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes