Imagine a world where everyone is equal. This would be a world where everyone would think equally, eat equally, be able to do any task equally. Essentially, no one person would be better at doing anything than anyone else. We would all be able to play music with an equal level of skill, we would all be able to fix a refrigerator at the same rate, and we would be able to drive in the exact same equal way.
In this story, Vonnegut depicts a United States where everyone is equal in the way that I described above. To achieve this, Vonnegut introduces "handicaps" into the story. These are devices that hinder those people who are better at a certain activity so that they are only as good as those who are not as good at that activity. For example, in the story, one of the main characters must wear a radio in his ear so that he cannot think anything that is above "average intelligence." Other characters who are athletic must wear weights so that they can be no more athletic than anyone else.
I use this as an example of one of the two different kinds of equality. This is what I would call equality of outcomes. The other kind of equality is the equality of opportunity. There is an important distinction between the two. For example, let's say that you are watching a race at a track meet. This race happens to be the one-hundred meter dash. The racers all start on the line the exact same distance from the finish, but at the end one person wins. This is equality of opportunity. Let's rewind a little bit and say that the runners run the race, and although some are better than others, they all finish at the exact same time. This is equality of outcomes.
The problem is not that we have the equality of outcomes as in Vonnegut's story, but rather because we judge equality on outcomes and not on opportunities. This presents many problems.
Let's say that there are two people who are both entrepreneurs. They have the same educational background, have the same amount of finances for their startup, and are both going into the same line of business. They start their different companies, and after a while, one company succeeds and grows while the other goes bankrupt. Were these two people equal?
In the sense of opportunities, yes. Even though their outcomes were different, the two started on equal footing and it was what they did with those opportunities that determined their respective outcomes.
It may be that we have not achieved either form of equality yet. But we must not judge equality on outcomes, but let Vonnegut's story stand as an example of a skewed equality.