Claim: Social safety nets are intended to provide equality of outcome. What really matters is equality of opportunity.
Fact: Social safety nets are intended to provide equality of opportunity (or at least narrow the gap), not the outcome (which is impossible anyhow). Touting “equality of opportunity” often implies that the market provides such equality, and this is demonstrably false.
It’s become commonplace to hear dismissal of social safety nets and other government programs intended to provide assistance to the poor and/or alleviate growing economic inequality by implying something along the lines that equality of outcome and equality of opportunity are not the same. The implication here is that social safety measures are attempting to achieve equality of outcome and that markets left to their own devices provide equality of opportunity. Neither of these is true.
Markets do not provide equality of opportunity
Opponents of social safety net programs imply that markets (or at least, the market in the United States) provide equality of opportunity. This is demonstrably false. We are all born with different economic and familial situations, peer influences, skills sets, IQ and other cognitive capacities and mentally taxing abilities (for example, the ability to control our impulses and delay gratification). The idea that markets provide anything close to equality I opportunity is simply false.
Social Safety net programs are attempting to provide equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.
Social safety nets are designed to help mitigate this disparity of opportunity. A child growing up in a poor neighborhood with high crime and underfunded schools does not have the same opportunity as their counterpart living in an affluent neighborhood and who attends an expensive private school. Social safety net programs can help the former child by granting access to opportunities not afforded in their default situation. The idea that these programs intend to create equal outcomes is a myth.
“Equality of outcome” only exists as a strawman argument
It should be clear by now that social safety nets are at best helping close the disparity in opportunity, not outcome. Equality of outcome would entail simply giving a person who grew up with countless disadvantages the same “outcomes” as a person who grew up with the perfect scenario. Even the most Draconian policies couldn’t accomplish this. Social safety net opponents likely understand this, and this is the reason they portray them as attempting to provide such.