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Applications are assessed on their merits, and the applicant deemed most qualified according to appropriate criteria is offered the position.Alternatively, applicants are winnowed by fair competition, and the winner or winners get the superior advantages.
Equality of opportunity is violated if investors decline to invest in a company just because its CEO is a black, or a woman, and they are prejudiced against blacks and women.
If one operates a business and provides a product or service to the public for sale, formal equality of opportunity is violated if one refuses to sell to some class of potential customers on grounds that are whimsical (no sales to people with brown hair, or wearing black shoes) or prejudiced (no sales to people of some disfavored race, religion, or skin color).
Thus limited in scope, formal equality of opportunity would be compatible with far greater educational opportunity being available to Austrian than to Chinese youth.
However, nothing prevents broadening the scope of application of equality of opportunity.
A communist society, in which political, social, and economic privileges accrue to communist party members, might conceivably be run in such a way that communist party membership is determined by competitive examination.
If the examination were set so that the person who earns a top score is the best qualified for the post of party membership, and that person is offered party membership, formal equality of opportunity would be satisfied.
An alternative formulation would have it that when a market economy satisfies formal equality of opportunity, each market agent selects partners for interaction according to the extent to which interaction with those particular individuals or firms would further one's legally permitted goals.
The ideal of formal equality of opportunity has limited scope.
Certainly decisions about whom to invite to be a dinner guest, whom to regard as a potential date or marriage partner, whom to cultivate with a view to forming a personal friendship are not decisions that fall within the sphere of equality of opportunity.
This is not to deny that such decisions can be made in a way that reflects wrongful prejudice. But equality of opportunity as normally understood is a norm that regulates a political and civil society, a common life in which all members participate, rather than every aspect of the conduct of individual lives.