The “lottery of birth” gives individuals a very different start in life and very different prospects for life, depending on the place and circumstances in which they are born and grow up, and the heritage, both social and genetic, with which they are born. Being born in a poor and uneducated family, in a poor country, with a genetic heritage that makes you more likely to get certain diseases or less likely to develop certain talents, all this and more reduces your opportunities and your chances to achieve certain goals, to benefit from certain circumstances, to develop yourself etc. And all this through no fault or responsibility of your own.
Your own faults may, of course, aggravate your situation, and your sense of responsibility may make it possible for you to rise above the odds and gain more opportunities and success than could on average be expected from someone in your position. However, these quasi-heroic individuals need not concern us. It’s the average that we have to worry about.
The lottery of birth is morally arbitrary, and the equal value of every human being and the equal respect we owe to every human being, morally forces us to level the field of opportunities as much as we can. We will never be able to offer the same prospects of success to all those aspiring to the same goal and using the same energy and determination to achieve it. We cannot exclude bad luck just as we cannot distribute talent. But there are other ways in which we can help those who are less endowed by the lottery of nature and chance, those who didn’t have the good fortune of being born with good health and talents, in a wealthy class in a wealthy country with a good education system, a good economy, freedom and rights etc. We can fight against poverty, develop education and health care, offer respect and encouragement etc.
But before you can equalize opportunities, you have to measure them. The World Bank has come up with a “Human Opportunity Index” or HOI which combines different measures of opportunities in a single composite indicator. How many opportunities (e.g. access to education, to clean water, electricity, sanitation etc) are available in a country and how fair are those opportunities distributed between the rich and poor?