It has long been my opinion that all notions of human equality, other than that of formal equality before the law, are destructive of human intelligence and sensibility. My opinion was confirmed recently when I read an editorial in the Lancet, one of the two most important general medical journals in the world.

The title of the editorial was “Equity in Child Survival.” I could have written the editorial myself from the title alone, so utterly predictable was its drift:

Although Indonesia has reduced child mortality by 40% during the past decade, data from 2007 show that children in rural areas were almost 60% more likely to die than those living in urban ones, while those in the poorest 20% were more than twice as likely to die as those in the richest 20%, and girls were 20% more likely to die than boys.

Note here that even if inequality were the same as inequity, there is nothing in these figures to show that inequity had increased in Indonesia during the decade, or to show that it had not actually decreased; and if equity in this sense were an important goal in itself, it would matter little whether the health of the poorest improved, or the health of the richest deteriorated.

In a country the size and complexity of Indonesia, with hundreds of inhabited islands, some of them very remote, it is hardly surprising that there should be quite wide geographical variations in health, wealth and productivity. It is no more inequitable that there should be these variations than that the French should have so much better health than the Americans, or for that matter than the Bangladeshis.