Mark Zuckerberg called for a new version of “equality” at a college commencement speech today that included encouragement toward a compulsory “universal basic income.” He said this after erroneously stating that “every generation expands its definition of equality.”

(If he had said, “every generation alters its definition of equality,” he may be correct; but to say the definition is progressively expansive is intellectually naïve.)

Let’s be clear: a universal basic income is NOT an expansion of equality in economic terms – it is a redefinition of equality.

An income (i) is what is received after output (o) and outcome (O). In a free society the income amount is agreed upon prior to the execution of scope – also called a contract.

If I contract an excavator to rebuild my retaining wall because it is failing, he rightly expects a certain level of income based on his level of output and the satisfaction of the outcome. In other words, the mathematical equivalent would be i=o+O. (Profit – that amount of income which is obtained above wholesale costs – is simply a personal (or subjective) valuation of output.)

Making a universal basic income compulsory requires us to disregard the right side of the equation above. It forces individuals to expect a certain level of value simply because they exist – not because of their output or outcomes.

The purpose of this article is not to debate the morality of a universal basic income – that is a different conversation. It may be that a universal basic income is a duty (or oughtness) of mercy to preserve life and living from a theological or philosophical standpoint.

But to call a universal basic income “equal” is to redefine what “equal” is.

As soon as one can expect a minimum value of income (i), irrespective of their output and outcome (o+O), there is no equality.

In practical terms, if I as a loaf can perform 1 unit of work with 1 unit of results, but achieve the same income as my competitor that performs 2 units of work with 4 units of results, I am arithmetically unequal to my competitor in an inferior sense.

This is NOT equality – except if you redefine equality to mean only that which is received regardless of effort; i.e., 1+1=3 is the same as 2+2=3.

Zuckerberg is wrong. Debate the ethics or morality of a universal basic income, but don’t call it equality.