Consent To Plastic Surgery?

by Lin, Tzu-Chun

The demand for plastic surgery is growing. The number of clients in the US experienced a three percent growth from 2012 to 2013, and 15.1 million people in America received plastic surgery in 2013 (ASPS, 2014). The growing number of people getting plastic surgery in a way represents a public approval of plastic surgery, however that is not necessarily the truth.

In “Saving Face: More Asian American opting for plastic surgery,” Jennifer Bagalawis-Simes  connects plastic surgery and looking natural (Simes 2010). Bagalawis-Simes states that plastic surgery has been seen as mimicry of being more “white”, and thus she wrote that “Many have procedures that enhance natural look instead of altering their ethnic appearance”.

This is similar to people using skin-lightening products to “naturally” obtain the skin they had when they were babies. How could it be “natural” for an adult to have baby skin?

On the topic of plastic surgery, how could people look more “natural” after having artificial surgery, compared to how they looked before the surgery? However, there is another link, that people seem to be consenting to having these baby skin cosmetics appear in the Japanese marketplace, and it may be a similar mental activity as they may give plastic surgery the consent to appear.

Certainly, the influences from aesthetics and other factors should not be ignored. In “The poor have the right to be beautiful,” Alexander Edmonds notices that plastic surgery has been a tool to obtain body capital, where the representation of good looks or aesthetics is influenced by national cultures (Edmonds 2007). Edmonds helped develop the thinking of the possibility that one region’s aesthetics may have its own roots beside the western-dominant “white is right” ideology. The sense that plastic surgery may turn a person more like its own belonging instead of white or Caucasian may also be a reason for the suggested consent from receiver and public to plastic surgery.

However, the consent to baby skin cosmetic and plastic surgery may also be just the illusion as the result of ignorance. In the arguments regarding race and ethnicity, the term “dominant group” refers to the people who are the majority of their society, the advantage of dominant leads to a less concerning to the racial and ethnic issues, which create an ignorance to the issues.

Suppose that men do not use baby skin cosmetics (where some may), and not all women use it, and in addition these baby skin cosmetics are mainly spread in Japan. These facts lead to the suggestion that it is the people who do not use baby skin cosmetics being the dominant group, thus they may had never give consent to it but did not notice it.

This suggestion is valid for me personally, that months before I had never thought about the paradox between natural looking and baby skin cosmetics. Applying this suggestion to plastic surgery, it makes sense that the majority of people are those who do not receive plastic surgery, thus it become possible that they did not give consent to its existing but due to unnoticed on the issue.

References

ASPS. (2014, Feburary 26). Plastic Surgery Procedures Continue Steady Growth in U.S. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from American Society of Plastic Surgeons: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/past-press-releases/2014-archives/plastic-surgery-procedures-continue-steady-growth-in-us.html

Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful': cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthroplogical Institute , 363-381.

Simes, J. B. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Retrieved November 25, 2014, from hyphen: http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-more-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

The “Return” of Race in Brazil 

cotasby Chloe Lyu

Different from the American white or black model of racial classification, there is a large range of choices between black and white for Brazilians to identify themselves, since Brazil applies skin colour as criteria for classifying one’s race. However, skin colour is more than skin tones in Brazil, as it also relates to the texture of hair, the shape of nose, lips and cultural background.

Moreno (brown) is the most popular term, which is used by nearly 44% of the population when people describe their skin colour. Its ambiguity allows a wide range of people with different skin tones to fit in the same box. In addition, brown is celebrated as a national symbol of mixed raced Brazilians. The founder of Brazil’s national identity, Gilberto Freyre, declared that the skin colour of brown was a great combination of Black, Indian and European, thus it symbolized mixed races of Brazilians’ commonness. Freyre’s work created an image that Brazil was a racial democracy without discrimination, due to everyone’s mixed background, thus everyone was the same.

democracyNevertheless, the reality tells a different story, from the statistics it is obvious that white Brazilians have more opportunities accessing education, work, and a higher standard of living. Despite the race-mixing, the white Brazilian population still occupies the top of Brazilian society, while black and brown people are largely struggling in poverty; Racial democracy is a myth and never actually existed. The colour classification, which has been promoted as a wonderful racial democratic system, sugars up the racial differences and inequality by obscuring the concept of race. In fact, colour and race are the same thing.

The current racial quota policy that benefits black people puts race back on the table and has raised heated discussions. In a debate about the racial quota policy, Demetrio Magnoli, a Brazilian professor, stated that Brazil enjoys racial democracy because people are identified by colour but not race. The new policy has created races by putting into racial boxes and would result in racial discrimination.

Nonetheless, it is really so? Hasn’t race existed forever in Brazil? Without applying the word “race,” people are still judged by their skin colour and treated differently. Racial problems are not returning to Brazil because they never left, while the word race is returning. Brazilians have been fooled so long by the myth of racial democracy, and the black community has begun to say no to the situation.

This response asserts that the American Black or White system is a universal system that should be applied in Brazil for achieving racial equality. However, the colour classification system, as an outcome of myth of racial democracy, makes the race problem rather vague and glosses over the shadow of racial differences and inequality in Brazil.

References

Guimarães, Antonio Sérgio Alfredo. 2012. Race, colour, and skin colour in Brazil. FMSH-PPhttps://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00714628/document

Edward Telles. 2009. The Social Consequences of Skin Color in Brazil. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Still Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Brazil’s racial quotas (2012), http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xr52qg_brazil-s-racial-quotas_news

When You Determine if a Woman is Beautiful, Does Skin Color Matter?

by Nana Tsujimoto

Belva Davis, founder of the Miss Bronze pageant

“You are beautiful.” This phrase can always make a woman really happy and let her be more confident about herself. Winning in a beauty contest is one of the ways of receiving wide recognition as being beautiful by society. This enables not only the winner but also people in the same social categories, especially in subordinate groups, to gain confidence in their beauty, including their skin color.

Numerous kinds of beauty pageants, including Miss Universe USA pageant, are held every year all over the world. As you might have known, there was the beauty contest called Miss Ritsumeikan Collection at Ritsumeikan University last month. Although competing in a beauty contest is quite widely popular in the world up to now, people in dominant group have been getting more chances to win in contests; one the other hand, people in subordinate group have fewer chances to do so.

Miss Bronze California is a beauty contest for African American women which lasted from 1961 to 1968, during the time when many African-American social protests such as the Civil Rights Movement occurred. The producer of this contest was Belva Davis, who was really making an effort to make African American women, especially dark-skinned African American women, to have more confidence in their beauty as African Americans. This contest was one of the great tools to expand the idea of “Black is Beautiful” in the US society at that time. The contest played an important role in fighting against colorism, racism, and discrimination against African American.

Moreover, because of the existence of dark-skinned winners of the contest, the definition of black beauty was expanded. However, there is an important point to consider in this contest: double consciousness. According to the concept of double consciousness, which was introduced by W. E. B. Du Bois, the standard of beauty in the whole African American community can be categorized into two parts: a white standard of beauty and an African American standard of beauty. This is because dominant views are internalized in the community, so to choose either a light-skinned African American woman (a white standard, which also shows privilege) or a dark-skinned woman (an African American standard, which also shows authenticity) for a winner depends on which standard the judges applied.

missamerica

Vanessa Williams (left) and Nina Davuluri (right)

While Miss Bronze California was a contest only for African American, Miss America is now opened for people of all races in the U.S., including African Americans and Asian Americans. The first African-American winner of the contest in 1984 was Vanessa Lynn Williams, who had light skin and blue eyes. Following after her, seven African-American women have been crowned. In addition, this year, Nina Davuluri won the contest as the first Indian-American woman. Both Vanessa and Nina have had to face negative attitudes toward them because of their skin color after they won the contest. For example, Nina has received numerous negative descriptions of her, such as “Too ‘Indian’ to ever be Miss India”. Moreover, she was described as a terrorist on Twitter. Those are not acceptable in the society with racial diversity.

When you determine if a woman is beautiful, does skin color matter? I would answer “No” because I believe all of skin colors are beautiful. Although people’s attitudes toward skin color are shaped in the societies where they grow up, I hope there will be no discrimination on skin color in the near future.

References

Broderick, R. A Lot Of People Are Very Upset That An Indian-American Woman Won The Miss America Pageant (Sept. 16, 2013). Buzzfeednews. Retrieved on Dec 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/a-lot-of-people-are-very-upset-that-an-indian-american-woman

Chaudhry, L. Miss America Nina Davuluri: Too ‘Indian’ to ever be Miss India (Sep 16, 2013). F.LIVING. Retrieved on Dec, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/living/miss-america-nina-davuluri-too-indian-to-ever-be-miss-india-1111477.html

Craig, Maxine Leeds. 2009. “The Color of an Ideal Negro Beauty Queen: Miss Bronze 1961-1968.” In Shades of Difference, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Davis, B. Fighting Racism, One Swimsuit at a Time (February 10, 2011). Ms. Blog Magazine, Retrieved on Dec 10, 2014. Retrieved from http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/02/10/fighting-racism-one-swimsuit-at-a-time/

Stern, M. Vanessa Williams, the First Black Miss America, On Nina Davuluri and Racism (Sep 21, 2013). The Daily Beast. Retrieved on Dec 11, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/21/vanessa-williams-the-first-black-miss-america-on-nina-davuluri-and-racism.html

Watson, E. The Miss America Pageant Has Been Beneficial for Women of Color (Sep 12, 2013). The New York Times. Retrieved on Dec 11, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/09/12/is-the-miss-america-pageant-bad-for-women/the-miss-america-pageant-has-been-beneficial-for-women-of-color

Hostess workers in Japan – illegal sex work or deserving a visa?

Hostess bars and clubs in Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho

by Kyle Waylyszyn

The women who work as hostess workers work just like you and me, but their jobs come with a heavy stigma that surrounds their line of work. When you hear “hostess worker” or hear about them, they are never portrayed in a very positive light. The job description of a hostess, if you don’t know, is to entertain their male customers by doing things like talking, drinking, dancing and other things. Of course, there are some places that offer services greater than what the majority will not do, which is more sexual in nature, but this isn’t the norm.

Sociologist Rhacel Parreñas

The norm is that these women choose to take these jobs of their own free will, although sometimes out of necessity when giving the choice to either stay in their home country and make a far less salary or work as a hostess. Rhacel Parreñas has conducted firsthand research about this topic, and Parreñas says “No one lied to them and explicitly told them that they would only be singing and dancing on stage.” “They were quite adamant,” Parreñas says, “that they weren’t prostitutes.” Rather, she describes the work of hostessing as “commercial flirtation” through which women work to “bolster the masculinity” of their customers. They typically make money for the club owners to whom their labor is contracted by selling men drinks, not sexual acts.”

Even though that these women took these jobs of their own accord, the Japanese government was not pleased with being ranked the highest employers of “sex trade” workers as they were publicized as. In 2004, the Japanese government began changed the visa laws and enforced stricter requirements for the entertainers visa. This caused these women to lose the valuable income need to support their families, but the important numbers the government seen was that the hostess workers dropped down to only approximately 8,607 in 2006 from the 2004 statistic of 82,741 workers.

In light of the action things that go on and the willingness of these women should there be an entertainer’s visa specifically for hostess workers? These women have a right to make a living just like every other human on this planet, so why can’t they work as a hostess legally in a country that seems to have a demand for it? The morality of these jobs maybe the most prominent reason seeing as it doesn’t just involve the person that attends these places, but also the country that allows such unmoral and socially awkward things to happen as a legal business. Think about it would you choose a country to visit that just legalized commercial flirtation, if the stigma that everyone truly though about it was that it is actually houses of ill repute?

Reference

Parreñas, Rhacel. The ‘indentured mobility’ of migrant Filipina hostesses  http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2011/‘indentured-mobility’-migrant-filipina-hostesses

Can we ever be equal?

English: Differences in national income equali...

English: Differences in national income equality around the world as measured by the national Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds with perfect equality (where everyone has the same income) and 1 corresponds with perfect inequality (where one person has all the income, and everyone else has zero income). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Paige Shaw

An unequal society where the upper class holds more of the country’s wealth is considered unfair. In countries such as the United States, the wealthy hold approximately eighty percent of the country’s wealth, and not enough the wealth being taxed from the rich is transferred to the poor. In countries such as Sweden and Denmark, although the distribution of wealth is more equal compared to the U.S., the wealthy still hold a greater percentage of the countries wealth.

Is this still unfair? Objectively, since not all of the classes are equal, it is still unfair. However, I would argue that having a slight inequality between the classes keeps people motivated and is overall better for the economy. People should receive equal opportunities and that everyone should be equal to an extent, but complete equality seems unfeasible.

From a fairly young age we are taught by our parents and in school that everyone is their own individual, and everyone has something about them that makes them unique. Gender, race, and other things aside, you are still different than the person next to you because there is only one of you. So if everyone is different, doesn’t that make it difficult to create a society where everyone is equal?

In his article “Is equality feasible?” Lane Kenworthy mentions that peoples earnings are determined qualities such as intelligence, creativity, confidence, inherited wealth, physical and social skills, and motivation. Most, if not all, are products of genetics, parents’ assets, and traits. We are all inherently different, and we all have our own strengths and weakness, which can make us more capable at performing certain tasks than others. In an equal society where everyone gets paid the same, if one person is a harder worker and better at a certain job than the person beside them, but they are still getting paid the same, it could make them feel less motivated to do their job. Of course there are certain cases that if you loved your job that it wouldn’t matter how much you get paid as long as you could keep doing what you are doing, but the slight inequality between workers keeps people motivated and increases their work effort.

Inequalities are what makes business competitive and drives the economy. And although a completely equal society is an appealing idea, it is not sustainable. In order to pay equally high wages businesses would have to charge their customers more. But in a competitive market, customers will generally refuse to pay more for a good or service when they can get it more cheaply somewhere else. The firm then loses business and has to start letting workers go. Therefore unless wages are lower, which implies some inequality, jobs will not exist.

However it is hard to say whether or not a completely equal society could be good or bad for the economy. It is my general opinion that we need to have that little bit of inequality in order to keep people and markets competitive to drive the economy. It can also be argued that income inequality could decrease consumer demand, and the middle/lower classes may regard high inequality as excessively unfair, causing a decrease in employment motivation and work cooperation.

Complete equality may not be sustainable but too much inequality could also prove to be unsustainable as well. Countries like Sweden and Denmark set a good example of a good balance between equality and inequality. There is still an upper class but more of the countries wealth is transferred to the poor. If more countries adapted a similar system it could prove to be more sustainable.

Reference

Kenworthy, Lane. 2007. “Is Equality Feasible?” Contexts 6(3):28-32.

Being privileged

Nathan W. Pyle / Via buzzfeed.com

by Tommy Pass

I saw an interesting article on a website called buzzfeed.com. It told of an exercise lead by a high school teacher to his students. He instructs his students to crumple up a piece of scrap paper and moves the rubbish bin to the front of the classroom. He then explains the rules of the game; he tells the students that they all represent a population of a country and that in order to move up to the upper class, all they need to do is to throw their crumpled up paper into the rubbish bin at the front of the classroom all while staying in their seat.

The students at the back of the classroom instantly complained, stating that the students sat in front of the classroom have a much greater advantage in the game. The results were as expected, the students sitting at the front of the classroom all had a very easy time getting their papers in the bin, while the students sitting at the back of the classroom had a very difficult time doing so, with only very few managing to get their papers in. The point of the game was to show what privilege looks like, the problems that arise within a society with low social mobility. What happened in the game is that the ones in the back of the classroom complained about their disadvantage while nobody in the front complained as all they saw in front of them was the small space between them and their goal. This can be compared to what occurs within a society with low social mobility; the working class complain about their disadvantages within the society while ignorantly being labelled as simply being uneducated and lazy.

We can compare this example to the veil of ignorance, which is argued by John Rawls. The students in the classroom where very aware of their position, everyone could see each other and everyone was very aware of each other’s advantages, all of whom having the exact same goal. If we were to implement the veil of ignorance in a classroom simulation, would we want to be randomly placed in a typically structured classroom where our chances of sitting right at the back are very high, thus making it very difficult for us to achieve our goal? Or would we want everyone to sit in a line, hence everyone being an equal distance from the rubbish bin? What if the goal was a joint effort, that what would benefit society the most was to get as many crumpled up pieces of scrap paper in the bin as possible? Would we then want to place so many students at the back of the classroom, making it extremely difficult for so many of them to reach the goal? I can’t speak for other people, but I for one would favour all students being placed in a row of equal distance from the rubbish bin, hence making it a fair challenge for everybody, the most attractive choice for me to be placed in from the veil of ignorance and also making it possible to fit the largest amount of crumpled up papers in the rubbish bin.

It is exactly the same in our society; the pros of an equal society far outnumber the cons. Some silver tongued outrider of the corporate world will make the argument sound very attractive for having a very unequal society, but this ignores the fact that we are all reliant on one another in society, none of us are in a world of our own. The truth is even huge corporations depend on the labour of their workforce. This workforce is expensively trained up by the state in the form of public education, state healthcare, etc. The same corporations also depend on the state for other benefits such as research and infrastructure, all (especially the stockholders) while trying to argue for a larger income gap, arguing that doing so will give a society greater competition, higher employment rate, etc. The arguments against a more equal society and higher social mobility is that doing so creates freeloaders and scroungers, but aren’t the ones who rely on the workforce of a state the ones who are the scroungers with their tax avoidance and refusal to pay their workers higher wages? The only ones who benefit from such an unjust society would be the super-rich, which add up to just a fraction of 1% of society, thus the percentage of society which would benefit from equality would be the vast majority.

Japanese Women in the Workforce

by Olivia Katherine Parker

Due to Japan’s conservative and traditional society, most Japanese women have played the role of wife and mother instead of pursuing careers. The common ideal for young women within Japan is to marry a salary worker and to raise a family. Oftentimes, Japanese women do not plan to pursue a career because the challenge of raising children is enough for them.

Japanese women also face a large amount of pressure from society. Not only must a wife cook her husband meals and make him bento lunch boxes, but she must also care for her children, dress them, keep a tidy house, make sure the children get to school on time, make dinner, bathe the children, tuck them into bed, satisfy her husband, and then plan for the next day. The vicious yet “rewarding” cycle of motherhood doesn’t leave much room for a career let alone a part time job.

Since 1990 around 50% of all Japanese women have participated in the paid labor force, however, they leave due to factors such as marriage, child birth, or to assume the role as caretaker. Over two-thirds of Japanese women leave their jobs when they have children and don’t come back. If a woman returns to the workforce after having children, it is usually 5-10 years after the birth of her first child and instead of seeking out a career the majority of women take on part time jobs for extra income.

Japanese companies notoriously under pay their female employees. Women roughly earn 60% as much as men and very few women hold positions of authority such as manager or CEO. On top of that many female employees receive fewer benefits and smaller insurance policies within companies. This makes the allure of a career less enticing and deters many women. For most, job security is crucial and very hard to find.

Recently, Japan’s birth rate is on the decline. In theory this should not make sense. Women are staying home to fulfill the role as housewife so that should result in a higher or stabilized birth rate. Along with a declining birth rate Japan is also facing problems such as longer life expectancies and an increasing elderly population resulting in an economic recession. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to boost Japan’s economy by encouraging more women to join the workforce. However, Japan is also facing a child care crisis. Women who want to return to the workforce are faced with the difficulty of finding care for their children. Day care centers are often looked down upon by Japanese society because a child is not “receiving enough maternal care”. The Japanese perspective or normality is to see a mother with her child instead of in temporary care. So if a woman wants to come back to work after fulfilling her role in Japanese society as a mother but faces criticism and backlash by placing her child in day care (assuming she even finds a day care) it only perpetuates Japan’s contradictory views of women.

Many people believe that Japanese society and culture must change before women can be seen as equal in the work place. Societal pressure, stigmas, and sexism are so ingrained in Japanese culture that it could take decades or generations before a significant change can be seen.

Gender Inequality

by Michael McDonnell

The Irish constitution enacted in 1937 states that:

“1° the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

These declarations, though strongly criticised, are still in place today. I feel they give a good indication of the traditional Catholic views that influenced the policies of the state at its inception. The Ireland of today is quite different. In a 2014 survey by The World Economic Forum, Ireland was ranked 8th out of 142 countries on the global gender gap. This is calculated by examining the pay, health, education, and economic and political participation. As of 2013, 47% of workers are female, making up 55% of women. Half of women with children are working.

However, there are still many problems regarding gender inequality to be addressed. On average women are paid 12.6% less than men and women hold only 30% of managerial roles. Fewer than 20% of directors of large corporations are women.

One way Ireland is trying to address the gender imbalance is through the use of quotas. Currently, women only make up 19.4% of the Irish parliament placing Ireland 23rd out of the 27 EU member states for the representation of women in government. In 2012, legislation was enacted that required all political parties to ensure that women made up 30% of all candidates put forward in the next General Election and 40% within 7 years of that. Parties in breach of this quota risk having their government funding cut by half.

As no general election has occurred since been called since this legislation was enacted it remains to be seen what effect this will have on Irish politics. Much in the same way that quotas in business attempt to put women in managerial roles rather than just as board members, commentators have criticised the policy for not affecting local and regional elections. Women make up just 17% of local government bodies, where traditionally, politicians get their start and work towards the national legislature.

Japan is a lot like Ireland in the way it has seen the role of women in society, as a caregiver in the home. Japan has however been slower to address the gender gap in its society. Currently women make up just 1.2% of executives of Japanese companies and just 11% of the members of the Lower House of Parliament. Japanese Prime Minister Abe has set a goal to increase the number of women in executive positions in Japanese companies to 30% by 2020. This is not a legally binding directive but he has promised tax incentives for companies who reach the quota and has promised to increase the number of day care places and the length of family leave available to entice women to come back to work after having children. At the moment around 70% of women leave employment once they start a family.

A report from the Japanese Gender Equality Bureau in 2011 recommended the adoption of gender quotas in the political system and it was accepted by the cabinet. However, the report was non-binding and did not set specific quota levels.

Abe has said that “Women are Japan’s most underused resource,” and while Japan seems to be correcting this underutilisation it seems to be proceeding at a slower pace to other developed countries and to be missing the important issue of gender balance in political representation.

References

Buckley, F. 2013. Ireland offers an example of the way in which gender quotas can be implemented in national parliaments. EUROPP. Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2013/11/29/ireland-serves-as-an-example-for-the-way-in-which-gender-quotas-can-be-implemented-in-national-parliaments/

Covert, B. 2014. Japan Sets Ambitious Goal For Increasing Women In Executive Suites. [online] Thinkprogress.org. Available at: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/01/02/3111731/japan-women-boards-goal/

Global Gender Gap | World Economic Forum. 2014. Global Gender Gap. Available at: http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-gender-gap#

Independent.ie. 2014. Gender equality is still a problem in many Irish board rooms – Independent.ie. Available at: http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/gender-equality-is-still-a-problem-in-many-irish-board-rooms-30527067.html

Ryan, S. 2014. Irish system has failed to provide higher number of women TDs: Taoiseach. TheJournal.ie. Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/irish-system-has-failed-to-provide-higher-number-of-women-tds-taoiseach-332522-Jan2012/

Sanchanta, M. and Koh, Y. 2014. Japan Ponders Quotas for Women in Politics. WSJ. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304569504576403401964052630

Taylor, C. 2014. Ireland ranked in eighth place in gender gap rankings. Irish Times. Available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/work/ireland-ranked-in-eighth-place-in-gender-gap-rankings-1.1979254

Social Equality and the Idol of Growth

by Marcel Koníček

I come from the Czech Republic, a country with one of the most equal distributions of wealth in the world. However, even the Czech Republic has recently felt the change in the policies of employment in many parts of the economy that are supposed to raise the competitiveness of the economy on the global markets but which also rob the employees of much of their job security. This change became very tangible after the crash of the US banks in 2008, which started the tsunami of economic crisis that sent all European economies into disarray. Suddenly, the broad group of debt-ridden people whose employment depended on the short-term needs of their employers, beingsuddenly shifted from permanent employment into agency work and short term contracts, living from payday to payday, appeared and it has not disappeared ever since.

This is not a local phenomenon. The changes in the Czech Republic coincide with the systematic worldwide shift that Standing describes in his book The Precariat. In the book he is describing the social group of the same name (which is an allusion to the proletariat), a very broad group of people that are living in constant uncertainty. The growth of this social group is mainly caused by the globalisation of the world economy and the effort of the corporations to cut their costs and keep them competitive with the newly rising economies in Asia (Standing 2011:40-50).

It is possible to assume that being part of the precariat is not something that most people would like to experience. Losing your job security is certainly not a good thing. Still, it is not only the companies that are making this change happen. More and more, it is the policy makers of the countries who contribute to the raising social inequality and job insecurity. They argument with neo-liberal ideas of equality being stifling for the economic growth and job security being a barricade for creating new jobs. They speak about economic growth and statistic measures such as GDP as if it was some kind of pagan idol, a cure-all for all the ailments of the human race. That the only thing that is important in the end is the bottom line.

However, things such as job security and social equality have many merits that are hard to evaluate by simple economic statistics. If somebody does not have to be afraid about the future of his job, he is probably less likely to try abuse the social system. If he lives in a more equal society, it is less likely for him to search for easy-sounding but radical political solutions. In this context, the neo-liberal laissez-faire policies look more like a trade-off that might be or might not be worth it. However, this is only true if their initial assertions are true. Is economic equality really slowing down the economic growth?

According to Lane Kenworthy this might not be so. In his study he is comparing economic equality and growth in many developed countries. He finds that:

“Affluent countries with egalitarian institutions and policies have so far been fairly successful at maintaining relatively high levels of income equality. And that success does not appear to have come at the expense of income growth for the middle class or the poor. There may be a trade-off between earnings equality and job growth, but its magnitude appears to bemodest.” (Kenworthy 2011:32)

If that is so, should the politicians be trying to reverse this shift towards inequality and job insecurity? I believe so. Sadly, it seems that both politicians and businessmen perceive growth and spending cuts as some kind of idol that has to be worshiped despite the consequences. This is in my eyes not a healthy sustainable attitude.

Balancing equality, justice, and opportunity

by Luke Eldridge

In class we have been discussing how to fight inequality and whether an unequal society itself is an unjust one. Many societies are constantly trying to reduce inequality but is it always the right thing to do?

I believe that a completely equal society does not always provide the best foundation for development and other factors such as economic growth. Yes, from a moral viewpoint, an ideal world would be one where everyone is equal in social status and/or fundamental worth. But there would then be a lot less motivation for individuals to work or try any harder than the next person. Some people would still be driven by their own desire to do better, but i think that for most, including myself, if there were no opportunity to earn more than anyone else, this would not be the case. Rewards are necessary to motivate people.

We also went on to discuss one of John Rawls‘ principles, the Equality Principle, which is divided into two main points. The first is Fair Equality of Opportunity, which in essence states that everyone should have an effective equal chance as another of similar natural ability to any offices and positions. From where I’m from in the United Kingdom, society leads us to believe that this is the case. Wherever you are born, however wealthy your family is, what ethnicity you are; everyone has the same chance to become whatever they want to in life. Be it a wealthy business man or a professional football player. I do think that it is possible if you try hard enough and experience luck along the way. In reality however, this is not usually true. If you are born into a family wealthy enough to send you to private schools then you will achieve higher levels of education and therefore be able to enrol in a superior university.

This itself opens up many more opportunities, as most companies in London look at what university you attended to gauge whether you are fit for the job or not. Higher class families also tend to have connections with each other, giving their children priority in receiving jobs/internships etc. It is much harder for poorer individuals to achieve the same things as those who are lucky enough to be born into a higher class family. There should be more done by governments to combat this type of inequality, like building state schools that provide free education (which they already do), but it will never truly disappear as there will always be people who earn more than others and can therefore give their children greater life prospects.

This leads us on to the second point: the Difference Principle, which essentially says that the only just inequalities are those that work to the benefit of the least well-off. The individuals who are earning more than everyone else may have achieved this prosperity through luckily being born into it or from working their way up from the bottom. In either cases, they will then be paying more taxes which are then used to help support the poorer individuals who do not have as great opportunities. It comes in many other forms, such as if someone was born with a talent for a certain sport. When the public go to watch professional athletes play, it provides enjoyment for the worse-off people. In these cases, inequality can actually turn out to be good, which corresponds with my earlier idea that inequality is not always a negative thing.