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

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.

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.

The Care Crisis and Role of Gender in the Philippines

Anonymous student post

I once saw this website that catered to parents looking for child minders. What fascinated me the most was the fact that most of them specifically asked for a Filipina. After seeing this, I did not know whether we Filipinos were seen as very good carers, or whether hiring Filipinas as opposed to non-Filipinos was cheaper.

I know my mother was one before and like the people interviewed by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, my mother left me while I was still young to work abroad. Reading the extract from Parreñas’s book, I can relate to everyone’s experiences; however, I mostly identified myself with Ellen who despite the lack of a motherly figure in her life turned out to be fine. It wasn’t easy for our family, but I never felt any sense of abandonment from my mother. Of course, as Parreñas mentions, not everyone is an Ellen and I do agree with that. I’ve met countless of people like me who were also left to the care of others by their parents at a young age to work abroad, and like Jeek in Parreñas’s book, they experienced emotional insecurity.

The lack of a mother figure in the family is seen as the cause of emotional insecurity because mothers are seen as the one who is in charge of child rearing. What I found intriguing the most in Parreñas’ work was how the Philippine government blames these migrant mothers for this “crisis of care” and even called for their return home.

I recently read an article by WEF about how the Philippines are 9th in the world in gender equality. Growing up in the Philippines, I can say that compared to other countries like Japan we definitely are more gender-equal. Women fare better in education and literacy, it’s also quite common to for women to hold top positions in the workplace and they also hold political positions.

On the other hand, we’re not fully gender-equal.Women are still being blamed for rape and infidelity.There still exist this idea of women having the traditional domestic role. Child rearing is still seen as a mother’s responsibility and not both parents’. Even if both parents are working, the mother is expected to take care of the children.

Relating this to what Parreñas wrote, the Philippine government pointing fingers at migrant mothers reflects how the Philippines still has this gender ideology that a “woman’s rightful place is in the home”. Instead of casting the blame to these women who are not only helping their families but also the economy, shouldn’t the government do their part first?

In the first place, these mothers only left either because there were no jobs available for them or their wages weren’t enough to sustain the family. These are issues that should be answered by the government and not caused by being a “bad mother”. Instead of asking migrant mothers to return, the government should give support to the children who were left behind.They could give support in their education or even providing some means of communication for transnational families. Maybe in that way we can eradicate the idea of stay-at-home mothers is the model of a good mother.

As I mentioned before, there is gender equality in the Philippines but there still a lot of work that needs to be done to be a fully gender equal country.

Equality and Fairness: How Can We Get There?

Sexual equality symbol Català: Símbol de la ig...

Sexual equality symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Ludvig Bergman

In the endeavour towards income equality, there are many different paths available to reach the final goal, which in this case and in my opinion is an effort-based distribution of the money in the society, where those who work hard and are tasked with relatively difficult work are rewarded with a bigger piece that those who don’t.

To avoid the case of the unequal American society, where the top 1% of the population has almost all the money, and move towards something similar to Swedish society, with the top 20% having a larger amount of money than the other 80% but the distribution between the “steps” are much more even. There is the way of reducing the income for the top paid percentages of the population and raise it for the lower percentages, and just like Sweden maintain high taxes that can be redistributed among the population and used to improve the welfare system. 

The danger with a society like this is the fact that, which is mentioned by Kenworthy in the article “Is Equality Feasible?”, if you are deprived of the financial gain of your efforts and skill development, there will not be any motivation left to contribute to the society by getting a decent education and working hard. People might prefer to go through the mandatory school years just to live off the governmental subsidies, which in Sweden in my opinion are way too high.

A society with people without motivation to achieve anything will quickly detoriate. Isn’t a society where the hardworking highly educated people are providing for the “lazy” through high taxes who are beingdistributed by the government in fact an unfair or even unequal society? People are no longer being rewarded with what they deserve, the hard working are getting less and the “lazy” are getting more, which draws me towards the conclusion of this no longer being the equal society I earlier considered.

For this to be considered equal and per definition fair there can not be any freeloaders allowed. Considering economic equality and fairness of gender, in “Gender equality: why women are still held back,” Abigail Player discusses how women in our contemporary time have never had as many opportunities to lead and change the economical and political landscape. Women earn a distinguishably lower salary than men and Player claims that women in the UK earn as much as 140,000 pounds less than men during their lifetimes.

In Sweden we have a political party pushing the issue of gender inequality forward. My opinion of the matter is that if left alone the market and the inequalities in it will by themselves be evened. I believe that by forcing change upon the society by, for example, implementing quotas regarding gender in the work place is something that will hinder the most competent people from being chosen just because a quota has to be met. In the long run hindering the economic growth of companies and in the big picture the whole country.

References

Player, Abigail. “Gender Equality: Why women are still held back.” The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2013/dec/06/gender-equality-women-stereotypes-stop-progress

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

Why Everyone Can’t Be Equal

English: Vector derivative of File:Gini Coeffi...

English: Vector derivative of File:Gini Coefficient World CIA Report 2009.png Based on https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2172.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

Companies that outsource work abroad allow people in the lower classes from more affluent countries to live beyond their means. Such as a middle class family that chooses to bring a maid from the Philippines versus hiring a maid from a company in their own country. Most people like bargains yet they don’t think about the consequences of a cheaper price. Migrant workers who are willing to work for less pressure the wages to decrease or remain the same. Corporations such as Walmart import a large amount of their goods from China and they also pressure manufactures to lower their prices.

A problem with many countries is that they support exporting their citizens to bring money home from overseas, yet when a foreign company arrives with its own workers it causes issues. Also the Philippines encouraged its female population to work abroad, but then they decided to contradict themselves by discouraging mothers from working abroad. High unemployment rates in certain areas causes discrimination against foreign migrant workers in that the ‘natives’ may not be able to find work and thus the foreign migrant workers are the scapegoat because many illegal immigrants have tainted their image.

The main issue is that the jobs do not pay sufficiently and that respect of persons and laws prevent people from obtaining available work. That reason causes people to migrate abroad for higher paying opportunities and even then migrant workers are mostly contract workers and contract workers don’t receive benefits.

The majority of exported workers from the Philippines are female. They leave as contract workers who can only begin to make a profit once they’ve paid off their contract. The affluent families in Europe and the Middle East tend to hire foreign maids as the laws are lax on the treatment of foreign workers and as such many Filipina caretakers experience abuse at the hands of their employers, especially in the Middle East.

In Japan many Filipina women work as hostesses. Also these women make enough money from working abroad that they can send gifts and money and in some cases hire a caregiver to take care of their family at home. Japan is reluctant in considering a hostess visa due to Japan’s nationalistic mirage of being a moral country.

Also the Dagongmei from China; the female working population who come from rural areas are treated poorly on the job. They work many hours for a very low wage yet that wage is high enough for them to send money home. Their work in the factory is temporal as the majority have plans to return home.

Besides engendering work enables men to be exempt from working as nannies and nurturing their children. Also many female migrant workers from Mexico and the Philippines tend to be more highly educated than the male migrant worker population, but low-paid jobs have pressured them to seek work abroad. Also countries that have a high export of female migrant workers tend to have a high unemployment rate among males.

Poor people in the US, specifically those who receive welfare and government aid cost the middle-class and lower a substantial amount of tax dollars. Companies such as Walmart that pay low wages tend to have many if not most of its workers receiving government benefits because they do not earn enough. Even with large tax breaks such companies would rather have tax payers fund the welfare programs. According to many economic analysts raising the minimum wage would decrease the number of available jobs. Also with an increased wage prices would also increase which would cause customers to complain.

Equality is necessary, just as inequality is, but for different reasons. Income inequality is important in order for capitalism to work, yet too much inequality is adverse to economic growth, as is too little. Also socialism is not truly equal in that it removes rights by silencing people. Besides a burger flipper should not earn the same wages as a doctor. Where equality is necessary is in women’s rights and in ending unlawful discrimination of people for various reasons.

References

2009. “Filipino Maids in Mideast Jobs Say They Face Abuse.” Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/PrintArticle.aspx?id=130055

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Hochschild, eds. 2003. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New EconomyNew York: New York Metropolitan.

Hasanov, Fuad, and Oded Izraeli. 2012. “How Much Inequality Is Necessary for Growth?” Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2012/01/how-much-inequality-is-necessary-for-growth/ar/1

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

Ngai, Pun. Becoming Dagongmei: Subject, Gender and Power in a Global Workplace.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2003. “The Care Crisis in the Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy,” pp. 39-54, in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. New York: New York Metropolitan.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Pennington, Maura. 2013. “To Fix Income Inequality, the Have-Nots Must Become the Do Somethings.” Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurapennington/2013/03/08/to-fix-income-inequality-the-have-nots-must-become-the-do-somethings/

Standing, Guy. 2011. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Train, Amy. 2012. “NOT Made in America: Top 10 Ways Walmart Destroys US Manufacturing Jobs.” Demos.org. http://www.demos.org/publication/not-made-america-top-10-ways-walmart-destroys-us-manufacturing-jobs

Worstall, Tim. 2014. “Fantastical Nonsense About WalMart, The Waltons And $7.8 Billion In Tax Breaks.” Forbes.com. http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/04/14/phantastical-nonsense-about-walmart-the-waltons-and-7-8-billion-in-tax-breaks/

Ydstie, John. 2014. “The Merits of Income Inequality: What’s the Right Amount?” NPR.org. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/18/313137739/the-merits-of-income-inequality-whats-the-right-amount

Are equality and fairness feasible? A view from Denmark

English: (Green) Denmark. (Light-green) The Eu...

English: (Green) Denmark. (Light-green) The European Union (EU). (Grey) Europe. (Light-grey) The surrounding region. See also: Category:SVG locator maps of countries of Europe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lisbeth Lyngs

Lane Kenworthy poses the question “Is equality feasible?” in his text on income equality, and then continues to answer this himself in the first sentence: yes. A high rate of income equality is feasible, as he mentions is the case in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The Scandinavian model, where the people get many societal benefits in return for paying high taxes is, according to Kenworthy, indirectly connected to the countries’ low income inequality and “fairness” of the system. As a Dane myself I find this view interesting, and I would like to give my input on the Danish welfare model’s good and bad points and further discuss the “fairness” of this system.

Every child, regardless of where they live or what their parents’ occupation and income is, starts off on equal social ground. Free daycare institutions, public schools and education allow them equal possibility to utilize their abilities—not to worry about getting sick either, since universal health care is also free. Parents get payed child benefits from the state until the child is 18 years old, whereafter every Dane over the age of 18 is entitled to a public support for his or her further education—and should they suddenly be without work, they will receive social security benefits regardless of their position.

All this is only made possible by our taxing fee, which is one of the world’s highest. It is nearly 40% for the average wage receiver, and over 50% for the high wage receiver. In other words, the richer you are, the more you also pay in taxes.

Now, I do not think many Danes would argue that this is not “fair”—they give as much as they take from society. Still, problems arise, e.g. when immigrants gets incorporated in this system. Denmark has a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Eastern Europeans tend to cross the border to find temporary work, while the majority of people from the Middle East come to Denmark in the hopes of finding better life conditions for themselves and stay. And as with the Danes, these people are entitled to receive the social benefits too, after having either worked or lived in Denmark for a certain amount of time.

It is then, that the “fairness” of this system suddenly gets put into question because admittedly, a lot of Danes do not like immigrants “leaching” off of their money in this particular manner. The Polish worker, who has a wife and two kids back in Poland, comes to Denmark to work and thus entitles himself to receive child benefits—which he sends straight home to his family, meaning his Danish colleagues are suddenly paying for people outside their country and society. Meanwhile the Middle Eastern families may experience tough times without work, receive money from the state, and thus further revoke the Danes’ question as to what is a fair handling of their money.

This has been an issue in Danish politics for as long as I can remember. More so since the economic crisis broke out, and Denmark’s economy dropped low and the unemployment rate went up, putting even more pressure on the welfare system’s dependency on people receiving wages and paying tax. The system may be good in creating equality and high social security for its people, but I would argue that just as it has its strength in the people, it also has its weakness. It promises to secure the people in its society, but if too many lose their jobs due to e.g. labor cuts, or their will to pay tax becomes poisoned by the “unfairness”, then where does that lead us?

Lane Kenworthy says equality is feasible, and if the Scandinavian model is proof of this, then yes. But even so, this equal society faces its hardships, relying heavily on the people to support it. Immigrants and a higher rate of unemployed people may put pressure on this system by raising questions of what is “fair” and “just”. An equal society may be feasible, but even then its questionable whether it is “just” and what then makes a society “fair”.

Reference

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

Choosing Your Future from behind the Veil of Ignorance

Philosopher John Rawls

by Alonso Meraz

The Veil of ignorance is a concept that was argued by John Rawls. “If we didn’t know our status in society (wealth, race, gender, class, skills, talents, etc.), what kind of society would we think was just? If we were behind the veil of ignorance, the kind of society we would agree to would be a just society.”

This was brought up in class and I found it very interesting and made me think a lot about it. The way many people think about how a society should be is based on their position in that society. Poor people may want the rich people to pay higher taxes, and rich people could care less about what’s going on with the poor people and their rights. Maybe men think woman rights aren’t important, or maybe some people don’t think about the other races in their society. So if you asked someone what would make a just society, they would answer based on their position in that society.

From “Easy As Pie: Inequality In Downloadable Charts” (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/easy-as-pie-inequality-in-down/)

But what if they didn’t know where they stood in that society, what if they couldn’t decide if they were born into a poor or rich family, or a man or woman, white or black. What if it was all random and just the luck of the draw, what kind of society would you like to live in? This question was asked in class, and I was shown three pie charts. One where the rich have most of the wealth in the country, one where it was pretty evenly distributed and had no huge gaps between social classes, and one that was exactly perfectly distributed between the social classes. I chose the second one because it looked equal and fair to me. But actually the first one where the rich had most of the wealth is the country where I am from, U.S.A.

Why did I choose the middle one? Well, If I was placed under the veil of ignorance, and didn’t know anything about where I would end up in society, I would like a society where everyone has the same opportunities, where even the people at the very bottom have the ability to move up, and even the people at the top can fall down the social ladder if they don’t fulfill their duties. Of course there has to be freedom and everyone must follow the same laws. I would like a society where hard work is rewarded. The middle one best represented this kind of society in my opinion. There weren’t any big gaps between the social classes, so it seemed to me that everyone was given the same opportunities, and everyone was in the social class that they deserved to be in. It looked like the people in the top were there because they worked hard to get there.

Why didn’t I choose the first one? Even though it is my country? That’s because most the wealth was in the top social class. More than half of the wealth belonged to the top. What if I chose that one and ended up at the very bottom, what would I do? There has to be a huge gap for a certain reason, right? Maybe the bottom people were born to poor families, didn’t get the same opportunities as everyone else, and cannot join the top social class. I wouldn’t want to be born in that situation and have no way out. So the middle one was more appealing to me. I think the veil of ignorance makes people think about the very worst possible situation. Because if they were put at the bottom, they would still want the opportunity to be successful and happy. And that would be by giving everyone the same opportunities, freedom, and laws. And that in my opinion is a just society.