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.

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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.

From precarious Japan to secure Denmark?

Note from Editor: Students are reading Anne Allison’s book Precarious Japan, and sharing their thoughts on how their own future plans are impacted by the instability and insecurity that Allison describes.

Anonymous student post

After reading some parts of Allison’s book, my view about Japan changed. I was thinking of getting a job in Japan after graduating from my university, without a doubt.

Actually, perhaps I can get a good job to some extent because Japan is gakureki shakai (if you graduate from famous university, you are guaranteed to get a good job, to some extent) and my university is famous in Japan. Japanese companies, however, have some disadvantageous aspects such as overwork, less holidays, lack of labor unions, and so on. Also, according to Allison, Japanese society is precarious. For example, relationless, and high rate of suicide. Sometimes I also feel these problems Allison mentioned, so these precarious affect my life plan.

Just then, I learned that Nordic societies are very different from Japan. There are high tax rates, high welfare, and everyone is guaranteed to have life that people should have. Denmark especially is famous for being the happiest country in the world (http://diamond.jp/articles/-/32485?page=7). People in Denmark do not need to pay money from elementary school to university, and for medical costs. And after retirement, they are guaranteed to have enough pension to live a life. This society is very opposite to Japanese precarious society.

The sense of well being is also different from Japanese to Danish. According to Aya Omoto, Danish put their happy on everyday life. They feel happy for the things we tend to be matter of course, such as talking with friends, having food, being healthy. To the contrary, it might be said that we Japanese tend to feel happy for being superior to other people, having much amount of money, and working hard to get fame. For this reason I strongly come to be interested in Danish society because I like a sense of well-being. Danish have.

Living and working abroad became one of the way to live a happy life for me, however, there is a saying : The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. If I were born in a Nordic country, I might think that I wanted to be born in Japan, and vice versa. It can be said that there are no perfect countries in the world, and there are absolutely some bad points. For these reasons, I might get a job in Japan and want to work in many countries through a Japanese company, and in this mean my ibasho can be said to be the earth itself, and I want to make relationship in the world.