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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Equality = Abstemiousness + munificence

Happiness

Happiness (Photo credit: Rickydavid)

by Glenn Soenvisen

In the contemporary societies of developed countries, most people agree that every individual should be equal to one another: we should have the same rights and possibilities in life no matter who you are and where you come from. Isn’t it strange, then, that we still struggle with poverty, hunger, racism and gender issues, not only in the world as a whole, but in our own respective countries as well? “In principle it’s easy, but you can’t apply any kind of idealism to the real world,” you might argue, and I would have to agree, because indeed, nothing is perfect; there will always be inequalities.

However, I would argue that we are nowhere near perfection in regards to equality issues, and therefore able to lessen these issues tremendously by doing simply one thing: to turn from greedy materialism to moderate abstemiousness and munificence, not only of food, but of everything that the term “materialism” includes – and money. I would even say this approach will increase our happiness in the long run. This text is especially for those that are better-off in our societies.

Just think about when you were most happy in your life: people, even the relatively young ones, reminisce about their their childhood and teens; for elderly people it’s a trademark to do so. Then, what is it that makes us so incredibly happy in our earlier years? I would say it is forced abstemiousness. Remember that doll your parents didn’t buy for you, but gave you as a present on your birthday later that year? Or the time when you finally bought the video game you couldn’t afford after weeks of saving up money? Oh, how worn that doll is now and oh, how many times you played through that game, and most important of all: oh, how you enjoyed it.

Then you grew up, and finally you could mindlessly indulge in your hobbies and interests. Maybe you’re sitting there with a collection of rarely touched, clean dolls on display, or have a whole shelf lined with unplayed and half-finished games wondering where the happiness you had as a child has gone. In short, money spent on yourself can only go so far in making you happy. You don’t need twelve pair of shoes; you don’t need the newest version of iPhone; you don’t need two two-weeks’ vacations a year in Spain at a luxurious hotel; you don’t need everything you buy.

However, we all know that spending money on other people is a delightful feeling: we all like to make one’s girlfriend/boyfriend happy by taking them to a movie or dinner, for example. Even so, this too has its limits regarding happiness. If you spend too much, you’d be worrying if you are dating a gold-digger only after your money, and unless the other person actually is that, he/she would likely feel guilty for accepting your expenditure on him/her.

So what should you do with the leftover money (that is, if you have any)? If you’ve decided to become abstemious yourself and munificent towards your dearest, surely you could put them in a bank for interest along with your other funds, or maybe invest them into stocks to earn even more. But what’s the point? What we’re talking about is leftover money. Why do you need more? You could spend it on insurances and other measures for social security, but considering you have the leftover money in the first place there’s no particular need for that. In short, money can’t do anything more for you; it can’t increase your happiness.

Then, what should you do? I, for one, would say that you should spend it on social welfare. Not only does it benefit you, but it benefits the society as a whole. Donate money to voluntary organizations, vote for higher taxes, and buy a meal to a poor person.

These small things that all of us are able to do to some degree are certainly not going to change our societies in a flash. Inequalities won’t disappear overnight. However, there are benefits: by buying less, massive international corporations will have less incentive to press prices down and move production to impoverished areas. By spending leftover money on social welfare, you will firstly help to reduce social exclusion, which is an important factor for being able to make social contacts and get a job. Secondly, you will help to increase the social security in a non-radical way. Thirdly, you help making social issues known through the support of organizations who promote them. In short, you help people to be able to acquire the same rights and possibilities as yourself, and you hinder people living in impoverished areas to be trapped by long hours of hard work and low income.

You might not see much to the results of your support, but changes cannot always be radical. They cannot always be “neither/nor,” like many social movements portray solutions to issues, since that would throw a society in complete turmoil. Instead, inequalities will gradually lessen through abstemiousness and munificence, which hopefully will seep into our heads and become the norm. In the end, you’ll get happier and you’ll help both yourself and others to stand on equal footing.

How can we build an “equal” society?

by Yuki Muto

In class, we talked about how much salary baseball players should receive. Someone said they should be paid depending on their ability and achievements. Others said they should be paid basically the same amount. Both ways are “equal ways.” In the professional sports world, a stronger one and winner get much merit. We usually don’t complain when a gold medalist get more money than a silver medalist. So, I think a merit system may be admirable in professional sports word. However, given the social system, we cannot build equal society when we think this way.

There are huge gaps and inequality in our society, and some people suffer from poverty. In class, I learned that poor people are poor not because they are wrong, but because they are socially vulnerable. The social system makes wealth and poverty. In our society, we have different environments and backgrounds by nature. People can’t conquer the problem of low incomes, unemployment, sickness, disability, gender, poor health or old age by their efforts. We need to provide security to people who are suffering from these problems in a social system, and that is why social welfare and education are important in our society.

I worry that the Japanese social system tends to be a merit system. Like a professional sports athletes, people who have power and wealth get more power and money, and poor people can’t overcome the poverty. We say our society is a stratified society. I’m surprised that Japanese level of income inequality is high and more close to the data of the U.S. than other developed countries. When I talked with Nordic students in our class, I always wondered why we can’t do like these countries! “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.” That is an article in Japanese constitution. Japanese social welfare system is not enough to secure the all people’s “minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.”

So, what can we do to improve our social system? I think there are 3 steps. First, people (especially who are socially vulnerable) must recognize they are poor because of social structure and system. Second, these people insist to the society the system should be changed, as shown in the film “Women of Fukushima”. When I watched the movie, I thought, to change the social situation, people in trouble need to think, insist and make an action. Third, we need listen to their assertion and support them. It is impossible to make perfect equal society, but it is possible to advance forward equal society.

How to Solve the Problem of the Working Poor in Japan

In Justice

In Justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Megumi Takase

Under capitalist society, the poor can’t earn enough money to make a living while the rich own the large portion of the total wealth of their home countries. It is also true for Japan. Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) featured the problem of the working poor and attracted attention in 2006.

People who are called the working poor live at the low standard of living though they work hard. The problem of the working poor is caused by the structure of society. In Japan, corporations tend to recruit only new college graduates. Thus, it is difficult for people who can’t enter the high school or university for economical reasons to be recruited as regular employees. They tend to become non-regular employees and fall into the working poor. It happens not because of their faults but the social structure.

I think that the government should take action to solve this problem because it is difficult for individuals and corporations to do it which the structure of society made. Above all, the government should promote redistribution of wealth. Whether you succeed economically or not depends on luck. For example, suppose you were born in a rich household. You can enter the private university even if you can’t get good grades in high school. In job hunting, you will have an advantage over the poor who can’t enter the university only because you graduate from the university. After you enter a company, you will earn more income than the poor who are high school graduates. Of course, college graduates must do effort to develop their skills after entering a company. However, if they were born in a very poor household, they must not have an advantage of being a college graduate. Thus, the rich should distribute their wealth to the poor who unfortunately fall into the poor situation.

For the government to promote redistribution of wealth smoothly, the rich should have tolerance for distributing their wealth to the poor. In addition, the poor of course shouldn’t depend on social welfare program. Both the rich and the poor should consider and help each other. For creating a society where everyone considers others, I think that education is important. In high school, I had “Modern Society” class twice a week. However, I only studied the structure of the law, the Diet, or taxation. I had few opportunities to discuss about social inequality in the class. Before I took “International Sociology” class, I hadn’t considered this problem very often. Under this situation, people won’t be interested in the unfair society and understand redistribution of wealth. They will pursue their own benefits. For solving the problem of the working poor, Japanese government should draw up the curriculum which makes the young interested in social inequality.

Thoughts on Inequality

by Kaoru Inoue

We live in a capitalist world – it is the world of winners and losers; it is the world of the rich and the poor; it is the world of developed countries and developing countries. Capitalists discuss people in developing countries like what we can do and should do; by fortune or not fortune, we tend to keep our thoughts with people in developing countries. This is done through media reports, education, bake sales, charities, and etc. Capitalists yet know themselves that they cannot connect people of developed and developing countries into one as a form of equality. Capitalism is something we have been enjoying and this will not disappear as long as we keep living in capitalism. Capitalism is the ideology which brought physical wealth in the form of money or say profit. As Christmas comes nearby, NGOs like World Vision have posted many posters to save children before Christmas. Keeping our thoughts with people in developing countries is not sustainable at this moment. A lot of people have tried to formalize an ideal form of society money-wise; however, those discussions have gone like daydreaming stories upon the reality. The discussion of equality is too idealistic and also not sustainable. Ideally everybody wants to have equality. However, inequality exists and people have tried to tackle this. Without being pessimistic, economic inequality is first of all, unavoidable. They are good at showing their first moves – they are good at getting information and give some thoughts. Taking an example of World Vision, how many of these people found touchy about a poster? How many of them decided to make a pledge? How many of them at least decide to learn more about those children? If capitalists consider people’s lives in developing countries, they shall know by now the limitations on discussions.