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.

Can Japan Solve Pay Inequality in the Global Economy?

by Yuri Kasai

Globalization influences each country’s economy and individual salaries. The Lehman Shock of 2008, which happened with the collapse of housing bubble, affected many countries with the economic downturn and led to the global financial crisis. This accident reduced the value of currencies such as the Euro, and European countries suffered from economic recession.

Japan has had the economic downturn of manufacturing companies due to the strong yen. After the Lehman shock, the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 affected the world economy again. Many materials and parts supply companies in Eastern Japan area stopped production and Asian economies were disappointed. The exchange of countries’ production, stock and finance occurred. Because we made the global economic system, we cannot escape from the global economy and from competing with each other.

In the result of global competition, some companies have an economic downturn and reduce employment and salaries. This brings about pay inequality. The inequality of salaries in Japan will be mainly these two:

  1. contract employees v. regular employees, and
  2. women v. men.

Contract jobs in Japan are other jobs than regular employees and have the fixed period of employment, shorter time of work, and fewer responsibilities than regular employment (Takeishi, 50). Around 44.2% of contract employees choose this work style, for the reason that they can find no post of regular employment in any companies, according to the questionnaire survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2006 (Takeishi, 51). 45.8 % of all companies have the system to change from contract employment to regular employment. Some companies pay the same salary of graduate recruitment for the former contract employees, and others pay the salary of the former contract employees considering about the practical knowledge.

About gender, it is difficult for women to follow the same course as men to be promoted. Only women who have the potential to do good work can be promoted and many women cannot get the management job. There is a big salary gap between men and women.

According to Kenworthy, the countries who have relatively low tax burdens, should ‘allow relatively low wage at the bottom of the earnings distribution’ in order to increase the employment of private sectors. If people with zero or single-earner households at the low end of the distribution, getting a new earnings relative low will push up the income of the household. And, this will reduce income inequality among households. Japan is the country who has relatively low tax burdens compared to Norway. Kenworthy’s idea is effective for many contract employees to get a better salary than today.

Japan is a relatively low taxation country. Considered about national burden rate of taxation, Japan is 38.5% compared to Norway’s 55.4%, Denmark 67.8%, and Sweden 58.9% in 2010, according to the Japanese Ministry of Finance. However, is Kenworthy’s idea effective to Japan? I want to discuss about solution of pay inequality in the concept of Japanese social welfare and the economic situation.

How about equalizing the system of government? Given the philosophy of government, the government has the role to equalize the income and reduce the inequality. Taxation has the role to equalize the inequality of wage. Japan’s low Gini index shows that Japan cannot redistribute the income. Japan needs to reconsider the income tax system and care about national pay inequality. Reduction of minimum wage is not considered about a way to solve inequality wage in Japan and the rise of minimum wage is often considered a good way. However, if the wage increases, the number of employment will decline and unemployed people will increase. Additionally, decision of minimum wage is conducted by the local or central government, not considering the situation of employees. The minimum of wage is decided in no political way. In Japanese system, taxation is a effective way to equalize pay inequality other than decrease of minimum wage.

Secondly, considering about the recent economic situation, the government should not allow the minimum of salary down depending on the economic situation.

Japanese monetary value, Japanese stock value is lower because most of investors who are foreign investors, hesitate to invest in Japan’s stock or money and observe if Japan’s manufacture companies will recover from economy recession of the earthquake. If they can see a little evidence of recovery, they can buy Japanese stock and national debt. Before they do, the economy cannot grow and salaries cannot increase. In this reason, we have to wait for a good season to grow the economy. Or, if we cannot see any growth, with the increase of consumption tax to 8%, the government maybe take the low-price policy and companies would keep the employment at the same level. Reduction of minimum tax will not happen, in my opinion.

Pay inequality becomes a bigger problem with the global economy, although there are many ways to solve the inequality problem and it is difficult to find an effective way to each country. We have to think about how we can equalize inequality in order to make more stable domestic economy and protect people’s life because we will face the risk of widespread of economy recession from the connected world and will face more competitive global market.

References

Takeishi, Emiko. “About the Convert System From a Contract Employee To a Regular Employment” Japanese Employment Research Magazine, 573, 50-53, 2008 April. 18 Dec, 2013.

Ministry of Finance, The bar graphs of OECD countries’ national burden rate of tax, 2010, http://www.mof.go.jp/tax_policy/summary/condition/238.htm. 18 Dec, 2013.

Thoughts about the Internet and Morality

by Seiichiro Itoyama

The internet has, I believed, more or less crippled and degraded our sense of morality. Morality, I define as is our ability to predict and judge the outcomes of our actions either satisfying nor satisfying a predetermined or unseen result.

In the physical reality that we inhabit, actions (most of the time) come with consequences, however good or bad they may be. An example would be “theft.” If you go into a CD store and steal a whole bunch, the scanner would detect the bar code attached to your CD and will go off, setting the security guards, and possibly the police into action. What about listening to a unofficial music video (one of those with still images, only streaming music) not provided by the artist him or herself, but rather uploaded by someone on youtube. What if you go one step further and download the full album from Piratebay.

In all the examples, your essential outcome to be gained from the action is listening to the music. The wholly unique thing about the internet is that there are no consequences that come with your actions within the internet (yes the police can track your IP address and arrest you, but what are the chances). It is only action and result, nothing more, cut and dry.

Although our society has tried to reinforce physical morality into the information age, it has no doubt had little to no effect, when it comes to regulating behavior on the internet that can call into question our physical moral perspectives, such as online piracy. Why has it had little effect? Because it was and is too late. The notion that the internet, the technology which drives our information age bends our physical moral perspective has become justified by mostly the users (and creators) of the internet. Maybe this is because the internet hasn’t had much time to mature yet, since it’s only been 60 years since the concept has been around and implemented.

As the title of the post states, this is just a thought that has been in my mind for a while, and I do not have any resolution about this issue. However, I believe that both the creators and users of the technology must have absolute conviction, responsibility and belief to drive the moral standard of how the technology can be used.

 

Environmental Racism – A problem with no visible solution

Save our water

Save our water (Photo credit: uusc4all)

by Jonas Horvei

The world as we know it is still very much an unequal society.  It is unequal because how others will treat us in our lives is already to a certain extent pre-determined on the day when we are born. Where we are born, our nationality, our family’s background, one’s looks, and the color of one’s skin and so on all plays different in how others will perceive and treat you. A few weeks ago I learned of another new concept related to inequality and discrimination called “Environmental Racism”. According to the USlegal (2013) definition, environmental racism can be defined in the following way:

Environmental racism refers to intentional or unintentional targeting of minority communities or the exclusion of minority groups from public and private boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies. It is the racial discrimination in the enactment or enforcement of any policy, practice, or regulation that negatively affects the environment of low-income and/or racially homogeneous communities at a disparate rate than affluent communities. (2013, USLegal)

Hand in hand with the concept of environmental racism, we also have the concept of environmental justice. In short, environmental justice can be said to be a movement’s response to solve the issues of environmental racism. It is more or less a social movement who strives to put an end to environmental racism, or at the very least to create a more even distribution of both the benefits and burdens.

According to the basic principles of Environmental justice, the movement strives towards the following goals:

  • For everyone to be protected from environmental harm
  • The elimination of environmental threats
  • That everyone has the freedom to participate in environmental decision making

Whether it is possible to realize these ideals or not is a completely different question. What we can conclude so far though is at least, that social movements such as these do help, and they do have results. Pellow and Brulle (2007) describe in one article how the environmental justice movement has been able to fight against cases of environmental racism in the United States. They describe first how researchers managed to provide conclusive evidence that there was in fact a large bias in hazardous waste sites being located in communities where the majority of the citizens were minority groups. Through years of long battles the environmental justice movement helped stop the construction of over 300 garbage incinerators in the United States just in the period short period from 1985-1998. At the same they also influenced the large decline of municipal waste and medical incinerators also in the United States.

In such cases, we can clearly see that social movements do provide a very important element on the local level to stop the construction of sources of hazardous emissions. They highlighted the issues of environmental racism, and the dangers associated with chemical waste incinerators. Without the environmental justice movement, it is hard to say what the situation would be like, but it is evident that social movements do help.

As can be observed, the movement of environmental justice in America has had a strong impact on American society and has had a positive effect, whereas many of the most hazardous polluters have either been shut down or forced to relocate, and has made it difficult in the creation of new such polluting sources in America. Nevertheless even with such incredible results achieved, I cannot help but having this pessimistic view that there is still a long way to go and that future outlook certainly might not exactly be optimistic as many are to believe.

Then comes the problem, what do we actually do with the waste? With larger volumes of waste being produced, where do we put it, what do we do it? We put it somewhere else and ignore the problem. In my opinion, it seems like we are simply witnessing a relocation of the problem itself, that is to say that the problem is instead being transferred to somewhere else. Due to the influence of globalization, more and more industries take the leap abroad, often to developing countries. In such countries not only are labor costs cheaper, the emission restrictions are often much more relaxed. As a result the developed country can remove its pollution problem from its own border, while at the same time gaining profit from not having it in locating it their home country. So even if we might see an improvement in terms of hazardous waste and pollution in our local culture, it does not necessarily mean that the problem has disappeared. In fact in many cases it is highly likely just that it has simply been relocated somewhere else. America does it, Japan does, China does it, even Norway does it, and every country is guilty of it. For instance you have the case of Thor Chemicals, Inc, who during the 1980s moved its mercury reclamation processing facility from the corporation’s home in England to a village in South Africa. (Harper, Rajan 2004, p.3) Cases on international scale where the Northern countries move production, or move the waste disposal to southern countries are unfortunately far too common.

Then what is the solution to environmental inequality and environmental racism? Environmental emissions, pollution and hazardous waste are some of the biggest problems we are facing on a worldwide scale. There is no easy fix, it is as simple as that. Stricter restrictions, finding more environmental friendly solutions, raising awareness of the problem, and stopping making companies benefit from polluting rather than operating environment-friendly are some of the solutions off the top of my head. That is how we I believe we can minimize the problem. As long as issues of environmental pollution exist, inequality will also exist. As sad as it may sound, this is a natural part of human nature, we discriminate against those who are different. As long as we can get away with it, we discriminate, and as long as it remains more profitable to dump waste in neighborhoods with minority groups, or shipping off tons of waste to the Philippines or Bangladesh, environmental inequality will persist, without taking into account the health of other human beings that do not belong in our local environment.

References

Harper, Rajan. “International Environmental Justice: Building the Natural Assets of the World’s Poor.” University of Massachusetts, August 2004. Web 18.December. 2013. http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/working_papers/working_papers_51-100/WP87.pdf

Brulle, Pellow. “Poisioning the planet: the struggle for environmental justice” the American sociological association, 2007. Web 18 December. 2013.

Humans keep discriminating and ruining for themselves

Factory

(Photo credit: TimothyJ)

by Marius Brusegard

Chuck Laszewski mentions the catchphrase “Environmental racism” in his article “The sociologists’ take on the environment”. This phrase means that people with less influence or wealth have to suffer from environmental hazards caused by landfills, hazardous waste dumps and dirty factories. Laszewski further claims that numerous reports have proved conclusively that environmentally hazardous businesses have been overwhelmingly established in poor or minority neighborhoods, hence the phrase “environmental racism”. Politicians were able to bring dirty factories etc. into these areas by claiming that it would increase the tax base and create jobs. Indeed jobs were created, but according to sociologist David Pellow, referred to by Laszewski, these dirty facilities were producing poor economic results, jobs hazardous to the workers, and a new source of toxic emissions in the neighborhood.

These types of environmental hazards have been placed in these areas most likely because of the knowledge about how environmentally damaging the hazards really are. I find it hard to believe that helping these poor areas grow economically was an important part of the siting process of these environmentally hazardous businesses. I find it likely to believe that the economic growth and increase of jobs for the respective communities were used solely as arguments to convince the people of these areas to accept having these environmentally hazardous businesses placed in their areas. This means that the influential and wealthy people are knowingly forcing the less fortunate people to live in an environment damaging for their health. Even if people wanted to move away from this new environment, most of them probably can’t afford it. After all, many of them are living in these areas because they can’t afford living anywhere else. If they were to move to another area within their price range, chances are that they would eventually have to move again for similar reasons.

Another aspect that I find disturbing is that by building these factories etc. in poor areas with lack of jobs, it makes the areas dependent on these factories. There have been some cases of this happening in my home country, Norway. Factories were built in small communities and these communities then experienced economic and social growth. Naturally, many people in these towns got jobs at the factories, and the population even grew because of people moving there for work. However, after several years, the market changed and there were either no more need for the factories, or they were relocated somewhere else more beneficial to the factory owners. This caused a lot of people to lose their jobs, and their lives were abruptly changed. People were forced to move in search for work, schools had to be shut down, and the formerly vivid towns had transformed into so-called “ghost towns”.

The fact that people do not want to have these hazardous factories in their own neighborhoods testifies how dangerous they are. In order to get rid of these problems, we would have to stop producing products that creates hazardous waste, and go over to using natural products as far as possible. However, this means that the human race would have to take some steps back from today’s modern society. But moving backwards does not seem to be something the human mind is set to do, even if this way of moving backwards could result in a healthier and longer lasting environment for the future.

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.

Individual Responsibility and Inequality

by Ryo Tanaka

Inequality has always been one of the common issues in many aspects of society, such as labor market and education. Here I define inequality as the situation in which an individual or a group of people is socially or economically disadvantaged for factors he/she is not responsible for. The idea that inequality should be reduced is based on humanitarianism that suggests “those who have suffered through no fault of their own should be helped” (Aguirre & Tuner, 2011, p. 55). But depending on what kind of inequality to look at, equalization could not contribute to growth. To take income inequality as an example, Kenworthy (2007) argues that “the smaller the income share of the rich (i.e., the less inequality), the less investment there is” (p. 29). The wealthy are expected to invest much of their money to accelerate capitalist economy. Otherwise, widened income gaps “may weaken consumer demand”, reduce “employee motivation and work place cooperation”, and “reduce the share of the population that is able to invest in higher education” (p. 29). Therefore, a certain degree of inequality should be kept to maintain economic well-being.

Now the question is how much (or what kind of) inequality should be kept to encourage people’s consumption, sustain people’s motivation to work, ensure opportunities to go on to higher education, and ultimately achieve the society that satisfies everyone’s will? At the same time, another big question is what should be equated? As mentioned above, income inequality should not be completely equalized because equal distribution of wealth is too egalitarian to encourage further economic growth. In order that individuals get higher standards of living and the whole society grows economically, individuals should be responsible for their own effort and every outcome of their effort. In this sense, they are even responsible for inequality of income.

At this point, inequality of outcomes is individuals’ responsibility. But it should be noted that they become really responsible for outcomes of their efforts as long as they are given opportunities to make efforts. For instance, if they have no access to school, simply they have no chances to make own efforts and expect responsive outcomes such as graduation degrees and other qualifications. Equal opportunities to learn should be guaranteed for everyone to allow everyone to participate in the given society.

In summary, I discussed how much individuals are responsible for their fate and the nature of inequality in relation to individual responsibility. At least they are responsible for outcomes of their effort including test scores and the amount of income. However, they become responsible only if the opportunity to make their own effort is given. By “own effort” I mean a certain amount of effort that an individual needs to make depending on his/her prospect about what he/she wants to achieve. In other words, everyone should have the right to decide how much effort he/she makes. If an institution like school controls how his/her make an effort for his/her own sake, it would manipulate the outcome of his/her effort. He/she then has no idea about how to be responsive to the outcome that does not depend on his/her own effort. Therefore, equal opportunities to make own effort are more essential than immediate financial control like redistribution of income. Inequality of outcomes is OK; inequality of opportunities is not OK.

Reference

Aguirre, A. & Turner, J. H. (2011). American Ethnicity: The Dynamics and Consequences of Discrimination (7th edition). New York: McGraw Hill.

Kenworthy, L. (2007). Is Inequality Feasible? Contexts, Vol. 6, Number 3, pp 28-32.

Balancing justice, motivation, and inequality

by Mao Shibata

There are many differences all around the world: female and male, and youth and elderly. All of the people have their own uniqueness or characters and these differences are necessary. However, there are many injustice differences in this global age. While only few people reap great benefits, almost others are suffering from such as famine, poor and social classes in the world and the gap between two of them get more and more wide. If we do not consider or come up with something measures, injustice differences will keep bringing serious impact on the lower people’s life and break down the economy balance.

For example, there are over 1 billion people in India. 80 percent, majorities of Indian-such as rural or urban middle class- are not affluent and they have to work as farmers, clerks, police officers, and teachers and in other mid-level civil service positions. Meanwhile, only 20 percent of affluent enjoy their life with Western life style and many of Western luxuries. According to Rawls, the reason why these injustice differences happen is that one’s life prospects are determined by their family’s assets or traits in society. That means no matter how intelligent and talented he is, he cannot get proper status or job due to insufficient income or assets of their families.

It is obvious that we should take some measures immediately, and a lot of countries have tried to balance fighting inequality with providing incentives for economic growth, however, this problem is really hard to solve since it is difficult to figure out what is fair for everyone. For instance, if he who has great skill or capacity and try and succeed but get same salary with others who do not have some special ability and not as much strive as he did, he would lose his motivation and unwilling to take part in society. It is impossible to distribute everything to everyone evenly in the world because all of us have our own differences.

Then how should we deal with injustice issues? I consider that we need a fair equality of opportunity, to bring everyone to the same starting point. People who have less well-off family are unable to get high level college degree, English-language skills, and good job so that they cannot participate in the new global economy. It is really severe and unequal situation. Opportunities should be open to all of the people. Moreover, I also believe that we should draw up a certain minimum standard that everyone can get surely and equally, and then give an additional reward depending on one’s talent and achievement. Though injustice differences are not easy to deal with it, we have to figure out fair measures to change income and economic opportunity inequalities conditions.

What is a “fair” society?

by Azusa Iwata

I was wondering if there is a real “fair” society in the world?  I think there are no answers to my question because how we feel about “fairness” is different, depending on the person. I would like to think more about following the question in terms of “fairness”: “your company has produced a successful product and more has ¥100,000,000 to distribute as bonus, how should you distribute it?”

At first, it seems that the successful product is the only achievement of the team that developed the product. In that sense, the company should distribute all bonuses to the team that developed the product. However I think it is unfair because the most important thing is that the company is supported by all workers. In that sense, the company should distribute the same bonus to all workers, which should be fair to all the workers. However, it also makes me feel unfair because the workers that produced the successful product spent a lot of their time to produce that successful product, compared to other workers. In terms of how much time they spent for the project, in my opinion, at first, the bonus should go to the team that developed the product like 50%. Then, CEO should get 25 % because CEO left the project up to the team that developed the product. I think CEO’s judgment was right, which deserves 25%. Finally all workers should be distributed 25% even though they were not involved in the developed team. It is because the workers are working for the company, which might have helped the team that developed the product indirectly. In this way, it is clear that all workers involve the team that developed the project not directly but invisible ways.

In conclusion, above the example of the way to distribute the bonus is just my opinion in terms of “fair” society. As it is clear, what the “fair” society is different depend on who we are. However, I think we need an undisputed “fair” society because there are a lot of social problems, such as big gaps between the rich and the poor.  I think there should be various ways to solve those problems, but a “fair” society is the first step to make the society better. In order to make a “fair” society, I think we should have the definition that can judge what “fair” in this situation is clearly. In short, we need the definition of “fair” in various situations. I hope the “fair” society that all people can admit will come in the future , which can make the society better.