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.

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The present situation of Japanese poverty

by Mizuki Watanabe

According to Anne Alison, present-day Japan has a different host of issues. In particular, one of the most serious problems is poverty. Generally speaking, Japan is very developed country and most people imagine that this country is not involved in poverty. However, there are many people who live at a minimum standard of living. Jobs of those people are usually unstable and often are non-regular jobs. Those poor people do not have equal rights and equal status compared to regular workers. That is to say, their fundamental human rights are violated. Nevertheless, little attention has been given to those problems. We are here concerned with two questions, “What are factors of those Japanese problems? Why does Japan not change and cannot solve those problems?”

The first point that we should discuss is a policy of the Japanese government for the economy. Apparently, poverty is related to the economic situation of our country. When the economy has come to a standstill, the Japanese government always establishes a practical policy only for the economy. To put it another way, it usually ignores the others such as the daily lives of nations and so on. Public assistance must be important at this point. If citizen’s lives are not guaranteed, the Japanese economy never recovers.

Unfortunately, nowadays fundamental problems remain unanswered. Actually, there is public assistance such as a livelihood protection system in Japan. However, such a social security does not work enough. According to OECD.stat (date extracted on 30 Sep 2013), Japanese costs for social security are lower than in any other developed country, especially European countries. Moreover, the Japanese government cut the cost of livelihood protection twice.

Some man has a wife and two children who go to an elementary school. Because of the policy, he does not get enough money and has to cut down their cost of foods and they always eat instant food such as “cup ramen”. Nowadays, there are many people in Japan who live in such a terrible situation. What should be remembered is that the most important thing is a nation’s life and their rights. Government should not forget those things and establish a policy for those deep issues.

There is a further problem which needs to be asked. That is the problem of the Japanese sense of entitlement. Historically, a revolution like a French Revolution and the Arab Spring have never happened in Japan. We have not experienced that we get any rights on our own. Also, Japanese are always called “People who do not say their opinions clearly and agree with other’s ideas” by foreign people. Indeed, we have a famous Japanese proverb that is “Deru kui ha utareru”. This means that a person who is different from other people is blamed. When we are child, Japanese have been educated following to this proverb. Because of those factors, we are always afraid of saying our opinions and do not think of what are our rights seriously. Therefore what seems to be lacking is a Japanese sense of entitlement.

As mentioned above, what is important in poverty is social security and sense of entitlement of citizens. Government has to care about citizens and people have to care about their rights and rise up against their dissatisfaction as well. Now, it is the time to improve our society. We have to think those problems deeply.

References

Seikatsuhogo genjo sitte [the present situation of livelihood protection] Asahi news paper digital Retrieved June 9, 2014 from http://www.asahi.com/articles/CMTW1405091000001.html

Syakaihosyokyufuhi no kokusaihik haiku(OECD countries 2009)[An international comparison of the cost of social security(OECD countries)] Retrieved September 30, 2013 from http://www2.ttcn.ne.jp/honkawa/2798.html

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