Eternal Clash– Inequality; Or, Is It Equality? Or, Is It Fairness? A Dabate That Leads Down Blind Alleys to Dead Ends…

The ‘inequality’ debate continues to rage on, or is it ‘equality’? Inequality of What? Equality for Who? What does equality or inequality really mean? Or is fairness or justice the issue? Inequality refers primarily to the condition of being– unequal, or injustice, or unfair…

Some people claim that inequality has worsened in recent years. They typically show a chart of the decline of real median household income, and the record high share of income going to the top 1%… Which raises an interesting question about the inequality debate: What are we arguing about? According to Richard V. Reeves; the debate about inequality just keeps heating up, but behind the headlines, the story is more complex, for example; we need to be clear about what kind of inequality we care about:

Do we want to close the gap between low and high earners? Or, between the employed and unemployed? Or, between the poor and the middle class? Or, between the affluent and the really, really affluent– the top 1%? Or, between men and women? Or, between races? Or, between young and old? Or, between countries? Or, between regions of the country? Or, between professions? The list of possible inequalities just goes on…

But, most important, you must be clear about whether you are seeking greater equality of outcomes or greater equality of opportunity… Inequality is a political choice, rather than economic fact… But there is no moral justification for a society with a large gap between rich and poor with little movement between the two– it’s a toxic combination…

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According to Vivek Malhotra; the demand for equality has always been against the prevailing inequalities of the times. The existence of social inequalities is probably as old as human society and the debate about the nature and cause of inequalities is an ancient topic of political philosophy… In classical Greece, Aristotle in his book Politics distinguished between social classes… during medieval feudalism, legal privileges were based upon status and birth…

But in short, different types of inequalities have been long-enduring, giving rise to the notion that inequality is inevitable in social relations. In fact, the pre-eighteenth century teachings argued that humankind was naturally unequal and that there was a natural human hierarchy…

Different ideologies justified inequality on grounds of superior– race, ancestry, age, sex, religion, military strength, culture, wealth, knowledge… According to Turner; inequality is multi-dimensional and the elimination of one aspect of inequality often leads to exaggeration of other aspects of social, political, cultural inequalities. In fact, all human societies are characterised by some form of social inequalities in terms of class, status, gender, power… While debating the concept of inequality it’s important to understand the contradiction between equality as a general value of modern society and inequality at a practical level… and the realities of human societies must be kept in mind…

In the article What Is The Difference Between Equality and Inequality? by Rohit Bura writes: Equality is a contested concept: People who praise it or disparage it disagree about what they are praising or disparaging. Hence, the first task is to provide a clear definition of equality in the face of widespread misconceptions about its meaning as a political idea…

The term ‘equality’ (or ‘equal’) signifies correspondence between a group of different objects, persons, processes or circumstances that have the same qualities in at least one respect, but not all respects. it implies similarity rather than ‘sameness’: Two non-identical objects are never completely equal… Economic inequality comprises all disparities in the distribution of economic– assets, income… The term typically refers to inequality among individuals and groups within a society, but can also refer to inequality among countries…

Economic inequality generally refers to equality of outcome, and is related to the idea of equality of opportunity. It’s a contested issue, whether economic inequality is a positive or negative phenomenon, both on utilitarian and moral grounds… Economic inequality has existed in a wide range of societies and historical periods; its nature and cause and importance are open to broad debate…

In the article Income Inequality in U.S. by Rebecca Borison writes: You don’t need to be an economist to notice that the income gap between U.S.’s wealthiest citizens and everyone else is expanding… Some including the ratings agency Standard & Poor suggests; that the widening gap is having a negative impact on the economy, and others veer away from acknowledging the differential altogether.

To find out how some businesses feel about income inequality– The Inc. Publication polled entrepreneurs and executives from more than 300 fast growing companies and the results showed the following; very few business executives think that the government should try to narrow the income gap, for example; 64% thought it would be unwise for government to try to narrow the income gap, because that would lower the incentive for people to strive and succeed; 70% did not think that the government should try to narrow the income gap in the name of fairness; 53% were totally comfortable with the present state of the incomes, whereas 33% were uncomfortable with it…

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In the article Is Inequality Necessary for Business Growth? by Fuad Hasanov and Oded Izraeli write: For decades economists have wondered whether inequality is bad or good for economic growth. On one hand, entrenched inequality threatens to create an underclass whose members’ have inadequate education and low skills, which leaves them with poor prospects for full participation in the economy as earners or consumers.

On other hand, some argue that because inequality puts more resources into the hands of capitalists (as opposed to workers), it promotes savings and investment, and catalyzes growth… However, policies that aim for growth but ignore inequality may ultimately be self-defeating… whereas policies that decrease inequality by, for example; boosting job opportunity, education… have beneficial effects on the human capital that modern economies increasingly need…

The observation that income inequality is rising across the world economy is not a new one. This phenomenon has been analyzed in major reports by the OECD, IMF, International Labour Organization… The main conclusion of their analysis is that the forces of globalization and new technology have played a major part in the trend to increased dispersion of incomes. In many developed economies, globalization and technological progress have advantaged people with high skills, scarce capabilities… relative to those with low skills…

According to John Hawksworth; there is a lot that can be done on the policy agenda to combat inequality… these could range from boosting early years education for lower-income families to increased building of affordable housing and paying a decent living wage… According to Andrew Sentance; rising income inequality has been a concern for many decades. Even though some economies have systems designed to redistribute income from the rich to the poor, and help disadvantaged improve their economic prospects, these mechanisms may not be adequate in the face of the accelerating pace of economic change…

In the article Capitalism and Roots of Inequality by Fred Goldstein writes: The growth of inequality in the last 30 years, and especially in the last decade, has been talked about for years in many quarters by economic analysts and politicians. But, what does it mean to fight against obscene inequality of wealth? What is the ultimate goal? Is it to reform the tax code, or to reduce corporate money in politics, or to regulate the predatory capitalist class and the greedy bankers… if so, then the ultimate goal reduces itself down to a fight for a less obscene form of inequality…

That is certainly a progressive goal and should always be pursued as a means of giving relief to the middle class workers… But no matter how you boil it down, if you limit the fight against inequality to keeping it within the framework of capitalism, then it means fighting to lessen inequality, but also to retain it, and allow it… According to Dominic Barton; rising and persistent income inequality is the biggest challenge to capitalism… A growing number of people in business have begun to take up the issue of income inequality because the social and economic framework of the country is unsustainable.

It’s not that inequality is by its nature completely bad, but for capitalism to work, you need people who can invest in new activity; and people who have no interest in becoming ‘masters of the world’ and are just happy as employees or small business owners…

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However, there are misconceptions about the reasons for inequality, for example; high earners in modern societies are generally applying their– skills, knowledge, technology… which is intangible capital, rather than the accumulation of inherited physical wealth– the ultimate driver of inequality has little to do with the accumulation of physical wealth… You can see this clearly by looking down the ‘rich lists’ published frequently in the press. The rich are generally ‘nouveau riche’…

They have earned their wealth by applying highly developed skills, or leveraging innovation, or just a lucky break… whereas, the old ideas that accumulation (or inherited) wealth has a relatively minor impact… hence, a more diverse set of policies are needed that will help– raise skill levels, improve education, improve access to opportunities…

According to Michael Sivy; weakness in basic education is one of the worst causes of the growing inequality… U.S.’s superiority in graduate and professional schools helps to create an elite of extra-high-earners. But sub-par student performance at the high school level not only increases inequality but also is a huge drag on long-term growth… in addition, social mobility has declined in the U.S., and that lack of mobility, in fact, may be a more serious long-term social problem than inequality itself…

According to the Brookings Institution research; children born into low-income families are 10 times more likely to remain there as adults than children from wealthier families. When you see statistics like this, we all must realize that more must be done… But, there are no clear paths to equality for all people– even if it was a desirable outcome. Apparently, the only tangible result of this grand debate is just a series of patch work programs that are enablers to achieve some level of fairness (not necessarily equality) for some people, but not others.

A Darwinian view is– inequality is the natural order of things; whereas its the nature of humankind to strive for equality at some level…