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On Equality

On Equality
Wendell Funk

Placing figures on social issues is an iffy and contentious proposal.  However, a dialogue of socioeconomic equality is long overdue.

Does one percent of our population control forty percent of the nation’s wealth?  Do annual earnings of $350K get one into the top one percent?  Are exact figures as important as what flows from their disparity?  Is it the ‘richness’ or the increasing ‘gap in richness’ that is of greater significance.

Runaway income at the ‘top’ while those at the ‘bottom’ gain little, if any, increase, rapidly widens the gap between the haves/ have nots.  Is this increasing rate of income disparity acceptable in a democracy?  Why should the non-affluent pay proportionally more taxes than the affluent?  Does anyone believe that tax dodges, tax loopholes, and tax shelters were created to serve the middle class?  Government should not be an institution that allows some to benefit and others to suffer – Gandhi.

The plight of those at the bottom (reduced access to nutritious food, inadequate health care, and low quality education and a greater exposure to violence) are large negative impacts to their mental and physical health and to opportunities for economic advancement.

If one percent of the population accounts for thirty five percent of health care spending, is this equality? Is rationing health care on the basis of who can pay, moral?

The wealthiest consider themselves in excellent to good health with longer life expectancy.  Those at the bottom have far lower expectations. Extra millions are not going to make the one percent live much longer but a small amount of extra income can make a huge difference to the health of a broad band of those low on the ladder!

The poor have the largest families and shortest lives but are denied family planning assistance.  Greater economic and social equality would improve health, education and social cohesion.  However this worthy goal is not likely to be attained without a great shift in western political culture.  Must we await another evolutionary leap forward?  Darwin II, perhaps?

Though the young can’t, on their own, develop the data displaying the damaging effects of inequality on their education, it is as grievous as that resulting from inadequate health care.  Growing income inequality has widened the disparity in resources that rich vs poor families can invest in their children.  Early schooling can greatly affect income distribution in later life.  The earlier the schooling begins, the more effective and rewarding it will be.
Does the absence of economic justice make charity necessary?  Can perpetrators of unbounded wealth honestly display regard for the impoverished and defenseless?

When deciding issues such as equality it is most productive if input to the brain is rational in nature rather than emotional – though emotions have an important function in sensitizing us to the vital needs of society.

We claim to believe in the rights of man, but isn’t it primarily the rights of property that are upheld?  We claim to stand for freedom, but isn’t it the freedom of the strong to dominate the weak?  To make them work harder, we pay the rich more, but pay the poor less, expecting the same result!

The magnitude of inequality damages social cohesion.  When the affluent pay directly for necessary services in their lives, they become less willing to spend tax money on everyone else.  This erodes public services and creates a hierarchy of quality – hardly typical of a ‘one’ society.

The issues of relative poverty are more subtle than those meeting basic needs.  It matters if one can answer “yes” to the questions: 1. Can I participate in society?; 2. Am I a member of the community?  Community being a focus on what is best for all rather than of what is in it for me.

Inequality serves the interests of some.  Equality serves the interests of all. Making societies poor, poorer is repulsive.  When we see gross inequality, vanity, greed and corruption it saps the will to contribute to society.

If our moral concepts coincide all too well with our personal advantage, we should be suspicious of them.  Do not pervert justice, having one judgment for the poor and another for the rich – Confucius.

Wendell Funk
27 September 2012