Inequality In Society

Inequality is inherent. We cannot be identical, identicality is impossible. Of course, those who talk of the injustice of inequality mean that society should be more equal, not identical, but then, how much more equal? Not too equal, but not too unequal. At what level then, which is best? Why?

Well, equality levels should be based on feelings of fairness. Why? Feelings would certainly be different for each person, everyone would have slightly different ideas of how equal society should be. Perhaps then, an amalgam of everyone's feelings of equality and inequality, an aggregate balance.

There's another factor, in that equality can only be expressed and detected in like for like. People might talk about an equal society, but imply human society, not consider animals. The pigeons among us in our towns, do they factor in thoughts and measurements about equality? It seems they have an unfairly cruel life compared to ours.

But that's a side issue, we're addressing human society here aren't we? Financial inequality is what people mean when they talk about an unjust society. It's that some people have much more money than others. Why should money be a measure, why not love? Perhaps because one can only have so much love, but money is quantifiable, that's the point of money, to be a quantifiable representation of emotional debt.

So, the crux is economics. Can this be analysed in a paragraph or two?

If a man is rich but holds the money and does nothing with it (in a bank, in investments, under the bed) is it the same as him having no money, because the money is unused? No, but only because it remains as a reserve. If the reserve can never be used then the rich person is identical to a poor one.

But the reserve is only as useful as access to it. It's not the quantity of money that is important but the speed at which it can be spent. If you could only retrieve a small amount per day, then the quantity of savings would be annulled. Perhaps the increase in financial inequality in society is due to this; the growth of automated banking and electronic money transfers.

We should all have equal speed of spending, however.

What then about a psychological perspective? Fairness is like equality. If all were equal we'd consider it fair, wouldn't we? To be equal implies comradeship and friendliness, and those who are different are naturally singled out. The most friendly option is that everyone has equal amounts, and unequal amounts create unfriendliness. A debate about equality and fairness is a debate about friendship and animosity, love and anger. If fairness is about emotions then the solution is also emotional; empathy and understanding of those who are not alike. Acceptance of unfairness? That argument could be used to justify inaction against any injustice, couldn't it?

Buddhism and Stoicism err on the side of personal acceptance to relieve psychological conflict, but is that right? It depends on control. If you can't control an injustice then it should be accepted; I have a friend who is paralysed, this is unjust, but they can't do anything about it. Acceptance would create more happiness than fighting it. If you can control an injustice then action is justified. But then, how do you know for sure what is just or unjust? This tends to be a matter of personal opinion, and mass opinion. In a society, truth is no more than a majority belief. Whether something is just or not, true or not, all that matters is if a majority believe it to be true or just. The lone God with the perfect vision of "real" justice is ignored (assuming Gods are in a minority; often happens).

In an ideal capitalist society we should have equal ability to obtain money. In practise, access to resources is never equal. It never could be because some resources are more scarce than others and in different locations. Even a slime-mold grows better where the food is richest. How unfair on the frugal and hungry parts of mold!

Resources are different than money, they have more power because they are limited and to hold them denies them to others. How should resources be distributed? Even if distributed randomly, the result would be unequal, would that be unfair too? Yes, and inefficient; a rare resource that might be vital to one person, a life saving drug, might be given to someone who didn't need it. A starving man might get a nice pair of shoes, while a bare footed man is given excess food.

The systems that evolve naturally create inequality, naturally favour some individuals over others. This applies to every life form. Even some cells in the body are vastly favoured over other types. The key factor, is efficiency, and for efficiency the fair distribution of resources should be constantly questioned and adjusted.

Some inequalities can be compounded because one resource is needed to access a second. Social resources are important in human society for example, and communication media increase these (as does brain capacity, which might be a result of good diet etc.). People without the Internet or telecommunications are denied access to this resource, which in turn might deny access to other resources.

I have no conclusions from this hastily typed analysis, I'm no expert or economist or study of any theory or politics or philosophy, but some appear to be...

1. Financial inequality might be a result of fluid movement of money rather than inherent injustice. If so, then countries with slower banking systems would be more financially equal.
2. That said, financial inequality is less important than power inequality and access to resource inequality, so at every point, at least the possibility of gaining and losing any power and any resource should exist. That is, a ladder from the very bottom to the very top must at least exist, no matter how bent or how thin in parts.
3. Identification of primary resources, those that can unlock or deny access to other resources, is important to ensure the efficient distribution of resources. Ideally the connections between those resources and strengths of those connections (the width of the "ladder") should be as equal as possible.

Mark Sheeky, 20 March 2014