Sustainable Equality: Solutions Addressing Economic Inequality

Rene Castro Blog, Opinions July 16, 2015

by: Angeli Guadalupe

A paper published recently by Oxfam entitled “Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More” shows that the richest 1 percent’s share of global wealth will increase to more than 50 percent in 2016. Members of this global elite had an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014. This is in stark contrast with the one billion people still living on less than $1.25-a-day. From this it is evident that the gap in wealth distribution is widening fast and action has to be taken soon.

In the World Economic Forum held last January, proposed solutions emphasize the need to change the business-as-usual scenario. Governmental and institutional solutions should be put in place. Tax avoidance by corporations and rich individuals should be targeted. Taxation should be shifted from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth. Limits on inheritance should also be imposed. Tycoons such as Warren Buffett have expressed their decisions not to leave their fortunes to their children. This would encourage their children to work as hard as other employees, thereby promoting meritocracy and not mediocrity. A lot of failures in large companies are done by incompetent heirs who don’t realize their privilege hence do not take their responsibility seriously. Another solution in redistributing wealth is giving more entitlements- both in terms of financial and social support- to the poor. Minimum wages set in countries should be implemented across industries, gender, race, age or whatever reason there may be. Governments should also think more systemically by investing in universal, free public services such as health and education for these directly improve human development. Poverty alleviation is sometimes mistaken for human development but the two are not the same and the former does not automatically lead to the latter. Some poor people spend their money on vices for example. Lastly, fixed budgets should be established for electoral campaigns. Nowadays, policies addressing inequality could not be pushed forward because politicians owe the elite who gave them financial support- the very same group of people who do not want their massive wealth to be touched, let alone be redistributed.

The aforementioned hard measures though should be complimented with soft measures in order to provide nudges that would prevent further inequality. One thing that should be inculcated within the minds of the elite is the reality that if wealth inequality would persist, political unrest would ensue- just like what Occupy Wall Street in 2011 had given the world a glimpse of. Hence, a horizontal agreement between the rich and poor should be attained as soon as possible.

Solutions towards this agreement should revolve around values formation, for without which established mechanisms would only last temporarily. One important value is the sense of noblesse oblige which is similar to the popular saying “to whom much is given, much is expected”. There are many institutions and individuals who can serve as role models. One of which is Mr. Dylan Wilk, who was once the ninth richest man in England but decided to give up his luxuries in order to have a more fulfilling life by working hands on for the Philippine-based non-government organization called Gawad Kalinga.

Role models like Mr. Wilk should be promoted more by media. Nowadays, what is being popularized are the lavish lifestyles of the elite in reality shows as if denoting that happiness could only be achieved from material possessions. The elite should be made to realize that partying is not fun without everyone in it, that living a lavish lifestyle is not righteous when you know there are people who can’t even afford a single meal in a day.

To implement solutions focusing on the elite only though would not be right. Thinking from a wider point of view, solutions should be as complex and dynamic as the issues involved. For this, the short-term solutions above would not suffice and it would be high time to start a movement that aims to change our neoliberal capitalistic market. One substitute getting popular these days is inclusive capitalism. Critics however point out that inclusive capitalism does not increase empowerment among the common people especially the poor. It may provide more wealth and opportunities for them but the mechanisms don’t enable them to be involved in negotiations and decision-making processes that affect their lives. For this, social democracy en route to democratic socialism is at present the best option. Though democratic socialism itself has many different definitions, it is generally described as a political ideology that combines a democratic political system with a socialist economic system. It pushes for more decentralization of opportunities, choices and power from the corporate elite to the working class. Its proposed solutions include, but are not limited to, worker-owned cooperatives, publicly owned enterprises, unions as well as government regulations and tax incentives that encourage companies to act in the public interest.

Apart from abolishing neoliberal capitalism, more proactive measures such as promotion of sustainability should be taken. Studies have shown that when poor people have increased finances, they tend to have higher standards in life with their wants increasing beyond their needs. With this foresight, education- both formal and informal- as well as values formation on sustainability should be adopted. People should realize that the planet could change without it waiting for us to adapt to its changes. It is us who will perish. People should realize that our power over nature has a limit. If we continue to think of economic development only, our environment would continually degrade. Hence, the issue of inequality has to be broadened beyond just economic inequality.

The Japanese have a term called “kizuna” to which the closest English translation would be human ties, bond or interlinkage. In a survey conducted after the Great East Japan Earthquake, this was one of the most popular terms. People expressed the need for “kizuna” in overcoming the grave impact of the disaster. Treating each other as equals so they could learn from each other and work towards a common goal made their efforts more efficient and effective. Today, they still continue to use the term in order to remind everyone of the importance of unity in solving community issues. “Kizuna” is also what we need in addressing inequality in this world that we live in.