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writing for godot

In Human Rights, there is no such a thing as ‘moderately equitable’.

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Friday, 14 February 2020 21:33

Human rights: Food for an even-handed thought  ‘HR and equality’


Human Rights Reader 516


-Inequity exists, equity one has to fight for. (Hernan Sandoval)


Equality means equal access and outcomes for equal need


-It is policy failure, more than anything else that prevents us from overcoming constraints to equity and equality. (Note: Equity is a social justice term; equality is a human rights term)


1. What other meanings matter for our better understanding?


  • Equity, in a way, means fairness ...but the question is: According to whom?* The concept of equity does not appear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The value judgment behind equity is access to the same opportunities. As said, equality is a human rights (HR) principle meaning the same or sameness. It can thus never be fully achieved; it is not equity (justice) or equality (HR) we are to achieve --it is both; giving everyone the same opportunity, people have to ensure equity before they can enjoy equality. [Urban Jonsson: I was a lesser planet in his orbit. (George Packer)]
  • Equality is actually quite well explained by its antithesis: inequality, e.g., by the intentional devaluing of life of some groups (think directed discrimination, police brutality and repression…). This allows us to treat equality as the denunciation of the overt or hidden-inequalities-considered-irrelevant-by-some (you know who). (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)
  • Inequality refers to differences, variation and disparities in the living conditions of individuals and groups. To this, inequity adds the moral dimension, referring to the process by which certain outcomes are produced, to the way in which wealth is distributed, and to how needs are assessed and addressed. (adapted from Norheim and Asada’s definition, 2009)

*: Primarily dealing with social justice, equity focuses on people’s needs rather

than the provision of services to reach the greatest number of people. (SCN News 43)


Understanding global inequality in the 21st century (Jayati Ghosh)


2. Take the case of two people in a country in 1980, one with an income of $1 daily and the other $10. Let us say that the first person's daily income is now $10, while the second person gets $100. Even though both incomes have increased by the same percentage, and ‘relative' inequality between them has remained the same; ‘absolute' inequality has gone up from $9 to $90. Today, forty years later, more than half of humanity still lives on US$7.40 a day or less, barely adequate for a decent life. It is simple: Economic inequality translates into political inequality that leads to rules that favor the wealthy, that in turn reinforces economic inequality. Extreme wealth buys political power and it silences dissent; it serves primarily to perpetuate ever-greater wealth. (…wither HR…) (as quoted by Jomo Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury)


3. The key to equity and equality has always been (and is today) in the distribution of wealth and property, as well as in the better distribution of ‘status goods’ such as education, particularly higher education.**

**: Note: HR is not a status good!


4. Inequality, that Jacques Chirac called ‘the social fracture’ is untenable for the rest of the century and beyond. On the one side a bunch of the privileged, on the other a mass of citizen that generate the wealth without receiving the fruits of their efforts. The only thing that is left to the salaried workers, be they blue collar workers or professionals, is to kill themselves working and to shut their mouth. (Louis Casado)


Making the legal system more even-handed and equitable is indispensible


5. Legality is nothing but the convention set up by those that have the privilege to pass the laws. Too often, legality is based on privileges inaccessible to a vast section of society. In last instance, it is laws that ‘create’ our reality, and not the other way around  --and only some have the power to pass them.


6. The machinations of global financial capital are a true form of organized crime, the true engine of extreme inequality between the rich and those rendered poor, between rich and (rendered) poor countries. And where is the law? We are talking about a crime against the property of the workers and of the impoverished classes. But, mind you, in its present configuration, the global financial capital is not only to be considered a crime against the property of the poorest, it is also a crime against life and against the planet. And where is the law? In the future, as committed with impunity, these crimes will be considered among the most important and vile against humanity --importantly, the environmental crimes committed by the financial capital. This is where the law ought to be. As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, we ought to begin thinking about revising its text in a totally new participatory manner so as to account for and counter this new criminality that, in the next 70 years, will succeed in stopping humanity from being fully human. (B. de Sousa Santos)


Inequality is both ideological and political and not economic or technological (Thomas Piketty)


7. Inequalities are never ‘natural’, but are fostered by an ideology that creates divisive categories: think the market, salaries, capital, debt, fiscal heavens, rich, poor, clergy and laity… There is no determinism here, much less any social organization with an ‘eternal’ mandate.


8. The keeping or not of ‘the-culture-of-capital’ depends on the political mobilization of antagonistic forces. Inequality is a condition of great plasticity that is perfectly amenable to remodeling. Human progress exists, but it is a constant struggle. History shows us that social struggles have been reactivated in many historical moments and that it is thanks to those moments that human progress was/has been possible. We can learn from these lessons from history to define new norms of justice and of equality, particularly in the matters pertaining to regulations and the distribution of wealth. (T. Piketty)

9. Since the rise of the liberal version of egalitarianism, the state has expanded, but it has also been privatized. The nature of capitalism and of inequality has transformed the landscape and will continue to do so, likely in dramatic and unexpected ways. Politics is changing, as authoritarians, radical movements, and new oligarchs battle in a murky international landscape shaped by unaccountable financial institutions, private media platforms, new technologies, and climate change denialism.*** (Katrina Forrester)

***: Liberal egalitarians tend to insist that what matters today is institutional solutions to current inequalities; past injustices are thus not considered relevant to arrive at these solutions so that arguments that rely on historical claims are rejected. In practice, this means that demands for reparations for slavery, perennial HR violations and other historical injustices made by Black Power and anti-colonial campaigns in the late 1960s and 1970s were rejected as are critiques informed by the history of colonialism and imperialism. This makes these political liberals complicit in the rise of a technocratic neoliberalism that reinforces rather than helps to dismantle its injustices. (K. Forrester)


10. We should not be surprised, therefore, that the moral disorder the world is in is behind the fascism, racism and xenophobia that we see growing; it represents a violent explosion in the lower and middle classes resented with history and with inequity and inequality.


Achieving social goals (e.g., decreased rates of malnutrition or infant mortality) is not necessarily the same as reducing inequality --if rates of poverty increase or persist

-Mind you, it is easier to get rid of inequality than to get rid of poverty (since to act on the former does not really always need money) (Michael Latham)


11. The claims that global inequality has decreased because of the faster rise in per-capita incomes in populous countries like China and India must be tempered by several considerations:

  • First, these and similar fast-growing nations have mostly experienced significant internal increases in inequality.
  • Second, when incomes are measured in the more realistic market exchange rates than in the ultimately fanciful Purchasing Power Parity exchange rates that substantially underestimate real poverty, convergence is much less apparent.
  • Third, the famous ‘Elephant Curve’ that shows big increases in income at the lower middle of global distribution is based on relative increases in income, which can appear large when the base incomes are low. When absolute increases in income are considered, the bottom half or the middle of the global distribution does not fare so well at all, and there is no hump in the middle.


12. So, not until the elites view rising inequality as a potential threat to them will this threat secure their support for a realistic disparity reduction agenda. Such an agenda cannot be externally or top-down led. Therefore, quoting The Lancet here is fitting: “It is time for a conscious attack on commercial interests and a radical rethinking of the dominant economic and political models that have too little interest in equity or social justice”. (The Lancet Public Health: 3, 2018)


Bottom line


-Serge Halimi of Le Monde Diplomatique speaks of ‘the inequality machine [that] is reshaping the planet’.

-Understanding why and how societies condone inequity and inequality is the first step in helping people reclaim their rights!


13. After years of more than quasi-neglect, economic inequality has taken center stage in the policy debate worldwide. Taxation and income transfers to the poorest segments of society (e.g., cash transfer programs) are the most direct way to keep inequality in check and to reduce poverty in the short term. This is particularly called-for, because the benefits of economic growth fail to reach those rendered poor.


14. Unfortunately, the current impact of these transfer programs is limited. Their main weakness is their size that amounts to 0.5% of GDP! These programs will require more resources by financing them with a higher and more effective income tax in the upper part of the income scale. So, governments simply must place more emphasis on direct taxation than they are presently doing. This, because indirect taxes are regressive: they tax consumption rather than income.


15. Moreover, income transfers are preferable to subsidies, because they cost less and are better targeted to the truly needy. The obstacles to either of these approaches is evidently political. Other key synergistic policies to be implemented are boosting the employment of unskilled workers, minimum wage laws, anti-discrimination laws and anti-corruption strategies. (Francois Bourgignon)


16. So to recap, politics plays a simply crucial role in any of the needed far-reaching reforms of public finances. But today’s policy makers disregard political realities, so they are doomed to be ineffective. Fiscal policies, finance and politics are inextricably intertwined; the same is true for debt, taxes and state capacity. (Victor Gaspar and David Amaglobeli, F+D, IMF, March 2018).


17. Always keep in mind: It is not inequality what kills people; it is those responsible for these inequalities that kill people. (Vicente Navarro) Or put another way: Are we changing the world or are we victims of those who have the power to change the world? [If the latter is the case, is what we have been discussing here in this Reader for years going to change anything in the name of the wretched of the earth?]


18. It still remains true: It is our duty to highlight how inequality affects people’s lives in a way that measures-based-on-averages cannot and do not.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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