Inequalities: we can all help reduce them

Geneviève Morency

This blog post was written by Geneviève Morency and is the second of three winning blog posts chosen in our Blog Action Day 2014 competition. It was originally published in French. Geneviève Morency is currently working with Oxfam Quebec in Honduras as a monitoring, evaluation and learning advisor.

Since 2007, the 16th of October [1] has been Blog Action Day – a day when bloggers, photographers and other users of social media across the world choose to get together virtually in order to create a wave of discussion on a particular subject. The topic of discussion for this year is ‘inequality’. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

Oxfam recently published that “the 85 richest people on the planet own as much wealth as half of the world's poorest population”. We know that the resources are available to feed the 7 billion humans on the planet and yet 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger [2]. Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) revealed that “Living standards continue to diverge within many economically advanced countries as poorer regions struggle to catch up with richer ones. Half of the 34 OECD countries have seen the income gap between their best-off and worst-off regions widen since the 2008 crisis, according to new OECD research.” [3]

When we talk about economic inequality (the difference in wealth between the richest and the poorest) within a municipality, a country, a region or between different countries, why do these inequalities persist and increase? What can be done to change these imbalances?

Inequality of birth

In my opinion, an important element to consider when talking about inequality is the initial allocation. This quote reflects really well the concept of initial allocation: “As a child, I was extremely troubled by the complete randomness of chance that I was born in Paris to an intellectual, middle class family, when I could have just as easily been born in Chad. It’s a question of luck. It inspired in me a sense of responsibility.” – Esther Duflo, Economist, Co-founder and Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Initial allocation is defined by the initial characteristics with which we are born. These initial characteristics are, for example, the place where we are born, the gender assigned to us, the type of legalisation in place, the resources available, the health and education systems we have access to, and the social class of our parents. The initial allocation determines which circle we will grow up in. A person born into a family with an average income well above the poverty line, with access to an education system and health care, will live longer and will have all the resources required to ensure that they have a future in the same conditions and that their children have a life out of poverty. A person born in an area where incomes are very low, where access to an education system is difficult or there is little access to health care, has a low life expectancy and often, despite the person’s efforts and hard work, it will be difficult to break the cycle of poverty and to actually be able to live under better conditions. The conditions we are born in to determine to a large extent the economic class we will grow up in. Therefore, in order to reduce inequalities, we must go back to the actual source of these problems and the basic conditions for all. The Millennium Goals (MDG) signed in 2000 by the 193 Member States of the United Nations have helped to reduce some of the difficult conditions experienced by the poorest people. The Post-15 Development Agenda [4] (following the MDG) are currently being developed and should prioritise reducing inequalities under the aim of eliminating extreme poverty.

Inequality of resources

The second factor I wish to discuss here is the scarcity of resources. The scarcity of resources is a specific barrier to the objective of equality for all. Throughout time, in all ages, and in the majority of societies and models of civilisation which have evolved, inequalities have existed. Inequalities are without a doubt linked to the fact that there is a scarcity of resources - this scarcity results in a greater value being placed on the scarcest of resources. As such, particular products and services are only available to those people who are able to pay for them. A certain inequality may, therefore, exist because at the core there is a scarcity of resources and this scarcity makes it impossible to aim for total equality for all individuals, at least in the current system where we grow up. So, how can we identify the level of “acceptable” inequality and what are the products and services for which there should be no inequalities? How can we achieve at least a reduction of these inequalities in the short term?

The problem which currently arises, and for which action must be taken, is that economic inequalities are increasing. The question which we must respond to now is how can we reduce this gap? How can we reverse the current trend and reduce inequalities? What can we as middle class citizens from a developed country do to contribute towards reducing these economic inequalities?

Solutions are possible

Several concrete solutions and actions are possible. One example which I have heard several times (by François Hollande during the presidential campaign, amongst others), is to set a maximum wage. Specifically, the head of a public company can earn no more than 10 times the wage of the employee on the lowest pay scale. Higher taxation for the rich should also reduce inequalities and generate revenue from those people with lots of wealth.

Other solutions have been suggested by Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International: ensuring a better financial system in order to prevent tax avoidance, investing in programs for access to health care and education for all, ensuring a minimum wage, respecting human rights in workplaces, increasing opportunities for women and girls to access education.

Of course, there are no miracle solutions or quick and simple answers to this problem. However, I believe that slowly, with increased citizen participation, we can begin to establish concrete actions. First of all, we must read up on the subject and pose questions in order to evaluate whether the policies of companies, municipalities and governments encourage equality or not. We must also questions ourselves and be critical of our own words and actions.We must begin on a small scale so that our actions gain momentum. We must appeal to our leaders even if it is sometimes difficult to communicate our opinions and the changes we want in a clear way. 

You can help

Slowly, one step, one action at a time, we can all, each of us, contribute towards eliminating inequalities.

Share this article, become aware of the debates and articles on inequality, and join the Oxfam International movement on the 30th of October which hopes to attract the attention of the whole world by bringing together as many people as possible on social networks to denounce extreme inequality.

You can join the movement by going to:https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/17299-end-extreme-inequality-now

Read more blogs on inequality

This blog post was written by Geneviève Morency, for Blog Action Day 2014. Geneviève Morency is currently working with Oxfam Quebec in Honduras as a monitoring, evaluation and learning advisor.

[1] The 16th October also coincides with World Food Day

[2] United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: http://www.fao.org/about/what-we-do/so1/fr/

[3] OECD: “The poorest regions are increasingly falling behind the advanced economies”: http://www.oecd.org/fr/presse/les-regions-les-plus-pauvres-sont-de-plus-en-plus-a-la-traine-dans-les-economies-avancees.htm

[4] Millennium Development Goals and Post-2015 Development: http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/about/mdg.shtml 

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