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Inequality and its consequences

Published : Friday, 14 September, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1107
Shoumik Das

It is a very common sight in Dhaka when muggers or robbers snatch away valuable items from common people. In turn, we complain and curse these deviants, and lament at the pathetic condition of our country. Of course, this reaction is very natural. Unfortunately, it is we as a society which is to blame for these things to happen in the first place. One of the most important reasons for crime to occur is in fact, social inequality as well as economic inequality.
Social inequality occurs when resources in a given society are distributed unevenly, typically through norms of allocation, that engender specific patterns along lines of socially defined categories of persons. It is the differentiation preference of access of social goods in the society brought about by power, religion, kinship, prestige, race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and class. The social rights include labor market, the source of income, health care, and freedom of speech, education, political representation, and participation.Social inequality linked to economic inequality, usually described on the basis of the unequal distribution of income or wealth, is a frequently studied type of social inequality.
Though the disciplines of economics and sociology generally use different theoretical approaches to examine and explain economic inequality, both fields are actively involved in researching this inequality. However, social and natural resources other than purely economic resources are also unevenly distributed in most societies and may contribute to social status. Norms of allocation can also affect the distribution of rights and privileges, social power, access to public goods such as education or the judicial system, adequate housing, transportation, credit and financial services such as banking and other social goods and services.
Many societies worldwide claim to be meritocracies-that is, that their societies exclusively distribute resources on the basis of merit. The term "meritocracy" was coined by Michael Young in his 1958 dystopian essay "The Rise of the Meritocracy" to demonstrate the social dysfunctions that he anticipated arising in societies where the elites believe that they are successful entirely on the basis of merit, so the adoption of this term into English without negative connotations is ironic; Young was concerned that the Tripartite System of education being practiced in the United Kingdom at the time he wrote the essay considered merit to be "intelligence-plus-effort, its possessors ... identified at an early age and selected for appropriate intensive education" and that the "obsession with quantification, test-scoring, and qualifications" it supported would create an educated middle-class elite at the expense of the education of the working class, inevitably resulting in injustice and - eventually - revolution.
Although merit matters to some degree in many societies, research shows that the distribution of resources in societies often follows hierarchical social categorizations of persons to a degree too significant to warrant calling these societies "meritocratic", since even exceptional intelligence, talent, or other forms of merit may not be compensatory for the social disadvantages people face. In many cases, social inequality is linked to racial inequality, ethnic inequality, and gender inequality, as well as other social statuses and these forms can be related to corruption.
Studies establish a positive relationship between income inequality and crime. According to a survey of research conducted between 1968 and 2000, most researchers point to evidence economically unequal societies have higher crime rates. That survey concludes that inequality is "the single factor most closely and consistently related to crime."Researchers propose several possible explanations for the inequality-crime correlation. First, disadvantaged members of a society may be more likely to suffer from resentment and hostility as a result of their economic position or competition over scarce jobs or resources, resulting in a higher propensity for criminal behavior.Second, inequality increases the incentive to commit crimes.
Fewer methods of lawfully obtaining resources are available for the increasing number of poor who live in an unequal society. Even when risks of punishments are taken into account, illegal methods of gaining assets may provide better returns than legal means of obtaining resources.Third, a wide gap between rich and poor tends to increase crime by reducing law enforcement spending in low-income areas. Wealthy members of a society tend to concentrate in secluded communities, especially as the disparity between the rich and poor increase. Rich neighborhoods or countries have more funds for the police than their poorer counterparts, resulting in a less effective police force or a higher number of officers susceptible to bribes in an increasing number of poor areas. Increasingly concentrated wealth leads to higher crime rates in poor areas which are prevalent in economically unbalanced societies. In societies with a sufficiently high degree of economic inequality, state investments in reducing economic inequality is vastly more effective at reducing crime than increasing spending law enforcement.
Inequality also decreases health. The impoverished members of society are subject to disproportionate occurrence rates of certain kinds of illnesses. Access to quality health care and healthy food is sometimes limited or unavailable for poor individuals. The result of a substantial poor population, a defining feature of economic inequality, is a less effective lower-income work force, higher disease and mortality rates, higher health care costs, and progressively deepening poverty for afflicted groups.Food deserts are a unique characteristic of economically unequal societies, characterized by the lack of readily accessible healthy and affordable food. Food deserts occur in several heavily industrialized Western nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The term "food desert" originated in Scotland during the early 1990s in the context of a public sector housing report.
Although the term originated in Scotland, its prevalence steadily increased since the 1990s in the United Kingdom, eventually becoming a common topic of research affecting public policy internationally.In 2009, 2.2 percent of all households in the United States were located in food deserts. In the United States and other industrialized Western nations, the lack of access to fresh foods is associated with disproportionate obesity and diet-related disease rates among low-income households. Poor health impacts the prosperity of a society. Poor health forces communities to cope with a less effective workforce, higher mortality rates, higher life insurance premiums, and a less prosperous economy.
A poorer economy may result in fewer taxable resources, and subsequently either higher overall tax rates or inferior public services. Food deserts also reinforce wealth disparities. Lower-income persons live in food deserts and face higher costs as a result. The poor are disproportionately burdened with higher health care costs, a disadvantaged ability to work, and a higher percentage of time spent on obtaining food.
Hence, all these studies prove that as a society a lot of our fundamental bases are wrong, and to bring about real changes, radical steps are necessary.
Shoumik Das is a sociologist




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