A significant portion of humanitarian problems arise from social inequity, and the greatest problem in determining how to achieve social equity is how to recognize it. Equity is the logos to the pathos of equality, which people the world over have fought fervently for, taking for example Jamaica’s independence and decline because of social inequity among other factors.
However, social equity does not demand equality, much in the same way that a flat income tax does not mean equality; in fact, equality could be counterproductive. Rather, equity is access to basic resources, ability to use those resources, and the resources available and will to invest in oneself. Also, jumping straight to social equity would be tense at the easiest and practically warmongering at the extreme as cultures demanding equity towards environmental resources find the supply and regeneration of those resources to rapidly deplete.
Practically, the dominant player in a transition to social equity will likely be a single culture, so the equity system and methods will follow a trend similar to Conway’s Law in that the product’s structure will be inevitably identical to the organizer’s own structure. This is why equity does not mean equality, because the level of equality will be impossible to set to please all parties. If real equality – adjusted for what each culture finds to be an equalizer – rather than nominal equality – consider fitting a histogram of varying levels of comfort per culture with a horizontal line representing nominal equality – could practically work, then it would be via social equity.
The universal goals of a full equity system should be to provide access, facilitate ability, and encourage self-investment. These would solve problems such as the following: an African tribe’s diminishing access to potable water; an impoverished boy’s inability to pay for post-secondary education; and a discouraged, unemployed steel mill worker. Essentially, all should have the same basic ability to achieve happiness, as defined by them. After that, it is fully dependent on that person to find themselves between the extremes of full withdrawal and participation in societies via self-investment.
Starting with the first level, providing access, is essentially satisfying the base levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Access to these needs would put all humans on at least one standard level of satisfaction. Hopefully, this will increase happiness, which, as some groups in last Tuesday’s exercise suggested measuring, is an entirely relative measure that can’t be satisfied by a single effort in achieving equity; however, the factors that contribute to happiness are constant and show up elsewhere in Maslow’s hierarchy.
For example, a typical American family of four would likely be happy with a solid house that allows enough space for their day to day activities and proportionate amount of consumable (kitchen) and capital (office) products; let’s say this costs $100,000 per year. Likewise, a nomadic Mongolian family of six would likely be happy with a yurt and prosperous herd of horses and sheep; let’s say this costs $1,000 per year. Both families have the same relative level of happiness, arising from the same categories, but the dollar value is highly variable.
While an American family would probably not be as happy living as a Mongolian family would, both families have the same categorical needs. The basic level of access provides these categories, rather than directly providing each human regardless of culture an even $50,000 worth of needs. The problem with budgeting an average dollar value of happiness like $50,000, however, is an uneven spread. If there were an even spread, then the nomadic Mongolians’ lesser dollar value of need could be easily transferred to the American’s greater dollar value of need. In reality, there may be 100 times more Americans than Mongolians, so more capital is needed on the American side, leaving the Mongolians less than happy.
This is the counterintuitive cycle of capital flow from poorer nations to wealthier nations. It is more intuitive that capital ought to flow from capital-rich nations to capital-poor nations, because wealthier nations often have excess capital and return on capital is low; therefore, investing in poorer nations where there is a capital deficit would yield a very high return. However, it actually tends to flow out of poor countries and into rich countries, because institutions like legal framework, banking systems, and fairness trends are better in wealthy countries; therefore, people who are wealthy in poor countries invest in wealthy countries.
Similarly, there is usually a better return on providing access than budgeting provisions, and it requires more development on the equity side rather than bureaucratic and accounting side as institutions like the World Bank and IMF have taken. That is, allowing access to a supplies depot in Afghanistan to all local ethnic groups is both easier and less fallible than taking a census, allotting supplies per capita, and then deciding level of need for the people involved. The U.S. economy and democracy is stable because in our system, the government understands that individuals, consumers in general, make better choices and allocation decisions than a central bureaucracy. Scaling up, social equity systems should start on a per-community level and then apply that to a complex system like a city, state, or country. Another issue with access over provision is the environmental consequence of overly bureaucratic systems of waste. For example, in Life and Debt, there was a cap on milk production and excess must be wasted due to restrictions and provisions within the IMF loan terms (Life).
Once access is universal, the ability to use that access comes into play. Ability is the second goal of social equity, although it should be facilitated rather than provided like access. Facilitation of ability could be government subsidization for Georgia’s HOPE scholarship for higher education or recruiting and paying for an Air Force pilot’s education at a government-owned military base. This facilitation of an individual to use the access to things like education and jobs is an important step for those who cannot meet certain expectations, like financial obligations. How this can be met in terms of a global movement is starting with community cooperation and the economic concept of comparative advantage in the following scenario.
In this scenario there are three desert communities built around an mineral-rich oasis. One manufacturing-reliant community has a high need and the greatest ability to use those resources, another importing-reliant community has a high need but little ability to use the resources, and the third satisfied and moderately capital-rich community has a low need but a high ability to use those resources. In a practical sense, these communities could be a manufacturing town, agricultural town, and residential town, respectively. Naturally, the town with the lowest opportunity cost, the residential town, would produce the resources. Then, the producing town would sell to the town with the best ability to use the resources, the mining town. Finally, the manufacturing town would sell to those with the most need and likely highest price, the agricultural town. The communities in this process start with the highest sell and lowest consumption and move to the community with the lowest sell and highest consumption, because what could be given up to produce those valuable resources should instead be spent at what that community is best at. More inefficient systems would also waste the valuable natural resources. The major parties that would bring a global movement to social equity would do best if facilitating ability follows the same process as comparative advantage to do the best thing for a particular community.
Finally, encouraging self-investment is the reproduction of the last two processes. If people are encouraged, or even given the compunction, to participate fully in the community, they are able to earn more and improve their community simultaneously. Sure, a closed, subsistence agricultural community could be happy on its own, but if it decided to accept tourists on their land or grow more crops to sell to other communities, then it earns more interpersonal value and contributes to a network of growing complexity and effectivity.
The method of achieving social equity, as has been suggested above, is via the programming adage of starting with successful simple systems and building complex systems on top of that instead of jumping directly to a complex system (MacCormick). A recent example is that of Google Wave, which was only up for a few months before taken back down; they then decided to salvage simple pieces of it and integrate that into other Google products. Analogously, to find universal equity, we must first look at where equity is developing and succeeding, especially in a small scale. One successful contemporary effort at equity is the network of Israeli kibbutzim, which structure themselves from a small community and grow via a mix of communalism and capitalism-lite. An individual kibbutz may use one of three models and often contribute to inter-kibbutz commerce and communication (Commerating).
To ease tensions in achieving social equity, rather than equality, this method optimizes a movement towards equity by providing access to basic resources, facilitating the ability to use those resources, and encouraging the will to invest in oneself. Failure to do so has thus far yielded problems such as environmental waste and economic stagnation (Society).
“Commemorating 100 Years of the Kibbutz.” אתר הקיבוצים. Web. 15 Nov. 2010. <http://www.kibbutz.org.il/eng/>.
Life and Debt. Dir. Stephanie Black. 2001. DVD.
MacCormick, Alan, John Rusnak, and Carliss Baldwin. Exploring the Duality between Product and Organizational Architectures: A Test of the Mirroring Hypothesis. Thesis. Harvard University, 2008. Boston: Harvard Business School, 2008. Print.
“Society.” Reliable Prosperity. Web. 15 Nov. 2010. <http://www.reliableprosperity.net/society.html>.