The word is an extremely unequal place, and this is evidenced by the latest trends in social and economic inequality. Today, the richest part of the world’s population own approximately 40 percent of the total global assets, and this is just a top of the iceberg.
The richest 10 percent own more than 85 percent of the world’s wealth while the poorest 50 percent own just about 1 percent of the global wealth. This implies that the world’s top richest 150 persons possess more than what 50 percent of the world’s poorest, which are approximately 3.3 billion people, have.
The greatest source of this global inequality has been attributed to the huge gap among countries in levels of economic development. Disparities between developed and developing nations are enormous: the mean per capita income in developed nations is seven times more than it is in developed countries.
Growing levels of global economic inequality in the world has led to another form of inequality which is called social inequality. Today, societies and/or nations that are ranked low on economic aspects continue to face a number of social problems; millions of the world’s poorest people live without access to clean water, electricity, adequate housing, education and healthcare.
This implies that their ability to contribute productively to their nation/societies’ prosperity is limited. It worsens economic inequality among countries. Besides, social inequality has been linked with major political conflicts as it is seen in many countries, such as Sri Lanka, Uganda, the Congo Basin, and so on.
It is important to note that countries that rank low on economic indices also have the highest levels economic and social inequalities. Although nearly all the systems of moral belief challenge those of us who live in comfortable apartments to devote at least some resources to improve the conditions of those who live in poverty. Thus, economic and social inequality still remains high globally.
Although there is no universal accord on the causes of social and economic inequalities, many studies have pointed to societal structural changes as the main cause of the problem.
Loosely defined, structural changes refer to a long-term and extensive change of basic structures that have drastic effects on societal norms. Structural change can work to both reducing or increasing inequality levels as it is seen in the China and India case study. In 1981, nearly 64 percent of the Chinese population lived in absolute poverty, today, the figure has dropped to 15 percent.
In India, the drop was less significant, but still a noteworthy because the level reduced from 55 percent to 35 percent. Economic growth in China and India was the result of structural changes in the respective nations’ economies. China effected these changes by undertaking reforms in its economic policies to give greater power to market forces and the private sector.
The changes began in the agricultural sector more than 20 years ago and have been extended steadily to other sectors of the economy including service and industry sectors. These changes threw out price control mechanisms and gave more power to the private sectors. Today, China’s economic growth rate is averaged at 9.5 percent while national income has been doubling every 8 years due to these changes.
Although inequality still exists, similar to all the Western countries, China’s story of success and progress shows the extent to which structural changes can help in reducing inequality levels within its population and with other countries. Indeed, studies by the UN and other organizations show that there is a significant correlation between poverty and inequality.
While structural changes have reduced economic and social inequalities in some areas, the concept has led to a worsening of conditions in some countries. For instance, mechanization of agricultural processes has led to unemployment in some developing countries, increasing incomeinequality.
Although the structural change theory has gained widespread acceptance, a second theory that views inequality in the light of individualism has found application in some areas. For instance, Americans believe that the main cause of poverty (and hence inequality) is personal failure and moral turpitude of the poor.
This theory’s acceptance has caused an unnecessary strain between structural change and popular opinion in some areas since studies seem to suggest that both environmental and non-environmental factors including structural change affect a person’s likelihood of success in life. For instance, during the Communist control of China, the economy was regulated by a central power, and with concerted efforts to succeed, most citizens grew poor as state resources were controlled by the government.
The fall of the Communist government ushered in a new era that had seen the Chinese prosper and reduce of the inequality gap. Hence, the individualistic view of poverty and inequality does not effectively explain why some people live in poverty. The government and other structures must support its citizens so that prosperity at individual and national levels can be realized.
Social and economic inequality is likely to reduce in most countries in future. This forecast is based on current trends that show a drop in various types of inequalities in a number of nations. Besides, the world’s economy is becoming globalized, and in the future, the gap in income distribution will most likely reduce declining social and economic inequality.