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Inequality
is an inescapable phenomenon that exists in many forms where resource
distribution is dependent on individual group members’ ability to secure it for
themselves. This occurs in everyday life on several levels (social, political,
familial, at work, etc.) and many times has economic consequences for all in-group
members and beyond. This stratification of classes can also be observed in
nature where members within groups of social animals (e.g. Rhesus monkeys
experiment in the TED talk by Frans De Waal) fiercely fight for scarce
resources and mating opportunities – meaning dominance hierarchies is not only
a human-phenomenon; the question is, can man overcome his natural animal
instincts of competition for the betterment of the species, and would such
change even be beneficial for society?

Rapid
social change during the nineteenth century brought on by expanding industrial
capitalism and colonialism spawned increased migration and a growing wealth gap
between both colonial nations & colonized territories, and also wealthy
industrialist/financiers & European working classes. This same pattern where
resources are secured by only a handful keeps repeating throughout history when
members take advantage of new booms in the market or disruptive inventions to
gain a massive advantage over others (e.g. advantages gunpowder gave to Tang
dynasty during 9th century). This perpetual race to prosperity spurs
innovation which then leads to an unequal distribution of assets, which is
exactly what motivates innovators to plow through doubt and periods of lack on
the road to success. Would we still have all the modern luxuries we so often
take for granted if not for capitalism?

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Even
so, this system can be seen as unfair to those who start out with very little,
fighting for upward mobility but always being pulled back down to Earth by forces
beyond their control. Capitalism isn’t a perfect system but neither is
socialism. One example of attenuating the income gap is the Mondragon
Corporation (MC) – a corporation & federation of over 100 co-operative
businesses based in Basque, Spain which is governed by the Rochdale Principles,
a set of ideals to keep businesses transparent, democratic and humanist. For
example, one of the democratically adopted rules at MC is that the maximum a
top-paid worker can earn is 6.5 times that of the lowest-paid worker. The
culture is one of equality, inclusion & respect where workers can openly disagree
with senior management, and if they happen to find themselves out of a job,
they are relocated to one of the other co-operatives in the group. This shows companies
can exist and flourish beside capitalism, but how would such a company fair in
a more competitive economy?

So
if the system cannot be the cause of inequality, could the source be its
participants? Which is more important: equity or equality? All these concepts
have one thing in common: bias that we know better than others what they need;
whether that bias is positive or negative, it still has an overall adverse result
on true equality. People have differing needs and perceptions of fairness, so seeking
to treat everyone the same only leads to projection and mainstreaming. Only by
breaking down barriers on the individual level and abolishing positive
discrimination can create a net positive effect on the micro & macro scales.
The only thing standing in the way of fairness is our own subjectivity. What’s
good for us may not be good for someone else; if people really want
transformation, they’ll find a way to bring it to fruition on their own.

The
answer to inequality isn’t imposing affirmative action or socialism or even
capitalism, it lies in creating values and ideals we should strive to that
naturally foster inclusion & understanding, democracy and a humanistic
approach to development on all levels. We need to strive to overcome what lies
within to conquer what lies without – we are our own worst enemies and we seek
to break down. We don’t need to be told by the government what is right, we
need to look at something higher than ourselves for that. We need to understand
and internalize our differences and not just recognize them, only then we can
be equal.

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