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Chapter 9

SOC102 Habits of Inequality Chapter 9

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Lorne Tepperman

Habits of Inequality Chapter 9 – Imperfect Equality For at least two centuries, people have been searching for a perfect world - Perfect world  a utopia where everyone would live in peace and prosperity - People’s ideas about what makes a “perfect world” have differed widely over the course of time o Robert Owen’s New Harmony o Plato’s Republic  based on reason, deeply unequal, ruled by philosopher kings o Marx’s communist state  mainly equal, ruled temporarily by the proletariat - What goals can we realistically hope to achieve? o We need to consider what is fair and just o We need to keep searching for equality because failing to do so is unfair and harmful to human life There is a link between social inequality and increased risks of illness and mortality, crime and punishment, war and destruction - If you ask people what they care about, they say the same things o Health o Safety o Justice - No one wants illness, death, crime, imprisonment, or war - We see more of these unwanted outcomes wherever inequality is most extreme Inequality is measurably important to human society - Why does inequality persist? 1) Many people have been led to believe that inequality is natural and inevitable  However, this belief is untenable because different societies have different levels of inequality  There must be another reason why people persistently cling to this habit of inequality 2) Some people (economically) benefit from the existing system of inequality  However, equality would improve most people’s economic and non-economic (e.g., health, peace, order) benefit in the long run - How do people change their minds? o Addicts  inability to change  Most people may pledge to change their behaviour (e.g., smoking, over-eating, alcoholism, gambling) because they know that they need to do so  It took smokers a very long time to believe the evidence that smoking was bad for their health  A sizeable number of Canadians continue to smoke, despite their awareness of this evidence  Most people have trouble finding a way to quit o These addicts are like us, only a bit more extreme - How do we break our habits of inequality? o We have trouble coping with new information about social inequality o We have all made a habit of clinging to our beliefs, and ignoring contrary evidence o We would have to disengage ourselves from old patterns, and invest time and effort into new ones - Why can’t people think differently about inequality? o We hate to admit we were wrong in the past o We don’t want to make the effort to change our thinking and behaviour The problem of just-world beliefs - No lesson in our society is more deeply rooted than a belief in the just world - We need to understand the problem of just-world beliefs to understand the persistence of economic inequality in Canada o Just-world beliefs influence a society’s habits of inequality o Just-world beliefs lead to victim blaming  Victim blaming  a tendency to blame people for conditions and experiences they did not choose - Gini Index  measure economic inequality and chart its change over time o Score of 1 = total income inequality o Score of 0 = total income equality o Scandinavia = 0.25-0.30 o Canada = 0.35 o US = 0.45 - Despite the continued growth of the Canadian economy, income inequality has gotten worse o Economic inequality is higher in 2013 than it was two decades ago o Economic inequality is lower in 2013 than it was two centuries ago o Most of the benefits of economic growth goes to the top 1% of the Canadian population - Despite a history of social measures to reduce inequality, income inequality persists - ↑ income inequality = ↑ just-world beliefs o People use just-world beliefs to explain this increased inequality o People seek something or someone to blame  May blame people poorer than themselves  May blame themselves  Rarely blame the rich - Three main ways of explaining poverty (and looking at the causes of inequality) 1) Some people blame internal causes  personal failings (e.g., laziness, addiction, lack of intelligence, preventable moral flaw) 2) Some people blame external causes  social and economic causes (e.g., social policy, discrimination, low wages) 3) Some people blame fatalistic causes helpless (e.g., bad luck, fate) o The majority of people tend to blame the victim (#1) or blame the people in power (#2) - Most Canadians recognize that many factors determine a person’s economic condition o People differ in which factor they believe plays the most important role o US  believe that individuals are responsible for their own poverty or wealth (e.g., internal factors)  High level of poverty  15% of Americans (46.2 million) live in poverty o Canada  believe that external social factors play an important role in creating poverty and wealth  Tend to support the creation of social safety nets (e.g., welfare, unemployment insurance)  More positive attitude toward equality than the US  More similar to northern European countries (e.g., Norway, Sweden, Iceland)  9.2% of Canadians live in poverty - Ways of viewing poverty and inequality are distinctive cultural patterns o People view poverty and income inequality differently  Rooted in the country’s unique cultural history  Connected with their personal just-world beliefs o Different habits of inequality persist within Canada  Right-wing political views  blame internal factors (e.g., the victim)  strong just-world beliefs  Left-wing political views  blame social and economic factors  weak just-world beliefs - Belief in a just world poses a moral dilemma for Canadians o Just-world beliefs maintain the illusion of justice and undermine efforts to solve our social problems o Canadians tend to blame income disparity on social policy, but still tend to make internal attributions for poverty by victim blaming  The amount of panhandling and squeegeeing in Toronto has decreased  The amount of fines issued to Toronto’s homeless youth has increased o Just-world beliefs overlook the fact that innocent people can be impoverished and made homeless by external causes beyond their control - The way the public sees inequality dictates how we help disadvantaged people o Reflected in level of trust for government to solve society’s problems  US  more suspicious of government interference  Reflected in American values (e.g., people need freedom not welfare)  Canada and Scandinavia  more likely to support government assistance in the redistribution of wealth o Reflected in the proportion of taxes paid  Sweden  taxpayers pay 45% of GDP  high taxes  low levels of inequality  Finland  taxpayers pay 43% of GDP  high taxes  low levels of inequality  Canada  taxpayers pay 31% of GDP  high taxes  low levels of inequality  US  taxpayers pay 25% of GDP  less taxes are collected and redistributed  high levels of inequality  Societies that accept government intervention to equalize society DO NOT mind paying higher taxes  Societies that reject government intervention to equalize society DO mind paying higher taxes  More unequal (victim-blaming) societies tax rich people at a lower rate and spend less on redistributive government programs  The amount a country taxes its citizens determines how much money is available for policies and programs to help the poor and others who need aid o More equal societies understand that poverty leads to greater aid for the poor  Number of women holding government offices  Canada  women hold 25% of the seats in the federal parliament  Scandinavia  women hold 45% of the seats  Norway  women hold 40% of the seats  Denmark  women hold 39% of the seats  Women (even those with strong just-world beliefs) empathize more with victims than men  ↑ women in government positions = ↑ likelihood of progressive social policies - Even though the overall rate of poverty in Canada has decreased, poor Canadians continue to become poorer, and the gap between the rich and the poor continue to increase o Canadians have grounds for optimism  Weaker just-world beliefs  Tend to blame the victims less  More able to develop progressive solutions to the problem of economic inequality - US poverty rates have not always fallen behind other developed countries o In the 1970s, Canada, Norway, and Sweden had higher rates of absolute poverty than the US o Since the late 1990s, Canada, Norway, and Sweden have had lower rates of poverty than the US - Just-world beliefs often target victims based on their age o Tend to homogenize people within the younger and older age brackets o Tend to see all adolescents or all elderly people as essentially the same o Tend to have a particularly strong impact on both the young and the old o Americans for Generational Equality (AGE)  Predicts that an age war will develop around the world, especially in the US  Fears that age-related conflict will intensity around Social Security and Medicare  Entitlement programs for the growing number of the elderly leave less funding for the young  Elderly people will be blamed for keeping needed money from younger people - Elderly people suffer from just-world beliefs o Just-world believers hold discriminatory attitudes toward the elderly and victimize the elderly o Elderly people are already receiving a fair share of the pie o Elderly people are blamed for their plight if they failed to take the necessary steps to maintain their health, remain useful to society, or accumulate wealth - Just-world beliefs work differently when elderly people use them o Older people with strong just-world beliefs feel happier, healthier, and more satisfied with their lives o RAMZI NASSER, JACQUELINE DOUMIT, and JAMES CARIFIO  Focused on elderly nursing home residents who often struggle with stress, anxiety, sleeping disorders, guilt, headaches, psychosomatic symptoms, and negative feelings  Elderly nursing home residents with strong just-world beliefs  Have better experiences in nursing homes  Cope with the disadvantages of being older in a society that tends to value youth - Young people suffer from just-world beliefs o Adolescents are often stereotyped as delinquents  Youth crime rates in Canada were the lowest they had been for 20 years  Yet, 80% of Canadians believed that youth crime rates were actually rising o Discrepancy between popular perception and reality is due to increased media coverage of violent crime  Young offenders are less competent than older ones  Youth shouldn’t be held accountable for their delinquent actions  Young people are irresponsible criminals who deserve to be treated as immature and incompetent - Sexual minorities suffer from just-world beliefs o Just-world believers think that gay and lesbian activists maintain that their sexuality is unchosen or determined at birth to avoid being blamed for “choosing” homosexuality o Someone who believes that sexual orientation is an inborn predisposition is more likely to be tolerant toward gay and lesbian people than someone who believes that sexual orientation is a matter of choice o Just-world beliefs have twice the negative consequences for homosexual HIV/AID victims  Blamed for “choosing” homosexuality  Blamed for “choosing” unsafe sex o Just-world believers are not necessarily anti-homosexual o Religious and conservative (politically or socially) believers are anti-homosexual  Often hold strong just-world beliefs  US  hold strong just-world beliefs  blame homosexuals  give moral or religious reasons for this blaming What if this is not the best of all possible worlds? - Canada is somewhere in the middle, in terms of income inequality (e.g., less unequal and more unequal) - All of the forms of inequality in our society are linked to the just-world belief o Those who are good are rewarded o Those who are not good are punished o People who enjoy many advantages must deserve them o People without any advantages must not deserve them - Just-world believers find it hard to accept information that suggests this is not the best of all possible worlds and to believe that many people are not getting what they deserve o Accepting these facts would mean having to change many beliefs about the world, and even revising one’s life o Find it easier to deny the facts and to deny the scientific evidence that many suffer from unwarranted disadvantage  Willful ignorance and inaction  Easier and more psychologically comfortable than change o Tend to endorse right wing authoritarian beliefs - In countries where a majority of people are powerless, the level of belief in a just-world is lower o Powerless people are familiar with large numbers of powerless people and have firsthand experience(s) that proves the world is not fair - Just-world believers facilitate war making o Tend to group together for mutual support o Tend to form collective narratives that blame their opponents o E.g., Jewish-Palestinian conflict has lasted for nearly a century  Heightened sense of nationalism  Use symbolic kin terms such as son, sister, brotherhood, and motherland to create stronger bonds  Accentuated the division between Jewish and Palestinian people  Makes it easier to blame the opponent  Citizens often do not know the details of why they are fighting until the death of a group member o Conflicts are perpetuated by unfamiliarity with others, which accompanies just-world beliefs  All people are more sympathetic to people they associate with  More likely to believe that the people they know are good people  Harm to innocent members of their society challenges the idea of the world as a fair place o Americans tend to have a secure sense that the world they live in is just  Events of September 11 shattered their vision of a just world  CHERYL KAISER  Investigated how Americans’ just-world beliefs influenced their reactions to the 9/11 attack  People with strong just-world beliefs o Felt the most fearful, vulnerable, uneasy o Felt the most desire to seek revenge against people responsible for the attack  People who harm the innocent must pay the price o All conflict requires blame, and a belief in the just-world supplies blame  People with strong just-world beliefs are blame-seekers  Resist matters of fairness and equality  Ignore or deny evidence that contradicts the belief  Cling more to the belief when reality makes them question it  Resist changing their minds and their behaviours o All social inequalities are similar and connected 
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