Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Of Social and Economic justice

Social justice keeps coming up as a topic whenever I hear about ed schools. My son's middle school English teacher kept bringing it up as a topic whenever I talked to her. At that time, I was quite naive to what was behind her assertions. Since then, I have read up enough to understand what the ideological underpinnings are. As I understand them, they go all the way back to the early 1900's. A lot has happened since then, and I think those ideas may be as outdated as buggywhips. Let me attempt to explain why I think so:

Social justice cannot exist in a vacuum. For lasting social justice, economic justice must come first. When I was a kid growing up in India, the prime minister, Nehru, was impressed by the quick rise of the Soviet Union, and decided that India should be socialist too. But with a majority of the population under poverty line, there wasn't much that could be done with meagre resources. The running joke at that time was that India could not afford a socialistic system, because the only thing we had plenty enough to share, was poverty. But the government went ahead anyway. Three decades later, rampant corruption and incompetence accelerated the "redistribution of poverty", had only succeeded in making more people poor while the rich got richer. It wasn't until 1991 that government owned enterprises were sold, and free market reforms allowed competition in all areas (including education).

Now the question comes - how does one achieve economic justice? What is economic justice, anyway? Very simply put, economic justice links income to productivity. In other words, if someone works more efficiently, they should earn more. In the US, since the 1970's, this has been going in reverse. All the improvements in technology have made the American worker more productive than ever, but the compensation has gone down in real terms. Why is that? One big component has been the relatively stagnant number of people working in wealth creating professions like engineering, science and mathematics. The only new job creating branch of mathematics to come out in the last century, computer programming, has employed millions in high paying jobs worldwide, but still is viewed as a profession of social outcasts in this country. So, I will assert that there can be no social justice, while the culture actively banishes the professions that create economic justice. If you take this to an extreme, you will see why Prof. Yunus, an Economics Professor from Bangladesh, received his Nobel Peace Prize (and not the Nobel prize for Economics). Yunus, it turns out, created the concept of microfinance. He created a bank that would loan as little as $10 to women who worked at home weaving rugs and baskets. Who in turn would sell their wares at the local market, and pay back the loan. There was no collateral required, just trust. The concept became so wildly successful that other countries in Asia nad Africa are implementing it. In their recognition letter to Dr. Yunus, the Nobel Committee noted :"Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty." In other words, social injustice (leading to conflicts around the globe) cannot be rooted out without removing economic injustice i.e., eradication of poverty.

1 comment:

kprugman said...

Its difficult to separate the two -but its not a tradeoff either, so one is not sacrificed for the other.

Social justice could be as simple as a crackheaded government not providing schools with access to curriculum needed to raise AYP. Its called protectionist tyranny. That sounds about as cold-blooded as any apartheid government and it will amount to nothing less than a civil war.

When ruled by the party of corporate thuggery, economic justice follows social justice, not the other way around.