Inequality is not the enemy, opportunity theft is

Inequality is a natural phenomenon. Take two brothers born into a loving and supportive home. For whatever reason, one brother chooses to work hard, make his own luck and build something of value and becomes wealthy. The other brother prefers living a stress-free life, travelling and working as little as he can. Many of us know these two brothers. Neither brother is better – but their difference will manifest in terms of economic inequality. The first brother will be wealthy and the second comparatively poor: the gap between their wealth, their inequality.

Nobody should penalise the first brother for that inequality existing. Nobody would be justified in taking from the first brother and giving to the second in order to level the playing field.BUT, the scenario painted above is perfect. Our society does not mirror the loving and supportive household. In South Africa, inequality is as much a product of Apartheid and opportunity theft as it is of the differences in where people invest their time and energy.

BUT, the scenario painted above is perfect. Our society does not mirror the loving and supportive household. In South Africa, inequality is as much a product of Apartheid and opportunity theft as it is of the differences in where people invest their time and energy.A child born into a poor family in South Africa today is going to be on the wrong side of inequality through no fault of her own and is going to find it harder than is fair to get to the other side. This is NOT fair, and in this case, something must be said for the role of the state in working to mitigate the injustices of the past that hold people back today.

A child born into a poor family in South Africa today is going to be on the wrong side of inequality through no fault of her own and is going to find it harder than is fair to get to the other side. This is NOT fair, and in this case, something must be said for the role of the state in working to mitigate the injustices of the past that hold people back today.Education, Healthcare, Transport, Internet Access, Small Business Support are all examples are areas where the state can use taxes to improve access to opportunity for all South Africans.

Education, Healthcare, Transport, Internet Access, Small Business Support are all examples are areas where the state can use taxes to improve access to opportunity for all South Africans.

Government should never take money from one person who is productive, simply to give it to another who chooses not to be productive. We must never incentivise people to down tools and live on welfare: our European friends have tested this for us, and it does not work.

The above, however, does not extend to the very basic grants that the state pays to the poorest members of our society. The child support grant and the old age pension are the two best examples: these ‘transfers of wealth’ are to ensure that nobody in South Africa lives in such extreme poverty that they cannot feed, clothe and house themselves (and many would contest the adequacy of these meagre amounts to assure that).

In short, inequality is not the problem – the obsession with inequality is diversionary – the real problem is the number of people who find it so very hard to break out of their particular circumstances. Luck can favour some, but it cannot favour all – for that we need the help of the more mortal, ever more fallible: good government.

1 thought on “Inequality is not the enemy, opportunity theft is”

  1. Warwick, absolutely, absolutely, and I could keep repeating it forever and ever. Inequality is not the problem, but, I think, it is more than just leveling the playing field that is required. People also need a sense of self-agency before they can really make use of any opportunity. We are all born with self agency but one of two things can happen to it as we grow-up. We are either in an environment that consciously nurtures and promotes it in us or we grow up in an environment that is totally unaware of its value and probably works to suppress it. Self agency was not nurtured and promoted in the feudal or tribal cultures, in which most South Africans, or their parents and grand parents were reared. This suited the implementers of Apartheid just fine. Apartheid would have been impossible to implement if more of the victims had been imbued with self agency. Unfortunately the ANC, as far as I know, does not recognise the need for self agency either and as a fairly authoritarian organisation itself it actual prefers it if the electorate is not comprised of people with self agency. Why? Because such an electorate is more prone to accept orders from on high. In fact the legislation promulgated by the ANC just accepts the lack of self agency in the electorate and offers them legal crutches for their lack of self agency in the form of AA and BEE instead. Self agency is not a commodity. It exists if it is expressed and its expression requires a supportive and challenging environment. AA and BEE remove the need for self-agency in black people and are actually a disservice to them and to the country as a whole.

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