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#In-Depth: Inequality – The Ultimate Vulnerability of the Majority

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Since Picketty came out swinging, inequality has been on the headlines. It has a huge impact on development and most of the populace is struggling to reach the dreams they see.

Vulnerabilities are true to all of humanity. Even though one might not agree, every human being is vulnerable to one thing or another. Even though it isn’t the most trending topic anyone would think to write about, it is something that has to be spoken and realized. In terms of social and economic development, who is vulnerable to what? This article would attempt to present my ideas to answer this question. Even though the richest 20 percent of any country would not admit or acknowledge vulnerability of this sort, they too are open to risks mainly politically and in ways psychologically.

A state is defined by its population, the cultures and progressive cultural developments that history has brought forward. The population of each and every nation-state has under gone great changes both in form of practices, demographics and sources of income. Today’s inequalities are by-products of economics that has acted for a long time in history. Even though capitalism is blamed by many, indigenous economic systems that existed in countries in the past, were Neo-patrimonial which did result in economic inequalities in historic societies. Today we live in a world where the richest 1% would surpass the remaining 99% at the existing rate of financial accumulation in 2016 (Oxfam, 2015). This article will not attempt to address the causes for inequality and reforms against it; rather it will bring out how vulnerability affects the poor.

Understanding how the concept of vulnerability works is important. There are three main aspects to it. There is an external change that occurs which is the ‘risk’, there are internal conditions that will either amplify the risk or curtail it. Thirdly are the available options which can be used to recover from the effects of a risk. This model is easy to understand in terms of a natural disaster but looking closer, it is in fact applicable to a common day to day economic shock as well.

Inequalities bring gaps in provision of health care, opportunities in education, dissolution of family structures among different sub groups of a population. During the 1970s inequalities in Japan decreased dramatically and during the same time life expectancy increased. The situation in Britain was a contrast to this; where during the same period inequality increased and the life expectancy decreased. When critically thinking about the economic mechanisms that lead to better social indicators, we see that economic equality is a better option than economic growth. A pursuit for economic growth isn’t the most sustainable path to follow if the society is facing gaps in terms of relative income. Relative income isn’t the easiest to minimize as due to the economic structure the élite or a country will always have an upper hand. A small percentage of “Elite Capital” being trickled down to the poorest 20 percent of a society can have a big impact on their lives. This will be true as long as institutional efficiency through which this money will be channeled remains intact.

Even though soon after the Industrial Revolution, life in cities was worse than rural areas, with time this changed. Urban areas are home to the most comprehensive hospitals and health care institutions in most countries. This leaves with rural agricultural areas vulnerable against disease prevention and control. Lack of education limits the opportunities available to the youth of these sub communities. This is further worsening by the fact that the rest of the society does not empathize but rather take the structure for granted.

New dimensions of vulnerability have emerged today with climate change and other forced changes in nature. Often farmers are dependent on their single crop and the quality of the harvest is highly dependent on timely rainfall, proper soil composition, and right temperatures. Disruptions in these factors caused by changing weather patterns is a threat to commodities such as corn, coffee and the human lives behind the production of these crops.

Overfishing and changes in sea water temperature, entails its own threats to fishing communities of countries. Availability and pricing will go through immense changes with the increasing scarcity. These factors again would have a negative feedback loop on the dependents of these industries and the poorest of a society. Small Island Developing States who emit less than 1% of the total CO2 emissions are in the forefront to experience the devastating effects. Even though this article does not go into detail about climate vulnerability; it is worth noting that climate change will disrupt income flows of the populations of these countries who are not left with many options.

Family structures of these communities are based on one source of income. Children either engage in primary education to follow the same employment opportunities as parents, or take a different step and move into cities in search of employment. Urban employment structures push these individuals to the informal sector which now is a prominent part of the national economy.  Even though it cannot be generalized, this outlines the story of many youth who have gone through rural to urban migration.

Vulnerability is globally common. The scope of vulnerability however changes depending on the level of poverty and relative income levels of a country. The policies towards economic growth need to shift its path towards creating a much more equal society. Uniformity in a population is a Utopian idea by modern standards, but the push should be towards providing the poorest a source of insurance from the risk of today. Even though climate change is creeping way into national policies; effective implication lacks the same enthusiasm. While the policy makers decide on how to make the changes, it the vulnerable that dies from heat waves and floods. It is the vulnerable that lose their harvests due to climate change and it is the vulnerable that are left without any source of sustenance.

Creating structural changes in a country’s economic system and altering financial flows cannot be done over night. A global understanding on ‘what needs to be done on behalf of whom’ is important so any national attempt to secure the vulnerable will be acknowledged and supported.

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