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« on: April 29, 2014, 08:26:41 PM »

Profoundly unequal

By MARION O'CALLAGHAN
Monday, April 28 2014

http://www.newsday.co.tt/commentary/0,193990.html

When Larry Sommers, the economist, was asked over CNN what was the most important issue today, he answered: “Inequality”. Asked how he would solve this, he replied that he would start with education. I have heard “Education” as changing hearts, minds and attitudes so often and really meaning waiting until the Messiah returns, that I was getting ready to steups when Larry Sommers explained that what he meant by starting with education was first of all ensuring that all students were taught for the same number of hours.

He insisted that he did not mean only the hours when students attended school classes. He meant the time of informal teaching eg visiting zoos, parks, libraries, drama. In short all teaching hours and spaces available to the wealthy. Those informal classes, he argued, were often more important than were prescribed school classes. For Larry Sommers second in importance was the quality of teachers. If we are to solve inequalities, he insisted, then the quality of teachers must mean not only degrees but commitment and teacher attitudes to children.

Larry Sommers was not the only one convinced that the major problem facing the USA and indeed the world was inequality. He was one of a growing number of economists, sociologists and philosophers for whom the growth of inequalities since the 1980’s was the major reason for both the economic crises and the social crises which face us. Mr Blanchard, former Director General of the ILO, in a report prepared for the ILO, argued that inequalities in salaries can now affect global economic growth. A Swiss Referendum that would cap salaries at ten times the average salary failed – but only just. It indicates a general discomfort at the increasing gap between rich and poor even in a Switzerland not given to revolutionary outbursts.

Race – ethnicity

It is certainly true that the end of Jim Crow, Apartheid the ending of Settler Colonialism and legislation outlawing caste discrimination, dismantled much of the legal basis for the inequality between groups. Much, but certainly not all. Patterns of privilege, discrimination and exclusion are often part of the structure of a society. As such they are maintained by the selection processes within the major institutions of a society and produced and reproduced with the assistance of myth, selective history and group culture. In this, the reproduction of poverty and inequality may be fostered by certain aspects of the culture of the very groups who are subject to discrimination and/or exclusion. Dismantling inequalities is therefore not an easy undertaking. If it is on the agenda of some of the most powerful nations, it is not because their populations were converted to peace and goodwill. Rather there are political and economic factors which countries ignore at their peril. The report “Race for Results” produced by the Baltimore, USA based Annie E Casey Foundation and published a fortnight ago, lists for the USA the following reasons for “Equality” concerns:

(a) Demographic Shifts. By 2030 no single “race” would have an absolute majority in the USA. That is already true of Trinidad and Tobago. In my opinion politics based on ethnic competition – whatever the mystification of language or culture – cannot last and cannot succeed here. Our demographic profile is against it. Ethnic competition may however make equality policies difficult, with disastrous social and economic results.

(b) “The price of letting any group fall behind already unacceptable will get higher”, states the report Race for Results. They go on to quote McKinsey and Company researchers that “If the United States had closed the racial achievement gap and African-American and Latino student performance had caught up with white students by 1998, the gross domestic product in 2008 would have been up to $525 billion higher. If America is to remain prosperous for generations to come, all children must have a fair chance to succeed.”

It is no surprise that the Obama Administration on 28 February announced a public-private partnership with ten philanthropy organisations. This partnership targets Black males. Named “My Brother’s Keeper”, it is a cross-sector commitment to make targeted financial and political commitments to reduce the barrier to success faced by Black Men and Boys. These are more likely to go to prison than to university.

Naïve or Blind

It would take the very naïve or the very blind not to see the inequalities which dictate success or failure in our own society. It is true that in our anti-intellectual distorted development the statistics and the sociological research ain’t there. But we only have to look at the geography of settlement. Do we really believe that a child born and raised in one of our squatter communities eg Beetham, parts of Malick, the outskirts of San Fernando, has the same chances in our society as someone born and raised in Fairways, Westmoorings or Gulf City?

http://www.newsday.co.tt/commentary/0,193990.html
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