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Inequity, iniquity amid rising income inequality

Acute income and economic inequality, the negative phenomenon spawned by neoliberal economics, continues to widen worldwide. Wealth gets concentrated, in scandalous scale, in the hands of the few super-rich, depriving billions of the poor all over the world sufficient means to survive.

World Bank-International Monetary Fund designed policies/programs pursued by governments to achieve “sustainable and inclusive growth” have failed to stop, much less reverse the trend.

Meanwhile, the old problems of social inequity and iniquity continue to burden the people in practically every country – whether “developed,” “developing,” or “underdeveloped.”

Let’s look at some instances on the continuing inequity and iniquity in just three countries: Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. I have culled the facts from one editorial and two relevant articles, all in the opinion page of the New York Times International edition last Wednesday. The situations depicted in Brazil and Mexico and the writers’ conclusions resonate with our own experience.

From Brazil, the writer Vanessa Barbara shares her dismay over how the Brazilian government keeps ignoring the findings and recommendations of three United Nations special rapporteurs on problematic conditions they separately investigated in her country.

The rapporteurs, she explains, are independent experts working without pay on behalf of the UN to monitor countries, governments and policies. “Every time I do research into a serious local matter related to, say, education, the environment, police brutality, racism, or women’s rights,” she points out, “I find a stern, accurate, fact-filled statement from a special rapporteur condemning the situation.” But has the government paid any attention?

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– In 2015, Juan E. Mendez, special rapporteur on torture, urged Brazilian authorities to immediately address prison overcrowding and implement anti-torture measures. Having collected credible testimonies on torture and ill-treatment by the police from detainees in several prisons, he recommended that authorities hold custody hearings for all detainees within 48 hours after arrest, encourage the victims to speak up, and produce effective documentation of torture and ill-treatment.

But nobody heeded Mendez. In fact, Ms Barbara notes, since his report was issued detention conditions in Brazil worsened: more than one detainee met a violent death per day; the prison population regularly increased, and in the first 15 days of 2017, more than 130 detainees were killed in clashes between rival gangs.

– Last year, our own Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (from Cordillera), special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, visited Brazil to follow up the recommendations of the preceding rapporteur. She documented “a disturbing absence of progress in the implementation of his recommendations… (and) a serious regression in the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights.” Ms Barbara avers that soon after Tauli-Corpuz left, “many of the communities she had visited registered an increase of attacks.”

– Philip Alston (who visited the Philippines in 2007 and wrote a critical report on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances) also had a disappointing experience in Brazil. As a special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, he found that the government there was proposing a constitutional amendment that would cap federal spending for 20 years. He warned that this would further diminish necessary but inadequate expenditures on health care, education, and social security, “thus putting an entire generation at risk of social protection standards well below those currently in place.” Despite the opposition by 60 percent of Brazilians to the spending cap, the Brazilian Senate approved the odious amendment – just days after Alston’s report came out.

Still in Latin America, the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico has come under scrutiny for “probably unethical and illegal acts,” according to the New York Times editorial. The accusation is particularly painful since Peña Nieto had come to office promising a change in the country’s image of pervasive corruption, police abuses, extrajudicial killings, illegal-drug trading. The issue involved the acquisition by the Mexican government of expensive spyware purportedly to combat crime and terrorism, but which was instead used to target government critics including anti-corruption fighters and human rights activists.

That was bad enough. But the spyware, known as Pegasus, was also used to monitor an international team charged with investigating the disappearance of 43 student protesters after being detained by the police in 2014. Under public pressure, the government itself had consented to the investigation – but when the team uncovered facts that tended to contradict the official version of events, the investigators were surveilled and harassed, impelling them to leave in 2016. To this day, no one knows what happened to the students.

Now let’s look at the inequity of college education in the USA. “Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status,” David Brooks points out in his column in the NYT. At the same time, “they have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.”

He buttresses his observations with facts from a book by Richard Reeves, “Dream Hoarders.” which details “some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.”

The most important, he says, are 1) residential zoning restrictions in upscale metro areas where the rich reside: housing and construction rules keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities; and 2) college admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with enriching travels and free internships that lead to jobs. Thus, 70% of the students in the 200 most competitive schools come from the top one-fourth of the income ladder. 

Despite the vaunted opportunities for upward mobility in America, Brooks concludes that the educated class has created barriers “that are more devastating for being invisible.” Inequitable indeed, and iniquitous too!

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

 

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