Challenges to Democracy: The negative impact of inequality on diversity

Fennell, Shailaja (2016). 'Challenges to Democracy: The negative impact of inequality on diversity' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Inequality in Asia is increasing at an alarming pace. Income disparities, measured in terms of the global regional Gini coefficient, increased by 18% in Asia between the mid-1990s and late 2000s. Indeed, the much-admired economic growth in the region has not benefited all segments of society in a balanced manner. It seems that that local elites have been able to capture most of the fruits of development. In India and China the richest top 5% of the population increased their participation in total national expenditure reaching new heights in 2010: 21.3% and 20.5%, respectively. The nature of inequality in Asia involves much more than income disparities, it expands across the different domains of the community and it is also expressed in the social and political spheres of society. There are important differences in human well-being among citizens. Exclusion, exploitation and symbolic violence are exercised over individuals and groups of individuals belonging to different social classes, gender, castes and ethnic groups. This paper makes the case that these inequalities are neither inevitable nor a natural fact of social life (Sen, 1999). On the contrary, they are socially constructed and rooted in human designed institutions (rules, laws, and social norms), which are shaped by powerful groups in society. The paper argues, following the Akerlof and Kranton (2010) proposition, that the manner in which social institutions perceive individuals has a decided, and sometimes negative, impact on the decisions made by an individual. It argues that the democratisation agenda that explicitly recognises the central principle of equality needs to engage directly with the new political ideologies that are becoming prominent in Asian countries. The paper shows that there has been a distinct shift from a national wide approval of the commitment of the state to have responsibility for the provision of education that benefit all citizens, to an acceptance of an increasingly hierarchized tier educational services that militate against individual and group mobility, necessary for ensuring the fruits of a diverse population. The case of educational services in China and India will be used to show that the implications of a stratified provision of education has negative impacts on how marginalised individuals and groups regard their own sense of citizenship. It concludes that by deconstructing inequalities, such an perverse educational outcomes, and working towards an explicit valuation of diversity is the first step in the endeavour to build a better society and a fairer future for Asia. Sen, A. K. 1999. Development as Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Akerlof, G., and R. Kranton, 2010, Identity Economics: Howe our Identities Shape our Work, Wages and Well-Being. Princeton: Princeton University Press

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