Apartheid as a Social Policy

As a political tool of segregation, it became (in)famous when used against the majority African native population by the South African government run by the white supremacists. Currently, the word is being used to describe the Israeli government by activists around the world in response to their occupation of the West Bank and legislating the “Jewish character” of the democratic state.

But there’s a different type of apartheid in play right in front of us. One we are all guilty of supporting by actually using the system with the excuse of “fait accompli”. There is a little side issue to consider though, wonderfully captured in this quotation:

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” — Frederick Douglass

The different type of apartheid in play is the socioeconomic one we choose to enforce on the society we live in.

In my current location of Bangladesh, society is clearly differentiated into different strata based on the economic conditions of the person. Those who earn more; those who own more; those who were already rich; the “nouveau riche”. So many types of sub-divisions. Even the profession of the person comes into play.

So let’s keep it simple and have two divisions of the wealthy and not wealthy (monetary wise). The not wealthy work for those who are wealthy and get some wages in return. Not everyone gets the same wages, some get more and some get less and some get very little. The result can often be catastrophic in different ways. Here’s a snapshot:

  1. Why are owners so negligent of worker safety? Wrong question. How can they be so negligent of worker safety?

  2. The wages of most workers are a little above subsistence levels. What good does that do except to make being poor, even poverty itself, a social institution? Most workers are unable to grow their way out of being poor with what they are paid or even direct their children away from being poor (inequality of opportunity).

Between the two points a disturbing thought emerges, that inequality is creating a society of “wealthy” and “poor”, the poor being undeserving of the same benefits afforded to the richer side and that this disparity is maintained. My examples were of two types – owner side and worker side. This was from the owner side. The other side of the argument is that the rich were just born into their privilege and that they are exploiting the poor to get richer.

I don’t know about sociology, economics solves the question of worker wages as a “profit maximization” problem for the owner of the capital, i.e. give the lowest wages for the highest profit. The implicit message being: Greater profit/income for the already wealthy. That makes economics a tool to promote social disharmony.

If the study of economics needs an overhaul, these are the places where it needs to be reformed. The subliminal messages that lead to a society fracturing need to be addressed first.

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