A Plea For Real Equality

Sociologist Camille Peugny and philosopher Fabienne Brugère co-wrote an op-ed in Le Monde arguing that pushing for real equality is not a cute idea from unrealitic dreamers. Here is the gist of their argument.

Peugny and Brugère argue that what we get now is lip service paid to Republican equality while in reality nothing is really being to reduce inequality. Actually, the French society is ravaged by inequalities in all forms, deepened by the current government’s policies and their effects are devastating.

it still remains that equality of results is an end in itself when it comes to real democracy (and a public financing of politics is a short-term means to partially get there). So, to try to deal with inequality and detail everything that diminishes equality is not unrealistic, it is a matter of social justice and trying to reduce structural violence at the heart of processes of social reproduction.

Neither is equality just an abstract concept. There are various measures of its multi-faceted nature. For instance, in France, where so much, in terms of social cohesion, is structured around the educational system and Republican meritocracy, studies after studies show the educational system’s inability to reduce inequalities in terms of success. These inequalities are measurably present in pre-schools and never cease to increase all the way to higher education. In the French system, social origin has the most statistical weight on school results. the larger problem being that those who receive those, then, socially-biased degrees have a greater hold on professional careers. So, as Peugny and Brugère state, let’s admit once and for all that equality of opportunities has failed and turn to equality of results. And band aid, limited measures  – like educational tokenism -will not do.

Another example is that of the social exclusion of the under 25 category whose conditions that state has relegated to their families. These under 25 have been especially precarized and the French state has abandoned its social solidarity function and created a situation of explosive potential and increases inequality further as some students will be able to have their study abroad funded by their parents while others will have to work 30 hours a week. The state should foster actual autonomy rather than extended parental dependency.

So, equality in results is not just a matter of income. It is a matter of education, work, health care (or care more generally), housing and other apparently forgotten rights. At this point, the capture of the commons by a minority is accompanied by an ideological fiction of the world of work an individual that is competitive and all-consuming, all the while completely unaware of environmental risks. An absurd vision to be sure, but one with still political legs.

Of course, political realism involves some prioritization and the recognition that there are social emergencies that need to be dealt with first. But it also means a new vision of what institutions of public policies are for and about. And the heck with the “new management” ideology involving the idea that the state is at the service of large financial groups rather than its citizens.

Institutions should be serving the general interest (in old-fashioned republican tradition) while addressing the diversity of composition of society and remaining neutral and non-stigmatizing (tall order for such a centralized state). More than a state-corporate nexus, what is needed is a state-civil society nexus whose prime directive should be capacity-building (in Sen’s sense) and not social reproduction. Equality of results involves the promotion and defense of a diversity of life-trajectories against stigmatization and discrimination.

Currently, entire territories have been abandoned as their denizens are considered incapable of innovation or creativity, socially marginalized and excluded, and criminalized (and convenient political scapegoats every time Sarkozy falls too low in the polls). Such exclusion and stigmatization represent a threat to social cohesion as tensions between groups are inevitable in such unequal contexts.

But such a worthwhile social project requires a horizon of 15 to 20 years of social policy. Needless to say, politicians prefer to look the other way.

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