Rising inequality leads to rise of authoritarian leaders with divisive agenda: Vice President
Bengaluru, Feb 11: Vice President of India Mohammad Hamid Ansari has warned of public despair and social conflicts if rising economic inequality, which is the number one risk, is not checked.
He was delivering the inaugural address, titled ‘Living in Febrile Times', at the First Edition of the Huddle, a three-day conclave organised by The Hindu newspaper, here on Friday.
The Vice President said that the improving living standards, in segments, have perhaps masked a dramatic concentration of income and wealth over the last 30 years.
"The improving living standards, in segments, have perhaps masked a dramatic concentration of income and wealth over the last 30 years. A number of studies have come to the distressing conclusion that despite the increase in the number of people coming out of abject poverty, the majority of people on the planet today live in countries where economic disparities are bigger than they were a generation ago," said the Vice President.
"In developing economies like India and China, despite the fact that incomes have risen for many, inequality, in both wealth and income have also risen significantly."
"The richest 1% in India owned nearly 60% of the country's total wealth, with the top 20% commanding 80%. The bottom half of Indians by contrast, collectively own only 2% of the national wealth," said the Vice President.
Talking about the implications of economic inequality for the political, social and economic fabric of society, Hamid Ansari said:
"Rising inequality is seen as a contributing cause for the rise of authoritarian leaders, often with a divisive agenda fuelled by sectarianism, xenophobia and nationalism."
"Rising inequality can lead to conflict, both at social and at national level. Research has shown that in contrast to oligarchic regimes; democracies avoid serious political turbulence only so long as they ensure that the relative level of inequality between the rich and the poor does not become excessively large."
He said that social conflicts break out in situations where there are large inequalities between different groups.
"Other studies, similarly, indicate that social conflicts are indeed likely to break out in situations where there are large inequalities between different groups. Some studies have concluded that ethnic groups with incomes much lower than a country's average per capita income are more likely to engage in civil war."
Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari delivering the inaugural address at the First Edition of the Huddle, A Three-day Conclave, organised by The Hindu newspaper, in Bengaluru on February 10, 2017. The Governor of Karnataka, Vajubhai Vala is also seen. (Photo – PIB)
He also said that recent protest movements around the globe were fuelled by growing public despair due to sharp inequalities.
"New protest movements have broken out around the world, many arguably rooted in the burgeoning inequality. The Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring were both fuelled by growing public despair at the sharp inequalities and growing unemployment and the perceived inability of the existing governance structures to redress the situation."
"In India, the growing threat of left extremism, which has been repeatedly acknowledged as the gravest security threat to Indian state, has its roots in economic deprivation and inequality in access to resources."
The Vice President said the time has come that the issue of economic inequality should be taken up very seriously, otherwise "there is unlikely to be much of a future, let alone a shining one."
"To view rising inequity as merely an inconvenient truth in the saga of India's shining future would therefore be a folly. Without equality, there is unlikely to be much of a future, let alone a shining one."
"The concepts of justice and fairness are tied to the idea of equity in development. Equity has an intrinsic value since some groups face consistently inferior opportunities - economic, social and political - than their fellow citizens. Specifically, it translates into the need for equal opportunity and avoidance extreme deprivation in outcomes."
"There is a need to revisit our commitment to investing in social goods. We have to move beyond seeing corporate social activity and government welfare schemes as merely minimum relief for the misery of the masses aimed mostly at neutralising the more aggressive antagonism of those who have lost income and wealth or those whose upward mobility seems permanently blocked," said the Vice President.
"Perhaps the time has come to move the development discourse of inequality beyond the current discussion of outcomes and opportunities. A conceptual framework is provided by Amartya Sen and some others who see human capabilities as the capacity and freedom to choose and to act; and calls for the opportunities that give individuals the freedom to pursue a life of their own choosing to be equalised," he averred.