Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Wealth Gap v Opportunity Gap : Which one should we try and fix?

India is a land of contradictions. 

We have the most number of millionaires in the world and also have the most number of poor people. We have the most number of doctors and engineers and also the most number of illiterate people.

Inequality is present in every form in India. The extent of the wealth gap is not a disputable fact any more as several research papers and newspaper articles have rightly proven.

Unequal distribution of wealth is a very dangerous thing. It can lead to civil unrest and also block the development of the country. It is for this reason that everyone takes this very seriously and they are right in doing so.

The problem begins when people try to bridge the wealth gap by using the misguided Robin Hood concept i.e. to take from the rich and give to the poor. Someone very aptly said that sometimes we get so engrossed in figuring out how to best distribute the money that we have that we forget to concentrate on generating that money.

It is impossible to create a world where everyone has the same wealth and even if it was possible, it would not morally right to do so. Why should people who work hard not have more wealth than the people who don't work as hard? Wealth should be the reward for hard work.

Here we are assuming that the justice system works well and that anyone using illegal means to earn wealth is reprimanded. Questions about the efficiency of the justice system should be dealt with separately.

What we should really focus on is the opportunity gap. Due to multiple reasons, a lot of citizens in the country do not get the chance to compete. Levelling the playing field is different. We first need to make sure that everyone has access to a field.

Giving people opportunities does not mean reservations. Actually reservations are possibly the most inefficient way of giving people opportunities as India has found out over the last couple of decades.

Lets take education for example: On an average, a student who is from a low income family and studies in a government school will not do as well as a student from an affluent family who studies in a high end private school. It has little to do with their family incomes. This difference in results is because is difference in the opportunities that both type of students get from their education. If you give every child an excellent education then the comparison would give you different results.

This can partially be attributed to the fact that students from affluent families sometimes don't have that burning need to succeed because they have a fall back option while students from low income families know that they need to make the most of every opportunity they get because of the sheer lack of opportunities. Hence, if both are given equal opportunities, it is very possible that the student from a low income family will do better than others.

Ofcourse this is not true in each and every case but there are a lot of examples of this out there to prove that this is not just theory.

Once the opportunity gap is closed, the achievement gap will close as well and slowly but surely that will lead to the wealth gap narrowing down.

This will be without doing anything negative to the people who already have the resources. Giving more opportunities to people who don't have them will not take away the opportunities from people who already have them. We merely need to give access to the field to everyone, they will level it themselves through sheer perseverance.

This, apart from the fact that the wealth gap cannot be closed in any other way without harming honest hard working people, is why we should focus on fixing the opportunity gap.

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