Sunday, April 10, 2011

Inequality: 'power of entrenched interests'

What Causes Social Inequality?
From a review by Lars Osberg, in

In Power and Inequality: A Comparative Introduction, Gregg Olsen examines three 'Nordic' countries -- Finland, Norway and Sweden -- and three 'Anglo' countries -- Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States -- through the lens of social inequality... As well as inequalities of income and wealth, there are those of access to education, health care and housing...

The Nordic countries have substantially less social inequality than the Anglo countries:... 'social inequality is created, reproduced, institutionalized, legitimated and perpetuated by the people who hold the most resources in society.'... The power of the entrenched interests of the status quo has always been partly based on a combination of fatalism and collective failure of popular imagination. When most people really cannot conceive of a different organization of society, the default setting is that social inequality continues in the future as it has been in the past...

There have always been more or less sophisticated rationalizations -- along the TINA (There Is No Alternative) line -- for the perspective that 'things must be as they always have been.' In sociology, 'neo-functionalists' have argued that social inequality is the inevitable and natural implication of society's need to fill crucial roles and positions. Sociobiologists and social Darwinists have also claimed to find 'immutable laws' of social stratification... Although such theories may have been convincing when researchers could only examine a single country's data... they cannot survive cross-national comparisons because they offer no reason why countries might differ.
Image source here.