Bridging The Income Gap
Dev Raj Dahal
As a multi-dimensional concept equality means fair treatment of citizens of diverse distinctions. It reduces the gap between the haves and have-nots that scar the Nepali nation. The rationality of equality springs from the equal values attached to each citizen. Democratic virtues foster nationality and humanity of person which is a good worth of citizenship equality and entitled with same welfare provisions. They are the preconditions for freedom. Equality enhances the scale of economic security, wellbeing and dignity, reconciles with social justice and finds its resonance in the constitution. It sets the rules of the game. The unified application of the Constitution in Nepali society coordinates the conflicting conceptions of good life arising out of geographical, genetic, social, economic and cultural diversity, hierarchy and patriarchy. Equality can be measured by the same set of rules of governance for all Nepalis, equal rights, equal opportunity to improve their life-chances and equal welfare to find a life of liberty and progress.
One key challenge Nepali leaders constantly face is the right to equality of citizens enshrined in the Constitution and the actual condition of inequality. This gap between the rich and the poor in Nepal is widening serving as a cause for aspirational politics open to alienation and instability. As a result, Nepali state is unable to muster authority, execute the constitution and stabilise the polity. The tension between Constitutional aspect of welfare state which aims to alleviate the misery of 30 per cent of population below poverty line earning $ 1.90 per day and poor state of redistributive politics owing to inability of Nepali state to finance all rights of citizens remain. In a hierarchy of social, economic and political advantage for certain groups, only equality of opportunity can glue multitude of Nepali citizens and share in a common life.
The welfare state justifies the redistribution of income from capital to workers on moral ground on the basis of capital’s income where the contribution of labour is no less significant. The improvement in the living standards of Nepalis can come only through broad-based growth of real economy and investment of surplus on the productive sectors. Economic growth alone does not lubricate the gear of human welfare if its fruits are unfairly distributed, powerful gaining the most and the poor receiving only trickle-down. In the context of growth of democratic awareness, deprivation may feed envy prompting them to engage in radical politics. Well-being across Nepali society can be an effective leveller which can contribute to asset creation and muster ability and capacity to participate in multilevel governance. The meaning of equal rights for Nepalis in the Constitution demands knowledge about it and institutional means to realise them. It provides a sense of security, well-being and dignity and a sense of belonging as a member of the national community, the Nepali state. Economy can grow if natural resource, skilled labour, machineries and infrastructures are optimally utilized and society fully supports its entrepreneurship.
Social justice becomes sustainable with economic efficiency. It can reduce the level of inequality and cope with the negative effects of globalisation. Globalisation frees up the market and intensifies competition among its units but creates disadvantages for those people who cannot compete. This cuts the efficacy of citizenship. In Nepal, the contribution of tax to GDP is little over 15 per cent which is deficient to finance self-sufficient state, fulfil citizens’ all rights and raise the living standards of Nepalis. The share of capital to GDP is less than the flow of remittance from the migrant Nepali workers. The annual per capita income of Nepalis stands $1,000. The minimum wage for worker per month is about $ 134 but this is inadequate to sustain even a nuclear family. Therefore, the trend of out-bound migration is increasing at a time when post-earthquake resilient rebuilding of this nation needs their active engagement for many years. Annually about 450,000 youth migrate abroad for job and they are source of remittance, entrepreneurship and local economic activities. They contribute 25 per cent to GDP and its benefits are decentralised in all 77 districts. So does its social costs.
Three kinds of inequality pervade Nepali polity - situational inequality, positional inequality and deprivational inequality owing to lack of social, political and economic links. The unjust inequality is awful for economic progress. Democratic politics is designed to reduce the gap in inequality between the empirical facts such as unequal ownership of land and capital and other factors of production that cause misery in Nepali society and adoption of democratic values that is supposed to circulate power, position and wealth across the social classes, gender and generations through a policy embedded in social inclusion, social protection, social security and positive discriminations.
All these concepts embedded in Nepal’s constitution call for redistribution from the rich to the poor to meet basic needs, create appropriate jobs, avert social fractures and allow creative pursuit of life. The Constitution demands citizens’ part of the sacrifice of their liberty for public security and public order. It is crucial to end the transitional politics and create an egalitarian and just society. This means attainment of public good is necessary. It is a good which does not exclude any Nepalis and can be considered a precondition for social peace. Availability of public good demands both formulation and enforcement of sound public policies based on the spirit of constitution and give a fillip to vital sense of common life. Otherwise, the nation will continue to be trapped in a sort of Greek tragedy where decision-makers do not know the iniquitous consequence of their actions.
One critical aspect of public good in Nepal is public education. It fosters upward mobility by enabling citizens to reclaim control of their destiny and shape the future. Education provides vigilance which is about conscious awareness of one’s own living condition and engagement in production and political struggle to improve this. Distribution of intelligence in Nepali society is a must to make its economy competitive and democracy functional. It fosters citizens’ desire to innovate and engage in productive life. For example, skilled workers in agriculture increase productivity, reduce any need to migrate abroad for earning and invest more in children’s education, health and basic amenities.
Nepal now has a huge pool of skilled workers who have working experience from abroad. Many of them have become entrepreneurs and run their own business and industries. Others have gained skill in the use of modern technology and meet the requirement of Nepalis for human capital equality. Investment in human capital maximises equality, improves the quality of living and meets the need of intergenerational reproduction of human resources. But when financial position is a passport to entry in private education, health, safety, communication and law which poor Nepalis can ill-afford it is hard to gain legal and political equality. Equality before law can only open possibility, not actuality. This is why Nepal’s remote and geographically isolated areas face the scarcity of public good such as food, educational and constructional materials, medicine, fertilizers, etc. at a time of amazing growth of private wealth, transport and communication.
Nepal’s constitution makes social inequality and discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, region and religion illegitimate. But the unwritten transcript of society continues which needs social reforms and institutional effectiveness to implement laws and set up the supremacy of law over social, economic and political leaders. The social discrimination owing to caste, gender or class inequality has perverse impact on equality. Nepal’s social inclusion policy has widened the participation of women, Dalits, and other groups of society in labour market, politics, administration and improved their situation. Only effective institutions can sincerely implement social policies and forestall exclusion. They outlast individual members. But their renewal is important as per the tasks assigned to them by law.
This, however, demands Nepali leaders’ political will and commitment. The influence of money on politics has fostered political inequality. Economic equality is a precondition for political equality and civic competence. In Nepal, the proportional representation is dominated by moneyed class, cronyism and interest groups. This bars the inclusion of a large number of micro-minorities and formulate polices to compatible with constitutional spirit. When money becomes a means to peddle influence on politics, authority, law and development policies, low income groups will be trapped in hierarchy and structural injustice and turning their past as a future. They cannot overcome this situation and attain equality in the absence of political solidarity and struggle for equal status.
Building trust among citizens is important to control free-riders, spoilers and predators, who appropriate the resource flow and block the material basis of the egalitarian transformation of Nepali society, economy and polity. For example, gender equality requires transforming the nature of political economy enabling women to gain access to representation, communication, and participation in public sphere, culture, everyday life and recognition of their identity. The debate about democratic equality of Nepali citizens can be initiated and its solution found in the public spheres and public interest, not in selfish promotion of private interests. It can be furnished where government is the solution of the problem of inequality as it has broad-based mandate to take decisions and formulate and implement egalitarian public policies underlined by the spirit of constitution.
One strategy is the use of public funds for reducing inequalities, the other is increasing corporate social responsibilities, still the other is mobilisation of resources, knowledge, skill and technologies of intermediary associations, cooperatives, local government, CBOs, civil society, NGOs and charity-based organizations in alleviating human suffering such as poverty, inequality, joblessness, etc. The golden rule is: elected political leaders who have mandate for change must think outside their partisan interests and work for the general welfare of all citizens.