“Social inequality is a necessary evil of capitalist society”. Please comment with the reference of the sociology perspectives being discussed in the lecture and textbook. In the 21th century, the existence of social inequality has already raised to the surface, which give rise to a torrent of furor. Many people sees social inequality as an individual problem, people experience inequality because of their ability or laziness. However, this is somehow not the real case.
Indeed, social inequality can be the consequence of the institution of the society, or, simply a characteristic of a particular economic system. This is exactly why social inequality is said to be a necessary evil in a capitalist society. In this essay, the reasons that social inequality must exist in a capitalist society is going to be discussed. The term ‘capitalism’ can be ambiguous, so what really means ‘capitalism’? Over these centuries, capitalism has been further divided or mutated into many types of systems.
Generally, capitalism is an economic system. The most notable and common meaning of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production. Private ownership means that individuals consist of the freedom to control their own assert. This means individuals will not interfere with one another as they use, exchange (sell) or give away what they find unclaimed or abandoned, what they make, and what they get from other persons by gift or exchange (purchase). (Watts, 1975) Compared to capitalism, the definition of social inequality is relatively clearer.
Basically, anything unequal happened within a society or groups can said to be a social inequality. Sociologically, according to Marger(2005), the more evident inequalities in nowadays’ society are mainly the differences in income and wealth, differences in social standing and prestige, and differences in power. Now, do ‘capitalist society’ and ‘capitalism’ consist of an identical meaning? This is a very discussible question. Rather than only an economic system, the influence of capitalism is more than that.
As Marxian theory stated that economic institution are the determinants of the entire system of society, the society’s economic foundation conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general (Marx and Engel,1968, cited from Marger,2005), it is believed that a capitalist society refers to a society the norms and culture of the societies are influenced by its economic structure, namely capitalism. In a capitalist society, some particular characteristics are developed. As this is not an economic analysis, the focus point would be more about social characteristics.
First of all, the capital accumulation is a trait that the owner, or the entrepreneur was dependent upon not only the accumulation of his own capital but also the aggregation of the capital of others. (Schumpeter, 1942) Besides, in a modern capitalistic state, competition is engaged to capitalism. The competition between corporations is the key to lower the costs of production and prices, and also the competition among workers to compete for limited employment, while competition leads to a maximization of self-interest. Democracy is also said to be the necessities of capitalism.
Przeworski and Wallerstein (1982, cited from Goodin, 2009) explained it by using the term ‘class compromise’. Democracy is the compromise between capitalist and workers as it brings out the equilibrium that they share the same political power even through their quantity of wealth are unequal. This is redistribution, according to Prezeworski and Wallerstein. Lastly, modern capitalist society triggered the variation of forms of capital as nowadays, money and raw materials are not the only things that create profit, and this will be further discussed below.
In this way, how these characteristics reflect or contribute to social inequality? Let’s discuss this issue from different sociological perspectives. From the conflict-theory-approach, Marxian and Weberian models are necessary to understand structured inequality in societies. According to Marx, social inequality is fundamental in capitalist society (Marger, 2005) Marx state that capitalism leads to class division—the capitalist class and the industrial working class, while this is the basic of capitalism and also the basic of social inequality.
So in this way, the one who own resources and commodity can rule the other class. The working class must accept what capitalist pay them for their labor as they have no capital. This ruling practice can create a result of not only control the economic system and wealth distribution, but also the authority and the privilege of capitalist. As a result, the social inequality remains unchanged and the working classes by no means accept it. Under Marx’s analyses, the inevitable inequality in a capitalist society will eventually trigger a class conflict.
Marx explains that the economy and politics are interdependent on each other, by which, we can applying to this essay is democracy and capitalism. Nowadays, democratic capitalism is a well-known political-economic system. Using Marx’s concept, democracy is created by those capitalist who try to make control and rule the two classes in a seemingly democratic way. For instance, in the USA, everyone has a right to vote, this allows people to have equality chance to choose the best politician they believe in.
Through voting, they feel like they are given the opportunity to an equal chance, yet the structure-basis soical inequality remain unchanged. After analyzing this topic from Marxian perspectives, let’s move on to the Weberian model. According to Marger(2005), Weber suggested a more multidimensional model than that of Marx. Other than just a class division base on economic interest, Weber suggest the class, status and party are the factors that create inequality. Regarding this topic, the idea of Weber about the concept of class would be quite proper to explain the inevitability of inequality in capitalist society.
In Weber’s points of view, the formation of class or the class position of a particular person is not just simply base on the means of production, rather there are things like skills and credentials. For instance, doctor is a worker for the hospital, but their social position is more than simply a worker. Here comes to the concept of capital—In the industrialism period, technologies are material-intensive, thus the means of production only focused on the physical capital, namely raw materials, money and other kinds of assert.
However, in the modern capitalist society, technologies are shifted into informative-intensive, bringing out the diversity of capital. Goodwin(2003) suggested that there are five types of capital—-financial capital, social capital, natural capital, produced capital and human capital. In this way, the accumulation of capital is not only money and material in modern capitalist society are varied—-different types of capitalist are being developed. As a result, our degrees of accumulation of different kinds of capital would result inequality diversity, not only difference in wealth, but difference in privilege and social position.
Weber’s concept is able to explain the inequality of privilege, power and social position rather than just wealth in modern capitalist society. As we can see, the conflict-approach focus on the inevitability of inequality, while the structural-functionalism approach is focused on the need of inequality. Functional theorists begin with the metaphor that the society is organized as a whole or a living system. ( Rigney, 2001) In this organic system, people must take up different role to maintain the operation of the society.
In this way, there is a necessity of inequality. Under this scheme, some roles are relatively important than others, namely doctor is considered more important than trash collectors. According to David and Moore (1945), this is due to the more important to the survival of the society than others. These positions require much talent and education, thus these important roles would earn more income and prestige compared to others, which leads to an open up of competition. Being one of the characteristics in capitalist society, competition is everywhere.
People start compete by strive for limited university quota, limited working positions, limited resources and so on. Eventually, those with more talent and stronger ability occupied those more important positions such as layer, judgers, and doctor and those with less talent, in other words, less human capital are taking up less important role namely driver, salesman and so on. This occupational stratification creates differences in income and reward, applying to a capitalist society, create winners and losers.
Applying the functionalist perspective to capitalist society, the variation of roles and the occupation of better positions by people with more human capital, is necessary for the ‘health’ of this organic system to fully extend its function, which explain why a capitalist society needs social inequality. Both the conflict approach and structural-functionalist approach explain inequality in terms of the macrostructure of the society, conflict theorists see the society as a war, while the functionalists see the society as a body and they both sees ‘inequality’ in a objective way(Scott, 2003).
In contrast, the way symbolic interactionists see things are contradictory to the above approach. Symbolic interactions explain social inequality in a more subjective and micro-structural way. According to Blumer (1969), interactionists describe the society as the interaction among people, while human beings act based on the meaning of things have for them. From their perspective, there is no inherent equality or inequality. In such way, the meaning of social inequality are defined by individual’s interaction and it become a nteractive process, so terms like ‘inequality’ are used creatively for people to understand their world. (Scott, 2001) Therefore, when we consider the social inequality in capitalist society from interactionist perspective, how people feel about the existing inequality is putting into consideration. In this way, the sets of value and beliefs developed from people are the key to create an endurance of inequality. The ideology of people is developed through interaction and their own interpretation.
Although capitalism has created a social inequality, it is still a dominant economic system throughout the world, why? This is because people feel fine about it and accept it. According to Marger (2005), a long-range stability and popular acceptance require the development of an effective ideology and its communication through socialization. Parents interact with their children, friends interact with friends, workers interact with workers—–eventually they view the inequality of power, wealth and privilege as natural or even benefitical.
Looking capitalism through the symbolic-interaction’s eye, sometime it is not only the system, capitalism, set up the latent ‘law’ that inequality must exist, it is rather comes from the interpretation of individual, and eventually emerge to the whole masses. Using the education system in Hong Kong as an example, competition is seen as natural. School is believed to be the place where people start accumulating human and social capital namely knowledge and relationships which contribute to their career. The concept ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ are incepted starting from school, it is a common beliefs among student to compete with others.
They strive for getting into famous primary and secondary school and university. As we can see, not only the structure needs inequality, the masses needs inequality so that they are able fight for an opportunity. All in all, the three sociological perspectives focus on different aspects of the situation. From conflict-approach, it is believed that the inequality is inevitable due to the concept of class, there are always different class and social positions that create an inescapable social inequality.
The seemingly fair democracy system can be seen as a cover to play down the existing inequality, and also a strategy of the ruling class, so there are actually hidden conflicts in the capitalist society. From the factionalist perspective, inequality is seen as a functional trait to create a healthy society, people with more capital (resources, knowledge, skills. etc) should occupy a more important roles in order to maintain a fine operation of the society, so social inequality is needed in a capitalist society.
From the symbolic interactional perspective, the acceptance of social inequality by the masses is put into concern. The interpretation of inequality is subjective and varying among people, thus through interaction between people, particular norms, beliefs and culture of capitalism is developed, and people trust that inequality is beneficial for the society. Not only in terms of the society’s structure, but also in terms of people under the capitalist structure, social inequality is a necessary evil in the capitalist society.
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