Are we all entitled to an equal share of resources?

Published: 05 December 2010

If we look into North/South divide, we can surely say that people live differently in different hemispheres of the world. We also know that people in the South need less money to survive in everyday life than people in the North due to the difference in cost of living. Majority of people in the South have basic needs like food, water, shelter and people in the South have secondary needs like having a car or a PC which is indentified as resources. If other people have it, you would want to have it as well. The income of the richest 1% (50m people) is the same as the income of the poorest 60% (2.7bn people), which tells us how much inequality there is in the world. All the gains of world income in the middle of the last decade went to the richest 20%, while the income of those at the bottom actually declined. This was mostly achieved due to free trade agreements and the increase of democracy and capitalist systems. Nevertheless, things like water and shelter should be provided for everybody according to the millennium goals set by United Nations and this is one of the things we should have in equal quantities at all times (Share the Worlds Resources, 2010).

From an egalitarian view, human beings are of equal moral worth in the sense that no human deserves the claim to more than or less than an equal share of available resources. Liberals argue that people are born with different talents and skills and are rewarded accordingly: those who work hard and possess the abilities deserve to be rewarded accordingly; those who work hard and possess abilities deserve to be wealthier than those who do not. According to this, liberals favour equality of opportunity, but see no reason why this should lead, or will lead, to social and economic equality.

Looking from another perspective, socialists argue that social equality upholds justice. They explain the inequality in terms of innate differences of ability amongst individuals. They believe that capitalism has fostered competitive and selfish behaviour. Human inequality very largely reflects the unequal structure of society. They do not believe that all people are identical when born, possess identical skills and have identical capabilities. Lastly, they believe that most significant forms of human inequality are a result of unequal treatment by the society. Therefore, justice demands that people are treated equally by the society in terms of their rewards.

Furthermore, if people in the community would work for common material benefit, everybody would have equal share of resources, but this obviously does not happen in many places. Humans are always motivated by self-interest. They only choose to help others, because of the personal benefits that they themselves expect to obtain, directly or indirectly, from doing so.

Marxists argue that living in capitalist world there is no way of having anything in equal resources and that only the abolition of private property will give everybody resources of an equal share. The way the capitalism works is that everybody strives to achieve the best in their lives which is translated, from Marxist point of view, to make the most profit is to get money through a legal way from other people in form of trade between one entity and another. Marxists argue that people who have the best skills, knowledge and capabilities, should deserve more resources than others and therefore disabled people do not deserve as much resources as people who are not, which creates inequality in Marxist perspective. Absolute equality of wealth would actually mean serious inequalities in practice. Heywood also argues that this would result in economic stagnation and would remove incentives and caps aspirations, amounting to a process of ‘levelling down’. Equal share of resources can only be achieved through state intervention and a system of ‘social engineering’, meaning that it always infringes upon individual liberty.

Dworkin argues that some people are young, some old, some strong, some weak etc. He talks about his concept brute luck which refers to things we can’t be held responsible for like age, ethnicity etc., which gives the person more resources if he is strong, young and so on. He also talks about option luck which refers to the luck people have in the consequences of the choices they make for which they can be held responsible for. Therefore, he argues that absolutely equal division of resources will be unfair.

Nielsen argues that we are born in a family which has very little resources or either large amount of resources. Therefore we can argue that it depends on the luck in which class you are born into and that is how much resources you will get. We can argue that everybody should start with equal resources, but from another perspective we would end in the same situation in the capitalist world whereby greed dominates human mind, therefore making the world unequal again, as people with brutal luck will gain more resources in a process of trading with one another and therefore creating surplus value. Nielsen argues that no citizen should have less than the equal share of the community’s resources just in order that others have more of what he lacks. Liberalism insists on ‘equality of result’ whereby the citizen must have the same amount of wealth at every moment of their lives. This can be achieved through the government constantly redistributing the wealth and eliminating whatever the inequalities are produced by market transactions. Nielsen and Dworkin take a libertarian view and argue that whatever the person puts into the economy is whatever the person should get which would increase the equality.

Furthermore, Dworkin argues that we must use capitalist state to redress certain social imbalances along with a reliance on the market. Without such state intervention the market will be a serious source of injustice. He also argues, that people should have different amounts of wealth, in so far as the genuine choice they have made have been more or less expensive or beneficial to the community, measured by what other people want for their lives. Therefore he concludes that market corrections must be made to bring some people closer to share of resources they would have had. Constantly adjusting resources would be harmful for the liberty. Going onwards from what Dworkin had said, in practice, there will be a conflict as the people with resources would be unwilling to give up their resources for the benefit of others.

Therefore, Dworkin puts an emphasis that even though people have unequal share of resources this should not affect the children as this would lead to unequal life prospects for them. It is assumed that at least the members of the society owe this duty to the offspring to extent that it is not possible for parents to provide the fair share either because they are dead or are too poor.

What actually people should have in equal shares, according to Locke, is the ownership of yourself and your labour and that each person can come to own land and other external resources through mixing their labour with them. Slavery was abolished centuries ago and therefore people now own themselves which gives everybody an equal share of resources according to Locke (Locke, 1988, para. 19).

The other thing people should have, according to United Nations, is to have primary education for everybody, which is classed as an asset from Marxist perspective. Educating children helps reduce poverty and promote gender equality. It helps lower child mortality rates and promotes concern for the environment. It is inextricably linked to Goal 3 – gender parity – as universal primary education by definition requires gender parity (Millennium Development Goals Report 2010).

People have rights to have healthcare, education, freedom of speech etc., which are classed as resources, because for things like education and healthcare, the citizens pay in terms of taxes to be able to have those services or resources. Those resources people already have in most countries, apart from countries like Russia or North Korea. People have those resources in equal share already which therefore means that basic needs of human kind are met in many countries apart from the developing countries.

To conclude, everybody needs a different amount of resources and not everybody is striving to have the most profit according to Marxists. Some people feel that having a small house is enough and that they don’t need a villa. The only real problem is money. People strive to have more and more money to buy property, goods or services. People are restrained by the capitalist system to have that money as people are paid in many companies the minimum wage, because companies are trying to maximise profits by minimising the costs, which is not enough to buy, for example, a property and therefore people go into debt as they require a mortgage. Even if people feel they have the same amount of share in resources, they do not need to forget that the most part of the property is still owed by the capitalists.