The Social Contract
The perils of anarchy have been highlighted in the society, leading to the creation of various forms of government that enforce a set of rules and regulations protecting the interests of the people. The need for the social contract was highlighted by Thomas Hobbes who lived during the English Civil War between the king and his supporters. Hobbes argued that political obligations and authority are based on the self-interest of members who are equal before the law, and who agree to cede absolute authority to a monarch or a group of individuals to govern them in order to survive (Hobbes). This authority thus has an obligation to safeguard the rights of the society that made it. Throughout history, however, leaders have abdicated their duty to safeguard the interests of the society leading to social and economic inequality. This paper discusses the ethical obligations of these state actors as well as the actions they can take to resolve the inequalities.
Ethics is defined as the ideals, standards, or moral principles that govern a person’s or a group’s conduct. These rules of behavior are based on a predetermined or pre-agreed set of agreements and are meant for the benefit of all in society. The principles, while not universal, have to be agreed upon by a majority of the people either implicitly or explicitly through processes like voting. These guiding rules of ethics are enshrined in edicts like the constitution and the declaration of independence to be followed by all, and thus their presence implies an ethical obligation to safeguard what they stand for.
The moral obligation of the members of the social contract to uphold equality comes firstly from the fact that the social contract was created to uphold four values; happiness, life, liberty, and equality. Governments are formed to ensure that the dangers of a society without rules are avoided; thus, leaders have a duty to uphold these rules. Additionally, social contract members have a moral obligation to eradicate inequality because it is to their advantage (Dagger and Lefkowitz). If members of the political class fail to uphold the rules, they will be undermined and the citizens of the nation will also begin undermining them leading to a deterioration of the society as well as a usurpation of the liberties of people especially the underprivileged. Moreover, if the members fail to uphold these rules, it will lead to conflict and anarchy which might threaten peace as well as the societal structure itself. The constitution even allows for civil disobedience in case governments do not uphold their rights, and citizens can boycott paying taxes (Rawls). It is thus in the best interests of both the society and the government that equality is upheld.
In recent years, however, there has been rising economic inequality exhibited by the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor as well as rising unemployment. Wages have also been stagnating despite an increase in consumer prices, and people are finding themselves with less disposable income. The national debt has also been increasing, and the nation’s industries face stiff competition from outsiders (Fieser). At the same time, the government has continued to favor the rich who are given government bailouts and tax breaks not afforded to smaller companies. On the political front, the United States faces terrorist threats and some groups have been affected disproportionately by the perceived threat of immigrants. More common, however, is the increased government restriction of people’s freedoms and the overstepping of government authority on some populations. These among other examples show the dire state of social and economic inequality in the US and calls for a review of what can be done to resolve this inequality.
The first way to ensure that equality is upheld is to educate all the parties involved in their rights and duties in enhancing this equality. A majority of the people in society have no cognizance of their rights and thus are not aware when they are being violated (White). These people are also unaware of what the various bodies in the society do, or what actions to take in case they encounter cases of inequality. People who do not know their rights cannot fight for them and this has been the greatest contributor to inequality in society. Besides being unaware of their rights, many people in society are also unaware of the opportunities both social and economic availed to them. A wide scale education of the masses regarding government policies and opportunities should be undertaken on a regular basis. This education should be extended to voters who should be taught on how to vote as well as what to look for in leaders.
The government should increase funding to schools and institutions of higher learning as well as support sectoral training, earn-while-you-earn programs, and apprenticeships (White). An educated society is better able to deal with issues of inequality and can take advantage of economic opportunities when they arise. The government should give scholarships to needy students as well as relax the rules on student loans so that more students from low-income families can attain an education.
Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of inequality has been poor oversight of financial markets. These unregulated financial institutions were responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and are so big that the government has to bail them out in the case of insolvency. These companies have a profit motive, and without proper regulation will channel their funds towards sectors of the economy that are not beneficial. There is thus a need for capital controls to regulate how these firms invest their funds (Sutter). These rules will also protect customers against proprietary trading as well as systemic risks of the banking industry. Besides financial institutions, companies should also be highly regulated to prevent them from charging exorbitant prices to consumers. Regulations will also restrict them from engaging in unsavory business practices such as the formation of cartels that hurt consumers.
On the employment front, wage inequality has been rife, with disabled people, women, and immigrant workers being disadvantaged. While the wages of the top 1% have been decreasing, wages at the bottom have been stagnant. The government can reduce this inequality by raising the minimum wage and the overtime salary threshold and also index them to inflation (Sutter). Unions should also be strengthened so that they can better champion for the rights of workers, and the workers educated on the benefits of joining unions. Other labor standards should also be introduced to ensure that all workers have fair representation and they earn an income commensurate with their work.
Another way of ensuring equality is by setting up a fund where viable businesses can borrow from. This fund ensures that even the creative people in society who lack the capital to start their own businesses can be economically empowered to do so. The funds should also offer advice to prospective borrowers as well as have accessories such as computers and databases that clients can use. Governments should also increase the social safety net by reforming the national welfare and introducing other grants to needy families. Such programs ensure that poor families can sustain themselves and get the same opportunities as wealthy families for basic needs such as Medicare.
Changing the tax structure has been the traditional way in which equality has been achieved. The tax structure should be such that the wealthy in the community contribute more towards the government coffers while the poor receive tax incentives and tax breaks (Linden). Governments should thus improve their income taxes and reject tax cuts that seem to favor rich individuals and corporations. Some key sectors of the economy should also be offered tax breaks so that they can receive more investment and be revived.
The government should also institute immigration reform and attack all sorts of discrimination. The issue of immigration has been a hot topic that has engulfed the US in recent years and there is a need for comprehensive rules to stop the hostility. The government should also reform any rules that lead to the discrimination against a minority or minority groups, and prescribe serious consequences against such discrimination. These reforms should be instituted in the criminal justice field whose policies have been deemed to have a more adverse impact on communities of color and low-income families. Reforms in the Justice Field should also ensure that poor people also get fair representation in courts of law.
The community has a role to play in promoting equality. They should lobby the government to institute reforms to key areas of the economy and hold leaders accountable for their actions. They should require that audits be done, and be quick to fire government employees who surpass their mandate or fail to perform their duties. As a last resort, the society can engage in civil disobedience against the government in order to ensure that their voice is heard. This includes through activities like holding demonstrations, non-violent protests, and boycotts. The effectiveness of these protests was felt during the civil rights movements of the 1960s when unarmed groups of people marched through the cities shouting racial desegregation slogans (Fieser). The society should struggle to ensure that these protests are peaceful, but it is recognized that in some cases fighting for equality requires the shedding of blood.
In conclusion, the social contract leads to an ethical obligation on the part of leaders to promote social and economic equality in the society. Despite this ethical obligation on the parts of leaders, they have absconded their duties leading to inequality in the society that has led to numerous protests by anti-government groups. To promote social and economic equality, governments can begin by improving the education of the masses, both formal and informal. Governments should also improve the oversight of financial institutions as well as the private sector to prevent manipulation of the masses. Additionally, the government should reform the tax system as well as the wage system to favor disadvantaged groups more. Reforms should also be done in the immigration sectors, the criminal justice field, and the business sector. The government should finally increase welfare funding and student grants to ensure that the poor get the same opportunities as the rich. Members of the society should finally realize that they have a duty of keeping the government accountable to the people.
Dagger, Richard and David Lefkowitz. Political Obligation. 17 April 2007. Document. 09 December 2016.
Fieser, James. Moral Philosophy through the Ages. 03 November 2012. Document. 09 December 2016.
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Ed. C.B Macpherson. London: Penguin Books, 1985. Document.
Linden, Michael. The Federal Tax Code and Income Inequality. 19 April 2012. Document. 12 December 2016. <https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2012/04/19/11404/the-federal-tax-code-and-income-inequality/+&cd=6&hl=en&ct=clnk>.
Rawls, John. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. Document.
Sutter, John D. 7 ways to narrow the rich-poor gap. 30 October 2013. Document. 09 December 2016.
White, Gillian B. What Education Can and Can’t Do for Economic Inequality. 07 April 2015. Document. 09 December 2016.