Roots of Injustice 
By Walter Sorochan Emeritus Professor San Diego State University

Posted April 20, 2021 

Justice is expected but seldom found. This observation has become daily news in United States with gun shootings, disturbances of peace and police killings of suspected violators.

Injustice comes in many forms: culture and politics determine and influence access to education, social status, health care, shelter, jobs, food, security, equal opportunities and inequality. Injustice is interpreted differently throughout the world but these have a common thread linking or unifying them in that access to justice and equality is linked through opportunity. Injustice is a very complex ethical linkage. This article searches for a better understanding of justice in society.

This article is important for more than just the content, it should make the reader reflect the current 2021 problem of world pandemic and about the future of our societies after Covid-19. Andrew Jack warns that growing inequality and the shrinking a thriving middle class, trends exacerbated by coronavirus, risk undermining constitutional democracy and bring the danger of plutocracy and social and economic dysfunction under more social acceptance. Jack asks the big question of our post Covid-19 future: "as we recover and rebuild, what are the key ideas that might structure politics, society and the economy?" Jack offers citizenship as an answer: “a concept that goes back to the city states of the Greeks and Rome.”  Jack: Inequity threat to democracy 2020 But this is not what Stiglitz recommends!

 Before leaping into the fight about injustice you need to get acquainted with a few inequality terms and concepts linked to injustice.

Economic inequality: Wealth .... is the measure of an individual’s or family’s financial net worth, provides all sorts of opportunities for American families. Wealth makes it easier for people to seamlessly transition between jobs, move to new neighborhoods, and respond in emergency situations. It allows parents to pay for or help pay for their children’s education and enables workers to build economic sustainability in retirement. It is the most complete measure of a family’s future economic well-being. After all, families rely on their wealth to pay their bills if their regular income disappears during an unemployment spell or after retiring. Unfortunately, wealth in this country is unequally distributed.

Clemens displays eight graphs to tell the story of U.S. economic inequality. He illustrates how the rising economic inequality over the past 40 years has redrawn the U.S. wealth and income landscape, shifting many of the gains of prosperity into the hands of a smaller and smaller group of people and marginalizing members of vulnerable communities. This transformation has reduced income mobility and opened disparity in educational achievement and health outcomes between different levels of income.  Clemens: US economic inequity 2019

Job-Income inequality: This is a sensitive topic sugar-coated as occupational inequality. Such inequity is linked to racism, discrimination and finding a job. It may be more difficult to find a job, advance in the job, get a loan or buy a house. Economists Clemens and Menasce  Menasce: Income inequality 2020 deal about income inequality but neglect to discuss the impact job skills and merit have on inequality in general. Persons with low education find low paying jobs that are manual labor in the service sector of the economy that may require some skill training but not much else. Many jobs in the 1950 - 1980 era were of low skill manual labor kind. But this changed after 1980 when many manual labor manufacturing jobs were out-sourced to third world countries while other manufacturing jobs have been replaced by robots. These transitions have caused unemployment among the low-skilled middle and lower classes. Although this is referred to as income inequality, it is really a low-skill background that is linked to minimum or low wages. Those with low education and weak or no job-skills need to go to technical school to learn new job-skills to qualify for higher income  jobs.

Monopoly: One of the main factors behind soaring inequality in the United States is also the weakening of our country’s antimonopoly policy beginning in the 1970s. The rapid rise in monopolization over the last generation has increased inequality in several ways. Monopolies such as Walmart, Amazon, Facebook and Uber have displaced [have closed] many smaller shop owners, thereby minimizing competition in the market in which other businesses must compete. Open Markets Institute claims that monopoly is a central cause of America’s consistently weak job economy.  Open Markets Institute: Income inequality and monopoly 2021

Political-Economy rigged: Stiglitz, who won the Nobel prize in economics in 2001, points out that the American political system has manipulated high initial inequity by giving money eyed political influence to change laws to benefit themselves. The consequences have been a dysfunctional economy that has been getting more stagnant since1980 with political gridlocks. Breaking this power of money in politics is essential to reducing inequality. Globalization has benefited millions of poor emerging economies, particularly China. But the middle classes and the poor in the US and western Europe have benefited the least from global growth.  Stiglitz: US economy is rigged 2018

Globalization and inequity: According to Stiglitz, globalization has made it possible to outsource manufacturing to other countries, weakening the national labor force. There as a shift from manufacturing to a service-based economy giving jobless workers less pay for work done. This shift in work available increased inequality as a matter of political choice. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, which favors the wealthy. Stiglitz argues that political inequality gives rise to more economic inequality as the rich use their political power to shape the rules of the game in ways that favor them as by softening antitrust laws and weakening unions. Stiglitz: US economy is rigged 2018

Social inequality: The economies of the world have developed unevenly, historically, such that entire geographical regions were left mired in poverty and disease while others began to reduce poverty and disease on a wholesale basis. This was represented by a type of North–South divide that existed after World War II between First world, more developed, industrialized, wealthy countries and Third world countries, primarily as measured by GDP.  Wiki: Social inequality Indeed, historians infer that children born to parents in poverty tend to grow up poor with inequities, poor health, inadequate education and fewer opportunities toward social acceptance, job opportunities, discrimination, injustice, chronic diseases, infections. nutrient dense diets and health.

Depression cities of the 1930s still retain same economic discrimination today: Research by Meisenhrlter showed that about three out of four neighborhoods marked geographically “hazardous” by a federal agency 80 years ago are still struggling economically in 2018. The study, by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, shows that racial and economic segregation of neighborhoods in cities today reflect discrimination entrenched in local housing markets in the 1930s. The study compared discriminatory maps drawn in the 1930s by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) with current 2018 neighborhood income and race data. The study found lower incomes, more minorities and signs of gentrification in neighborhoods marked by HOLC as “hazardous.” The study, by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, shows that racial and economic segregation of neighborhoods in cities today reflect the discrimination entrenched in local housing markets in the 1930s.  Meisenhelter: Depression discrimination shaped today's inequality 2018

“What I found truly shocking about this HOLC work wasn’t necessarily the finding that redlining existed, but where it existed there are lasting impacts almost a century later,” said Jason Richardson, Director of Research at NCRC. “It’s as if time stood still in some of these places, locking people into neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.”

Political inequity: The problem with extreme inequality is that it is based on political power, not merit. For that reason, it is fundamentally unfair. It is also inefficient. Clifton: Roots of income inequality 2019

The overarching reason is that we don't enjoy political equality in this country. That has two consequences: Clifton: Roots of income inequality 2019

Food inequality: Lost in all the blaming for injustice and inequities is "dietary choices" as having an injustice affect on the health of the general public.  D'Odorico and associates view food inequity as referring to communities with limitations in resources and income, where people are often not informed about the knowledge and variety of healthy foods in their area. Food equity occurs because certain communities do not have access to high quality foods. Food inequity is a global issue.  D'Odorico: Food injustice 2019

The relationship between inequality and food is a fundamental one, based on a precise universal ethical foundation: The human right to food. We live in a world with differing levels of malnourishment, in which food is unevenly distributed, food security, selecting food grown in the locality and lack of understanding nutrition resulting in making poor dietary choices. Politicians may ignore this complex observation completely or argue that food access is related to economic geological resources.

Food inequality occurs in the distribution of natural resources and food availability resulting from the global patterns of agricultural production and trade. It is also when people do not have the money to buy food. Food inequality is also due to population growth occurring faster in countries that out-strip the ability of agriculture and trade to provide food for all of the population; resulting in hunger.

“Hunger isn’t caused by a scarcity of food, but a scarcity of democracy.”  Frances Moore Lappé, 1971 author of Diet for a Small Planet, debunked the myth that "hunger is caused by a lack of food" over forty years ago through pioneering research showing that people were going hungry despite a global food surplus. Why? Because hunger is not caused by scarcity; it’s caused by mal-distribution, poverty, and a lack of fair democracy; in other words .... politics. Lappe: Hunger inequality 2021

We live in a world that increasingly resembles an “all you can eat” buffet. Rich countries encourage the general population to be as “greedy” as they like. This “all you can eat” concept is both amazing and disturbing; it sums up much of what is wrong about our relationship with food.

Viral pandemic causes inequity: In USA, communities of color have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in an outcry against police brutality and racism. Both issues have roots in the same problem. Daube highlights San Francisco bay area as an example of what is happening in United States. The viral pandemic has disproportionately affected many racial groups.  Daube: Epidemic of inequality San Francisco 2020

Health care inequality in US: Health care inequality is when one group of people in an economy is in much worse health than another group, with limited access to care. Amdeo summarizes that in the United States, health and health care inequality is correlated with income inequality. Research has found that the higher your income, the better your health. One reason health care inequality in America is so high is that it's the only developed country that relies on private health insurance. As a result, those with corporate-sponsored plans have better access to health care than those who didn't. Amadeo: Health care inequality in US 2021

Conclusion: This article started out with major examples of inequities in a society, but fell short of a real definition of justice. Most definitions of justice have legal interpretations that are not true definitions of justice and this is a problem of interpretation that this author has tried to avoid.

Fixing justice in America: Stiglitz calls a spade a spade [the truth] to fix the injustice in America and making society work:

"Morale is lower in unequal societies, especially when inequality is seen as unjust, and the feeling of being used or cheated leads to lower productivity. When those who run gambling casinos or bankers suffering from moral turpitude make a zillion times more than the scientists and inventors who brought us lasers, transistors and an understanding of DNA, it is clear that something is wrong. Then again, the children of the rich come to think of themselves as a class apart, entitled to their good fortune, and accordingly more likely to break the rules necessary for making society function. All of this contributes to a breakdown of trust, with its attendant impact on social cohesion and economic performance."

There is no magic bullet to remedy a problem as deep-rooted as America's inequality. Its origins are largely political, so it is hard to imagine meaningful change without a concerted effort to take money out of politics—through, for instance, campaign finance reform. Blocking the revolving doors by which regulators and other government officials come from and return to the same industries they regulate and work with is also essential."  Stiglitz: US economy is rigged 2018 Restructuring voting laws that give everyone a voice in America is also needed.

But Stiglitz doesn't stop here. he provides a lot of other priorities as remedies for legislators to fix a dysfunctional society:  Stiglitz: US economy is rigged 2018

We need more progressive taxation and high-quality federally funded public education, including affordable access to universities for all, no ruinous loans required. We need modern competition laws to deal with the problems posed by 21st-century market power and stronger enforcement of the laws we do have. We need labor laws that protect workers and their rights to unionize. We need corporate governance laws that curb exorbitant salaries bestowed on chief executives, and we need stronger financial regulations that will prevent banks from engaging in the exploitative practices that have become their hallmark. We need better enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: it is unconscionable that women and minorities get paid a mere fraction of what their white male counterparts receive. We also need more sensible inheritance laws that will reduce the intergenerational transmission of advantage and disadvantage.

The basic perquisites of a middle-class life, including a secure old age, are no longer attainable for most Americans. We need to guarantee access to health care. We need to strengthen and reform retirement programs, which have put an increasing burden of risk management on workers (who are expected to manage their portfolios to guard simultaneously against the risks of inflation and market collapse) and opened them up to exploitation by our financial sector (which sells them products designed to maximize bank fees rather than retirement security). Our mortgage system was our Achilles' heel, and we have not really fixed it. With such a large fraction of Americans living in cities, we have to have urban housing policies that ensure affordable housing for all.

It is a long agenda—but a doable one. When skeptics say it is nice but not affordable, I [Stiglitz] reply: We cannot afford to not do these things. We are already paying a high price for inequality, but it is just a down payment on what we will have to pay if we do not do something—and quickly. It is not just our economy that is at stake; we are risking our democracy.

As more of our citizens come to understand why the fruits of economic progress have been so unequally shared, there is a real danger that they will become open to a demagogue blaming the country's problems on others and making false promises of rectifying “a rigged system.” We are already experiencing a foretaste of what might happen with an inept health care system during the virus pandemic. It could get much worse.

Jack's solution of a strong citizen supports Stiglitz. Sorochan in his 2021 paperback: The Dawn of viruses & Food summarizes the changes United States needs to make to cope with future new strains of viruses and a Standard American Diet [SAD] of meat, sweets, processed and junk foods that need to be changed for better dietary choices. He agrees with Stiglitz in making many political changes if we are to survive.

Justice is an idea of how society should work and behave. It is defined by trigger phrases like: fair play, how to behave, what is good for the the majority of people, good intentions, obey the law or rules of the game, respect for others, equal opportunity, telling the truth, inequality, discrimination, bias, impartiality and so on.

The conclusion from a review of the topic of injustice is that a society or country may pass laws to regulate how people can behave, but it is acting out and enforcing the laws that has become a problem. We are legislating social behavior or how one should or can act in a society. And this has become a personal sensitive interpretation that begs for truth and moral reasoning. The more problems of injustice in a country, the more laws are enacted that are also complex to interpret and enforce. Laws have been made by politicians that tend to favor those in power and those who are rich.

We need a complete over overhaul of the democratic political-economic system. Justice deals with ethics and moral behaviors of society. Should we perceive a simple number of laws as Moses and his 10 commandments as a guide to how society should live? Or are we to accept an individual's blind beliefs about behavior as moral and without question even when he breaks social rules of conduct? Is an individual's sense of justice to be accepted as moral and just? I became cautious about summarizing all I had learned about my review of injustice by reading a legal scholar  interpreting justice, Judith Shklar and her article: Giving Justice Its Due.  Shklar: Justice due 1989

References:

Amdeo Kimberly, "Health Care Inequality in the US," April 01, 2021.  Amadeo: Health care inequality in US 2021

Clemens Austin, "Eight graphs that tell the story of U.S. economic inequity," Washington center for inequitable growth," December 9, 2019.  Clemens: US economic inequity 2019

Clifton Jim, "The Roots of Income Inequality," Gallup. The Chairman's Blog, November 5, 2019.  Clifton: Roots of income inequality 2019

Daube Elizabeth, "An epidemic of inequality," UCSF Magazine, Summer 2020.  Daube: Epidemic of inequality San Francisco 2020

D’Odorico Paolo, Joel A Carr, Kyle F Davis, Jampel Dell’Angelo, David A Seekell, "Food Inequality, Injustice, and Rights,"BioScience, Volume 69, Issue 3, March 2019, Pages 180–190.  D'Odorico: Food injustice 2019

Jack Andrew, "Growing inequality poses threat to democracy," FT Adviser, July 6, 2020.  Jack: Inequity threat to democracy 2020

Lappe Frances Moore, "Hunger, poverty, & inequality, Real Food Media, 2021.  Lappe: Hunger inequality 2021

Meisenhelter Jesse, "How 1930s Discrimination Shaped Inequality In Today’s Cities," NCRC, March 27, 2018.  Meisenhelter: Depression discrimination shaped today's inequality 2018

Menasce Horowitz Julianna, Ruth Igielnik and Rakesh Kochnar, "Trends in income and wealth inequality," Pew Research Center, January 9, 2020.  Menasce: Income inequality 2020

Morris Toby, "The side eye: Inequality tower 2018, The Spinoff, July 31, 2018.>  Morris: Inequity tower 2018

Open Markets Institute, "Income inequality and monopoly," 2021.   Open Markets Institute: Income inequality and monopoly 2021

Shklar Judith, "Giving justice its due," The Yale Law Journal, Volume 98, 1989.  Shklar: Justice due 1989

Stiglitz Joseph E., "The American Economy Is Rigged And what we can do about it," Scientific American, November 1, 2018.  Stiglitz: US economy is rigged 2018

Wikipedia, "Educational inequality."  Wiki: Educational inequality

Wikipedia, "Social inequality."  Wiki: Social inequality