Severe Income Inequality and Human Rights
Main reading materials
Part 1: Warm Up Questions
- If you could guaranteed every-single human being just 6 human rights, what would those rights be? Why?
- Currently, human rights are not applied equally and without discrimination to all people. What kind of changes within humanity do you think are required to correct this situation?
- What do you think is a better measurement of equality/inequality, an individual’s total wealth or his/her annual income? Why?
Part 2: Conversation
Hey (speaker 1’s name)! Do you think you could help me with my assignment? I’m writing an essay on income inequality, what causes it and how it affects societies. The problem is, I have no idea why so many people in the world are so poor.
Sure (speaker 2’s name). First of all, in order to find the cause of a big problem within humanity, the first thing we want to do is bring the issue back to the small of ourselves as individuals. In other words, ask yourself wherein you personally or someone you know is currently accepting and allowing income inequality.
What do you mean? I’m totally against any inequality, everyone’s equal in my book. In fact, just recently, I voted for a female president. What do you think of that?
That’s really cool. But what if I told you that, in order to solve just one of the many aspects of income inequality, you would probably have to start paying a lot more money for your clothes and computer goods?
I’d say no way! The reason I have just enough money to pay my tuition is because I only buy the cheapest goods made in third world countries and only when they’re on sale.
That’s exactly my point. Why do you think you’re able to buy those goods so cheaply?
Because, the factory workers in those countries are only making $2.00 a day?
Correct! Now, what do you think would happen if those workers got a raise and started making the same wages as Taiwanese workers or the workers in Switzerland or Sweden?
We would have to pay more for everything and we don’t want that.
Now you’re starting to get the picture. It’s easy to blame the corporations and rich people in the world for inequality, but the truth is we’re all equally responsible for it.
Wait a minute! Are you saying that I’m responsible for all the income inequality within humanity, that it’s my fault that billions of people in the world are only making $2.00 a day?
All I’m saying is that, when individuals accept and allow income inequality on a small scale, it adds up to what humanity is now facing on a large scale.
Alright! So, what’s the solution Mr. / Ms. know it all?
*Complete conversation with your solution and then practice the conversation with a partner.
Part 3: Reading Passage
Severe Income Inequality and Human Rights
Income inequality refers to the degree or extent to which a population’s total income is distributed in an unequal manner. What does severe income inequality have to do with human rights you ask? As money is the primary means by which populations allocate and distribute available resources, the distribution of income therefore determines the extent to which families and individuals have access to the resources required to fully exercise their human rights. Therefore, as income inequality increases within a population (as the income-gap between the rich and the poor gets wider), so too does the disparity between those who can afford to exercise their human rights and those who cannot. On a global scale, this means that those who suffer from severe income inequality, also suffer from a severe lack of human rights, which is to say that, severe income inequality is a violation of human rights.
Cause or Consequence?
In designing solutions at the local-level for global issues such as human rights violations, our first task is to define the issue as Cause or Consequence. If the issue we are looking at is the cause of the consequence, then we’ve already found the best point for which to design our solution. However, if the issue we are investigating is a consequence, we then need to search back up the line of causes in order to identify the root of the problem, i.e., the main-cause of the consequence. For example, in looking at an issue such as ocean pollution, we would first want to ask ourselves if the pollution is the cause of a problem or the consequence of a problem. From the perspective of a fisherman catching dead fish from the ocean, ocean-pollution is probably going to be the cause (of the consequence of him not being able to feed his children); however, for our perspective we would probably consider ocean-pollution to be a consequence from which we would then seek to identify the cause in order to specifically target our solution at the root of the problem - human-beings improperly disposing of trash.
Is Severe Income Inequality a Violation of Human Rights?
In the beginning of this article we read that, those who suffer from severe income inequality also suffer from a severe lack of human rights, which is to say that, severe income inequality is a violation of human rights. To test this hypothesis, we are able to use the data in charts and graphs to compare measurements of income inequality with measurements associated with human rights violations.
The most popular method of measuring inequality utilizes the Gini index which is also sometimes called the Gini coefficient. Although, the formulas used to create the Gini index may seem somewhat complex, the key to using this information to measure any form of inequality is to understand how to read the charts. Thus, we are first going to familiarize ourselves with the Gini index, just enough to understand the information provided in the charts and then we are going to compare this to measurements associated with human rights violations. If we find that, as income inequality (within populations) increases, human rights abuse also increase, then this would serve as evidence to support the hypothesis that, those who suffer from severe income inequality also suffer (as a consequence of income inequality) from a lack of human rights.
Reading the Charts
In figure 1, while the vertical, straight up and down line represents the percentage of a population’s total income/earnings, the horizontal line at the bottom represents the percentage of the population that receives the income. Area B, the space in between the Lorenz curve and the line of equality represents the extent to which income is unequally distributed, i.e., the disparity between the incomes that different percentages of the population receive.
Source: Town Hall Finance: The Major Trends in U.S. Income Inequality Since 1947
If the Lorenz curve were right on top of the line of equality, this would represent perfect income equality within the population of the economy, i.e., everyone in the population of the economy would be receiving an equal share of the total income. However, if there is income inequality within the population, the Lorenz curve moves outward to the extent of that inequality. Question: Based on Figure 1, what percentage of the total income do you think goes to 60% of the population?
To further simplify charts like the one above, economist and mathematicians convert the points on the Lorenz curve to numbers called coefficients, which in turn give us the Gini coefficients that make up the Gini index. The Gini coefficient is simply a measurement (ranging from 0 to 1) of the extent of inequality within a population. Whereas a Gini coefficient of 0 represents zero-percent inequality or perfect equality, a Gini coefficient of 1 suggests one-hundred percent inequality meaning that within that population a single person receives all of the income from that economy while the rest of the people receive none. Accordingly, as the state of income inequality increases within a population, so too does the Gini coefficient. Currently, on a global scale of inequality within nations, the Gini index ranges from a low of about .25 or 25% for countries with the most equally distributed income to about .6 or 60% in countries with the largest disparity between the rich and the poor. Question: What do you think happens to the Gini index if and when a population’s income gap gets smaller and the disparity between the rich and the poor decreases?
Figure 2: Gini index of income inequality in the USA
In figure 2, the Gini index indicates that, income inequality in the United States has been steadily increasing since the late 1960s. With this kind of information, we can track poverty levels to determine the real value of the economic decisions that governments make, i.e., whether the economy is functioning in the interests of the majority or in only in the interests of the minority. For example if government officials care to consider how economic growth affects the distribution of income, they can simply compare the nation’s Gini index with that of an historical chart of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) such as in Figure 3.
Questions based on Figure 3:
- What was the value of the Gini coefficient (approximately) for China in 1983?
- What was value of the Gini coefficient in 2008?
- From the 1980s to 2010, what was the correlation between China’s rising GDP and its Gini index of income inequality?
Using the Gini Index to Compare Data
Now that we understand the basics of how to read the Gini index, let’s use it to compare historical measurements of income inequality in various nations to that of human rights characteristics associated with those same nations to see if there is a correlation between rising income inequality and worsening human rights. In short, if we can show that populations’ human-rights records worsen as income inequality increases, this would then serve as one piece of evidence to support the hypothesis that, severe income inequality within a population is in itself a human rights violation.
Characteristics of Human Rights
According to the United Nations Human Rights for All, one of the most important characteristics of human rights is that they are universal, meaning that they are applied equally and without discrimination to all people. Based on this statement, we can surmise that, any discrimination in the application of human rights to anyone is in itself a violation of human rights. Now let’s compare this characteristic to article 3 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” If everyone does indeed have an equal right to life, liberty and security of person, then surely everyone is also entitled to the same quality of health and social care, which would mean that, health and social problems should – on average – be similar throughout all sectors of a population, i.e., from the poor to the rich.
Questions based on Figure 4:
- Which country has the highest rate of income inequality?
- Which country has the lowest rate of income inequality?
Figure 4 indicates that, countries with higher rates of income inequality also have higher rates of health and social problems. We can see that, the USA not only has the highest rate of income inequality, it also has the highest rate of health and social problems. Although this information is not yet enough to prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) that income inequality is a violation of human rights, it does support the hypothesis that, those who suffer from severe income inequality also suffer from a severe lack of human rights, which is to say that, severe income inequality is a violation of human rights. Question: What are we as global citizens able to do to improve the quality of human rights for everyone around the world?
Part 4: Vocabulary
(of something bad or undesirable) very great; intense
The storm was so severe that, it toppled over trees.
distribute (resources or duties) for a particular purpose
With $20.00 and five people, we were able to equally allocate $4.00 for each one.
a great difference
The disparity between the wealth of the 1% and the 99% is incredible huge.
a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on in order to function effectively
Earth’s resources should be equally owned and cared for by all.
a result or effect, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant
As a consequence of not attending class, he failed the course.
completely remove or get rid of (something)
In order to eliminate inequality, it is necessary for all to take responsibility for everything.
have a mutual relationship or connection, in which one thing affects or depends on another
The study found that a higher rate of income inequality correlates highly with a higher rate of health and social problems within a population.
a figure of speech in which the term or phrase is used to suggest a resemblance to something else
Metaphorically speaking, a picture is worth a thousand words.
a guess or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation
To determine the solution, she first came up with a hypothesis as to the cause.
the available body of information that indicates whether a belief or explanation is true or valid
The evidence suggest that, as wealth inequality increases within a community, the percentage of people participating in the decision-making processes of the community decreases.
a multiplier or factor that measures a particular property
The Gini coefficient of income inequality represents the income distribution within the population.
(Gross domestic product) represents the monetary/money value of all goods and services produced within a nation.
Even though the GDP of the nation has increased, overall income inequality continues to worsen.
being worthy of honor or respect
Everyone should be guaranteed the right to live a dignified life.
The toxic chemicals that they dumped into the river eventually made their way to the ocean causing the fish to be poisoned.
a formal statement or announcement
The US Declaration states that all men are created equal.
a point of view
From my perspective, we’re all responsible for solving global problems.
a measure that is typically measured against another measure
Higher rates of inequality within populations often lead to higher rates of health and social problems.
Mr. / Ms. Know it all (n):
a humorous or critical way of identifying someone who thinks he or she knows everything
Everybody please be quiet! Mr. know it all is about to tell us how to save the world.
the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America
On average, wages in third world nations are lower than those of first world nations.
In my book(term)
in my opinion
In my book, a lie is a lie, regardless of how small it is.
Part 5: Supplementary Materials
Questions and Activities
Part 1: Comprehension Questions
- What do you think happens to the Gini index when a population’s income gap gets wider?
- In looking at Figure 1 in the reading passage, approximately what percent of the population’s total earnings goes to 80% of the population?
- Why do you think that, those who suffer from severe income and/or wealth inequality within populations also suffer from lower standards of human rights?
- Do you think that preventing someone from having access to clean water would be a violation of human rights? Why or why not?
- What do you think that, we as global citizens are able to do to improve human rights around the world?
Part 2: Vocabulary Questions (15)
In my book
Choose the most appropriate word from the table to complete the sentences.
- Just because you’ve tested the information twice doesn’t mean your _____________ is correct.
- Even though he fell down and lost the race, he still managed to get up and walk away with _____________.
- The reason she didn’t come to class was because she had a _____________ cold.
- According to the United Nations _____________ of human rights, everyone has the right to life…
- In order to _____________ the possibility of error, the results were checked again and again.
- From my _____________, it’s as easy as ABC.
- The study found that a high degree of equality within a society _____________ with a high degree of democratic expression in that society.
- These chemicals are _____________ and should not be eaten.
- After reviewing all the _____________, the judge said he was not guilty.
- As there are ten people and only five sandwiches, we’re going to have to _____________ only half a sandwich to each person.
- As the _____________ between the rich and the poor increases, the wealth gap gets wider.
- If humanity keeps wasting earth’s resources at this pace, there won’t be enough _____________ to feed people in the future.
- Ocean pollution is a _____________ of people dumping garbage into the rivers.
- _____________, everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
- As China’s _____________ grew, so too did its income inequality.
Part 3: 10 other types of questions
- In Figure 4, what is the correlation between income inequality and health and social problems?
- In Figure 4, which country has the highest rate of health and social problems?
- What happens to the Gini index when and if the disparity between the rich and the poor decreases?
- What do you think happens to the education level of a population if its Gini coefficient decreases?
- What do think would happen to the level of crime in a population when its Gini coefficient increases?
- Why do you think that, some people want a population’s Gini index to remain very high?
- What income class within a population (high, middle or low) do think might have the most benefit if the income gap gets narrower?
- Why do you think some very large corporate factory owners might not want to see the Gini index of income inequality decrease?
- If income and/or wealth inequality within a population decreases, do you think that the population’s prison population (on average) would increase or decrease?
- Do you agree or disagree that, severe income and/or wealth inequality is a violation of human rights? Why or why not?
Part 4: Group Discussion Questions (Activities on Global Citizens’ knowledge and Literacy)
- Using the same questions asked to Americans, create your own survey of 3 questions and ask 20 people about what they think about wealth inequality in their home countries. Post the survey to your blog.
- How do bankers create money?
- Is the Central Bank of the USA privately owned or owned by the Government?
- How did private bankers get the power to print money for themselves?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDYfyAQ8lUI
Part 5: Online Reading and assignments
Consider the following two perspectives on human rights:
- The UN Declaration of Human Rights was written by one of the most powerful organizations on the planet, while the Equal Life Foundation Bill of Rights was written by, a group of global citizens working together on the internet around the world. Summarize what the two perspectives have in common and where they differ. State which one you would prefer humanity to adopt and why.