Wealth and income inequities within the United States, and between the United States and other nations, continue to increase rapidly. The average income disparity between a line worker and CEO in a large corporation is now more than four hundred to one.
Social equity implies fair access to livelihood, education, and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the community; and self-determination in meeting fundamental needs. As Martin Luther King observed, "where there is injustice for one, there is injustice for all." Social equity is the cornerstone of society, which cannot be maintained for a few at the expense of the many. Increased equity results in decreased spending on prisons, security enforcement, welfare, and social services. It also creates new potential markets.
Inequities magnify the challenge of creating reliable prosperity in several ways. Those who are marginalized may be tempted to eat into reserves of nature and society to meet immediate needs, while those with abundant choices may seek conspicuous forms of consumption which — unintentionally — have the same depleting effect. Current toxic production activities are extremely unjust, with increased health impacts along racial and class lines. Materials cycles which do not use airsheds and watersheds as pollution sinks have significant favorable equity implications.
Social equity leaves plenty of room for individuals, households, and communities to seek the mix of economic, social, and ecological assets that best reflects their values. It critically depends on diverse local economies that provide a wide range of work options for those of all ages and skills. Social Equity is enhanced by forms of ownership and community-based financial institutions that build local assets. It further requires that historical inequities be addressed and compensated fairly through a just transition.
Social equity is promoted by human-scale neighborhoods that provide shelter for all. Neighborhoods that offer a range of housing options, a mix of uses, and access to a variety of jobs, are often intergenerational and diverse. Such neighborhoods are encouraged by regional tax revenue sharing, which promotes an equitable distribution of tax revenues between the core city, inner suburbs, and rapidly developing outer suburbs. This prevents disinvestment in neighborhoods, improving the overall livability and safety of compact towns and cities.
Over time, true cost pricing will improve Social Equity by assigning prices which accurately reflect social costs and benefits. This will allow practices that are socially just to compete effectively in the marketplace, including living-wage compensation for workers.
Promote diverse local economies that provide a wide range of employment opportunities. Build local assets that broadly distribute the wealth of a community. Encourage human-scale neighborhoods that provide shelter and community for all. Work towards a tax shift that fully values social costs and benefits.
Examples of this pattern in action:
Social Equity & Justice
In a sustainable community, human culture holds a high standard of equity and justice in the relationships among people and in their relationship with the natural world. People honor and uphold the well-being of the whole community.
Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:
Brill, Hal, Jack A. Brill and Cliff Feigenbaum. Investing with Your Values: Making Money and Making a Difference. Bloomberg Press. Princeton, NJ. 1999.
Korten, David C. The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism. Kumarian Press and Barrett-Koehler Publishers. San Francisco, CA. 1999.