Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.
Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
There is a clear difference between the two, but these words are often used interchangeably by those in power to protect themselves and appease and control the masses.
Taxation on ownership of real estate is a classic example. “Isn’t it unfair for people to be taxed for owning real estate, which they typically do to give to future generations?”. What this statement masks are that few people own real estate (usually those who are older tend to own and those who are younger tend to want to buy) and that those who own a lot of real estate are very few compared to those who own a home or a couple of low value properties. Why is there always a big outcry at every attempt to increase real estate ownership taxes? Because the older generation and the wealthy don’t want to be taxed, so they “play” the equality card pretending that such a levy would affect everyone. This, despite successive governments putting various wealth criteria that would exempt most people and companies from paying any taxes. The result is idle pieces of land and not fully developed properties in the city centre and along arterial routes, with most people being forced to live on the periphery of cities and waste time commuting to/ from work and to run errands.
Let’s think of another example, which is quite topical this time of the year: pay rises. One of the main arguments that employees should get a pay rise is because the cost of living (inflation) has increased substantially over the past year (8.6% in October 2022). However, the impact of inflation is much higher on those earning a lower salary (50% of the population earn less than €1,500 per month) than higher earners. Over the past year, inflation has been primarily driven by increases in energy prices and the cost of food, both of which are relatively the same (in absolute numbers) for any household despite their income profile, i.e. it costs the same to buy a carton of milk and to fill your car regardless of how much you earn, but they represent a higher percentage of your total salary. Furthermore, inflation indices exclude owned houses (so they don’t capture the increases in rent payable by younger, lower paid employees) and are weighted according to the population of each city (thus the impact of fluctuations in cost of living in each city are averaged out across the country). Equality suggests that everyone should get the same pay rise. Being equitable means that lower paid employees and those faced with higher rental costs should get substantially higher increases.
Having tens of thousands of people moving to Cyprus and buying chunks of the island (including its infrastructure) has been the country’s favourite pastime for the past 30 years. The number of people who have benefitted from this transfer of wealth is miniscule, despite what the numbers show in terms of growth in GDP, low unemployment, etc. A small number of people are selling-off parts of the country, without considering the long-term impact of what they are doing (or caring about it). The most recent example is the discussion in Parliament about whether state universities should be allowed to teach courses in the English language (to which the counter arguments include that this would facilitate the deterioration of the Greek language, that standards would drop, that it would create unfair competition towards the private academic institutions, etc). This is hilarious, as the same members of parliament are the ones who keep passing incentive schemes for people and companies from overseas to move to the island, who keep talking about the importance of the tourism industry/ the maritime industry/ etc, and the need for the country to be more open for business. How are those who cannot afford to study overseas or in a private English-speaking institution going to have the same opportunities as someone who is “confined” to study in Greek in a local university to protect the Greek language? (Leaving aside that 21% of the country’s residents, 193,300 people – per the 2021 Census – are foreigners and that its impossible to find a menu in Greek in most restaurants). I will not even go down the route of encouraging (and forcing) these companies to set up suitable university courses and hire graduates, to ensure that the interests of more members of society and themselves are aligned with knowledge (and some wealth) being transferred to the younger generation.
Social policy is not helping the poor but ensuring that poor people do not exist in the first place. For social policy to be effective, we need a long-term strategy for the good of the people of the island and to move towards being equitable so that we can improve the effectiveness of various regulations, subsidies, taxes, etc.
I am sad to see more and more residential compounds, gated communities of houses and apartments, being permitted in Limassol and Larnaca. In ten years from now these communities will become the ghettos (or enclaves) of the wealthy, leading to a further deterioration of our society’s social cohesion and reducing inclusiveness further. And as the younger generation runs out of things to sell, they will also be faced with a bigger mismatch between what they have studied and what employers require.
I am not hopeful.
But then again, I am known to be a grumpy chicken.