If there is one constant in any election campaign, it is the claim or defence – depending on which side of the fence the particular party sits – that the patrimony of the country is being shared equally. To even suggest otherwise would offend the principle of distributive justice that is now the global norm.
Every type of system—from a society to a family—distributes benefits, costs, and harms: its reward systems are a reflection of this. One can examine the different forms of capital – consumption, investment, skill, social. Then there are such benefits as income, education, health care, police protection, housing, and water supplies. There are also harms: accidents, rapes, physical attacks, imprisonment, death, etc. We can examine how they are distributed among categories of people: rich versus poor, males versus females, employers versus employees, or for our present purposes, Indian versus African Guyanese or Amerindians. We would want to see if such examinations reveal gross disparities in distribution of one or another benefit or harm received by the categories of people involved.
Today, we consider the distribution of the four types of capital. Consumption capital is usually thought of as “standard of living.” In modern societies, this is very much related to income. It includes the amounts and types of food and water, housing, clothing, health care, education, travel, recreation, and services that are available to members of a group. There may be gross differences in income and standard of living among the different ethnic groups, among the different classes, or between the sexes. In Guyana the last surveys have shown that there is not much income or consumption disparity between the Indian and African communities. There is, however, a gaping chasm between the coastal and the hinterland communities.
Investment capital “is what people use to create more capital”. Income is related to consumption capital and, also, wealth, which in turn, is related to investment capital. Generally, wealth is distributed more unequally than income. The inequalities among ethnic groups, among the social classes, and between the sexes are apt to be considerably greater with regard to investment than consumption capital. In Guyana there is a perception that capital ownership and capital availability is skewed towards the Indian community even though there is no study to verify this. Such a study may be very useful.
Skill capital is the specialized knowledge, social and work skills, as well as the various forms of intelligence and credentials that are developed as a result of education and training and experiences in one’s family, community, and work settings. As one research team has pointed out: “The most important source of skill capital in today’s society is located in the universities that provide the credentials for the privileged class.” It is evident that those in non-privileged groups in many societies will have much less opportunity to enter universities and to acquire the skills and credentials which would have high market value. In Guyana, attendance in the tertiary institutions seems to favour Africans slightly over Indian Guyanese, while once again Amerindians lag.
Social capital is the network of social ties (family, friends, neighbours, social clubs, classmates, acquaintances, etc.), which can provide information and access to jobs and to the means of acquiring the other forms of capital, as well as emotional and financial support. It is the linkage that one has or does not have to organizational power, prestige, and opportunities. The social capital that one can acquire and maintain is affected by such factors as one’s family’s social class, membership in particular ethnic and religious groups, age, sex, physical disability, and sexual orientation.
In most societies the ability to acquire and maintain social capital by those who are underclass or working class, disabled, elderly, or women is considerably more limited than the dominant groups. In Guyana, the social capital to control the state must be lodged in groups that comprise the majority of our population. This is the essence of democracy and will be on test on November 28.