Monday, February 15, 2010

Have you bought your peace today?

The US debates universal health care, China tackles official corruption, Singapore discusses affordable housing, India the Maoist insurgence; the one common thread in all these issues is that society and social contracts are changing rapidly.
All societies are class based, in some societies movement between classes is much easier, and in some it is more difficult. In some countries social classes are defined along the lines of wealth, in others based on political influence, education, race, sex, and in many cases it is a mixture of many of the above.
Most social issues are wrapped in ideological discussions, but the movement for or against change is catalysed when existing social contracts that worked for a long time, start to change rapidly. Social turmoil results when the establishment does not recognize or worse still does not acknowledge the collapse of existing social contracts that preserved the status quo all these years.
In many of the developed nations, one of the primary social contract for decades involved having a strong growing middle class that was offered relatively unfettered access to decent jobs and the ability to generate wealth for those with the ability, skills and inclination to do so. In some of these nations, that social contract between the wealthier segments (job creators like business leaders, industrialists, etc) and the rest is changing dramatically leading to increased unemployment and a diminishing middle class.
In fast developing economies, the social contract of providing opportunity for wealth creation and improvement in quality of life is threatened, by official corruption and land grab. Many societies are seeing dramatic changes in the expectations of their populations. The changes in expectations come from education, desire for wealth, exposure to a wider world and often changing social contracts between the classes.
The cynical part in me wonders if the ideological battles are real or just mechanisms to come to a "favourable" resolution. Of course "favourable "it self can be a hotly debated issue; as-in favourable for whom?
Would it just be easier to "buy peace "; i.e. in order to maintain peace, stability, and the ability to thrive, each of us will have to "buy peace" from the different classes that are at the receiving end of the changes in society. If social stability was based on a premise of a growing middle class; then maybe the cost of self preservation is to pay for some kind of health care for the masses in a stagnating economy with greater than 10% employment. The cost of preservation in a fast developing economy with tremendously polarized wealth distribution and difficulty in movement between social classes may be public subsidy for essential services/goods and strong measures against corruption. Instead of spending precious time and resources on debates, demonstrations, and the like, it may just be more pragmatic and "buy peace".