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How capital drives Social Inequality

by Dickson Igwe
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Resident columnist Dickson Igwe

The idea that education and hard work are the great equalizers is wonderfully aspirational. It is however woefully inadequate as a theory. In capitalist societies, the family into which you are born determines your life chances over and above any notions of education and a merit driven economy: or as we say in the Virgin Islands, ‘’it is who you for.’’ Money comes from money and Inheritance is key to wealth.

Those who own and control capital- the resources that drive wealth generation-are able to keep that control of wealth within the orbit of a tiny percentage of society, meaning, themselves and their families, no matter how fair the distribution of wealth may appear. Capital ownership, with its huge benefits is self-fulfilling for the 1%. This feature of inequality exists everywhere.

Capital is a wealth magnet attracting prosperity to those who control that capital. Leveraging capital is combining the components of capital-mainly finance, enterprise, and technology- for profit and power. Those who already possess capital have the advantage of leveraging capital for their own benefit.

An opinion piece in the UK Guardian by Faiza Shaheen highlighted a recent report that found social outcomes in the UK affected by the income and wealth of parents more than any other factor. The preceding is a wakeup call for policy makers who hope to engineer greater social and economic equality in society. Social class tends to crystalize around wealth ownership.

The fact is the capitalist system works against the least wealthy and influential in the society- that is the vast majority of inhabitants. Capitalism as a vast Ponzi scheme driven by the owners of wealth is an interesting assertion. OK. There are ways to break through to the top, but this remains a rarity, especially in a privileged society such as the UK. The USA appears much more oriented towards upward mobility. However, even in the US, inequality has been growing very significantly in recent decades.

The widening inequality gap may simply be the way capital works. Those who control capital are inclined to increase their own power and wealth through the scope, depth, and value of their capital assets and resources.

As capital grows so does the power of the owners of capital who pass that power on to their offspring. That is only natural.

It is valid to assert that social and economic equality can be defeated through public investment: in other words, socialism or government intervention in the economy, especially in capitalist societies. This can happen through the redistribution of wealth through taxation and public spending. In 2023 and beyond that idea looks unlikely.

The 21st Century is the Capitalist Century. Capital stalks the halls of governance and power wielding huge influence over politicians. Capital has become triumphant. Today, the capitalist model is more entrenched than ever.

In every society, access to capital is the first step to wealth. An establishment of wealthy and well-connected families tightly controls that access however. Powerful multinational corporations owned by a few hundred families rule the world.  Capital thrives.  

Dickson Igwe

Dickson Igwe

Dickson Igwe is an education official in the Virgin Islands. He is also a national sea safety instructor. He writes a national column across media and has authored a story book on the Caribbean: ‘The Adventures of a West Indian Villager’. Dickson is focused on economics articles, and he believes economics holds the answer to the full economic and social development of the Caribbean. He is of both West African and Caribbean heritage. Dickson is married with one son.


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