Late Night Thoughts on Equity from Helsinki

Equity? Hmm. This, it turns out on inspection,  is not quite so easy a concept to get across. In English, and after two days of discussions with a wide variety of groups and people here in Helsinki, it’s already tough enough.  And I have learned, it’s  even more challenging in Finnish. Here are some late night thoughts on this word that I share with you here in the hope that it may inspire comments and clarification. So here you have my notes, more or less in the order that they came to mind late in the night. 

1. Certainly not the same thing (quite) as equality. And it is important to keep this distinction in mind.

2. In a nutshell something like: equal life chances regardless of identity

3. Equity is based on the idea of moral equality

4. A shared understanding of the social commitment to provide all citizens with a basic and fair minimum of income/goods/services

5. Equity deals with accommodating and meeting the specific needs of specific individuals

6. Intergenerational equity, equality and fairness in relationships between people in different generations

7. In another common usage of the word (financial) equity is also the value of an ownership interest in property. ( This aspect needs to be further explored in our context., because indeed it is important to ensure that citizens own, have a significant share in their city or country. Thus helping to sure that they see themselves as active parts of the solution.)

8. Here are some synonyms that come to mind: Fairness, social justice, decency, morality , nobility ??, Integrity , honesty, disinterestedness, neutrality, rectitude , impartiality , compensatory . . .

9. When it comes to economic aspects, equity looks at the distribution of capital, goods and access to services throughout an economy and is often measured using tools such as the Gini index. (It is commonly used as a measure of inequality of income or wealth. A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality where all values are the same i.e., where everyone has an exactly equal income. At the other end of the equity spectrum, a Gini coefficient of one indicates maximal inequality among values, i.e., where only one person takes all the income. )

10. Income differentials are growing in almost every country in the world today, Scandinavia and Finland included. This is a fact and a trend, and if we point to it here the goal is imply to be sure that we are identifying the landscape within which this project intends to work its way out.

11. Low levels of equity are associated with life chances based on inherited wealth, social exclusion and the resulting poor access to basic services and intergenerational poverty resulting in a negative effect on growth, financial instability, crime and increasing political instability

12. High levels of inequity – when combined with awareness of the differentials – itself a function of some combination of physical proximity of all parties, and/ or hotter communication between those who are aggrieved by the present arrangements – can lead on one side to anger, on the other to guilt.

13. This can lead to conflict, both open and more or less subterranean. More or less violent. More or less revolutionary .

14. All humans have a need to be respected and to have self-esteem and self-respect. ( Yes, no, I don’t know)

15. In a society of equity all of the basic needs of everyone are ensured at a level of what is seen there are decency and justice.

16. A traditional list of immediate “basic needs” is food (including water), shelter, and clothing. This list is also often expanded to include sanitation, education, and healthcare.

17. What about the right to work — i.e., to have access to sufficient income to provide for these basic needs, plus, and this is almost as important, an identity as an active part of equity and the economy.

18. Does transportation, access, belong on this list?

19. And if so what are the characteristics of equitable transportation?

And finally (for now) . . .

20. A historical criticism of equity ( in the law ) as it developed was that it had no fixed rules of its own,

This is an interesting and I believe useful way for me to close out these late night thoughts on equity and our project. Namely that there will never e be hard and fast universal rules that define this concept and way of organizing ourselves in society. For that we have to turn to culture and identity.

Now on to equity-based transportation in Helsinki and Finland.

Eric Britton
Helsinki. 17 March 2012

# # #

A few disturbing thoughts before we turn out the lights:

With the world’s population now well past the seven billion mark, this means that if life were truly  fair, equitable if you will, my and your fair share of the world’s resources will be on the order of  1.4285714285714285714285714285714 e-10.  Now that’s a very very small number. And one which represents a challenge that is far beyond the potential of my brain at least to come to grips with it in our present context.

Let’s see now, at something like 5.5 million people. Finland’s population is well less than one tenth of one percent of the world total.  And Helsinki’s population of course an even smaller fraction of this planet crushing total.

Under these circumstances, what could we possibly expect of this small out of the way Nordic city of modest, hard working, well educated people whose sole resource at the end of the day is their energy, moral strength and brainpower.

That’s the bad news. And the good news is that they, like any country or city, just might be able to provide a viable example though their actions and achievements showing that equity is in fact a winning strategy that just might  serve to encourage others to do the same.

Thus the success of their top of the class equity-based education system reform is bringing hundreds of delegations from countries and institutions around the world to Finland study their example and in many cases to try to adopt and adapt what they see in one part  of the world in which equity is leading not to mediocrity but to excellence.

At the end of the day all any of us can do is to try to give a good example. We certainly cannot afford to sit around in the hope that “world government” will somehow one day figure out how to mandate it. So let’s see what  happens if people in Finland decide to create an equity-based transport system.

Stay tuned to Helsinki.

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