A hypothetical country called Confucia…
In this “hypothetical” country you have a small ruling class who are advantaged in every possible way – healthcare, education, global intellectual exposure – with everyone else having a narrowly circumscribed life with access to only a base level of health(care), education and cross-cultural understanding.
Let’s not care about the political system for now. All we know is that this place has never had a revolution, a rebellion againt the political powers that maintain this system.
Everyone in this dichotomous society may possess a "Confucian contentment" : happy with their lot in life.
This system is stable. Great.
Or is it?
In absence of a counterfactual it is difficult to prove anything; the bane of social science. But just think of the aggregate productivity of this system. Is it really that high? Would it not be higher if the benefits of high level education were extended to a bigger section of society? What about those individuals in the rest of society that are gifted and could contribute to making society as a whole more productive and successful – increasing benefits for everyone else ? What about giving them the opportunity of exploring higher education?
Adaptation & Innovative Solutions
Besides productvity, there is also the issue of adaptation and innovation. Confucia might do well as long as its environmental, social or political context remains constant. But what when a crisis comes along? Crises such as the adverse effects of climate change, or a domestic economic collapse triggered by events in international economies. What happens then?
There is plenty of evidence to show that climate change mitigation, economic development or recovery from economic downturns can be best addressed by working at multiple scales of society. Entrepreneurs starting up small-scale businesses, households engaging in energy-efficient practices, communities creating education initiatives for their youth .... there are innumerable things our communities and neighborhoods already enable.
Imagine a modern democracy without any of the above.... just State mandated policy. Formulated at the top, and implemented at the bottom. Imagine the social sector innovation that would be lost.
But how can such multi-tiered approaches be implemented in Confucia? A country where those who make decisions are the only ones who have the financial and intellectual capacity to innovate, manage and implement economic and political solutions?
One hears a lot of emphasis on small-business nowadays. Some tout it as THE solution. It's true that small-businesses can quickly adapt to changing circumstances and be more successful a strategy in the current economic climate.
But businesses need smart, educated individuals who are sufficiently empowered to make these businesses work ! Individuals who are supported with adequate resources so that they have the incentive to be productive. When you have a large section of the country that can't afford good quality education, is not supported with monetary loans, or is systematically prevented from accessing basic necessities such as healthcare.... that is NOT going to be productive section of the country. That is NOT going to be a set of people that is motivated to join hands with the rest of society and help each other get out the crisis that everyone is in.
Imagine the human capital that is utterly wasted when health, wealth, education and opportunities are so inefficiently distributed across society; some have more than they can use and others have wasted potential because they have access to nothing!
How could anyone logically argue that social inequality is "just an ethical issue" ?