Public service bias – Journal
INEQUALITY is one of the most important challenges of modern times. The careful efforts of academics have documented the glaring gap in income and wealth within and between countries.
It is important to remember, however, that inequality is a larger societal challenge that we encounter in our daily lives and is not limited to income and wealth.
An important extension of the problem of inequalities lies in the area of ââthe provision of public goods by the state. Electricity crises provide the perfect example to illustrate this: whenever there has been a power shortage in Pakistan, we often hear anecdotally from poorer neighborhoods facing longer outage hours than electricity. richer. Although there can be several complex reasons for this, a valid explanation is that there is an explicit or implicit bias in the distribution of electricity, which implies that high income people have the first right to public resources. .
Such implicit and explicit biases in public service delivery are present in many forms of public service delivery around us. Think about the preferential provision of public services to certain segments of the population across the country. Or the presence of better public infrastructure in neighborhoods with higher per capita income or greater wealth. Or the existence of implicit and explicit biases in state policy that do not reflect the political preferences of the average citizen. The list goes on. To an informed observer, these prejudices are widespread in our society.
We have a very long way to go to tackle wider inequalities.
It is heartwarming that concerns over such disparities have grown over time in Pakistan. This is largely due to the proliferation of social media and increased awareness among citizens. However, we have a very long way to go in addressing the wider inequalities related to the provision of public goods in Pakistan.
What can we do to advance the conversation on such disparities and push for change?
First, we must be able to document our daily anecdotes in a systematic body of evidence. Such research would be an important tool for consensus building and would make it more difficult for anyone to deny the existence of biases in the delivery of public services. Developing a global consensus on issues such as climate change and wealth inequality offers us important lessons. The production of a systematic body of evidence documenting the causes and consequences of these global challenges formed the basis of consensus building and made it difficult for anyone to deny the existence of the problem. Think of all those documentaries by David Attenborough that have championed the cause of environmental protection and raised awareness around the world.
Second, it is crucial to integrate different parts of the inequality challenge into a coherent discourse on social justice. Disparities in wealth, income, opportunity and the provision of public goods are intertwined with each other, making them part of the same larger challenge of social justice. For example, disparities in income and wealth could have the effect of ignoring the political preferences of the average citizen. Likewise, income disparities are both caused and caused by unequal opportunities among citizens. By taking a siled approach to each of these challenges individually, we run the risk of only solving small parts of the problem without keeping the big picture in mind.
Finally, the hardest part is using the systematic body of evidence to generate consensus and push for change. This is where the work of social justice activists, NGOs, journalists and citizens in general is crucial. While it is often easy to assume that it is NGOs, journalists and activists who are solely responsible for this task, in fact the opposite is true. Lasting change never happens without citizens believing in it. This is where we can all play our part in promoting a fairer societal structure for our future generations. As helpless as we may feel when thinking about the larger structural challenges in our society, we still have the power to step back, assess our own actions, and try to be fairer to the people around us.
I am the first to admit that the road to a more just society is not easy. It requires a willingness on the part of citizens to break with the past. This requires careful work on the part of researchers, activists, NGOs, journalists and citizens in general. It requires a strong collective conviction that a better future is indeed possible.
But this difficult path is our only hope for a better future.
The writer holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford and is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Posted in Dawn, July 18, 2021