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PSIR 1A-4: Equality – Previous Year Questions & Answers

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] Affirmative action policies draws as much strong criticism as strong support. Analyze this statement in the context of equality. [2023/15m/200w/3b]

The statement that affirmative action policies draw both strong criticism and strong support is indicative of the complex and divisive nature of this approach to achieving equality.

Affirmative action policies are designed to address historical and ongoing inequalities and discrimination by providing preferential treatment or opportunities to members of historically disadvantaged groups, particularly in areas like education, employment, and public contracting.

Supporters argue that affirmative action policies are necessary to rectify the deep-seated historical injustices faced by marginalized groups, such as African Americans, women, and indigenous populations. These policies are seen as a means to level the playing field. Affirmative action is considered a tool to promote diversity and representation in various sectors of society, including workplaces and educational institutions. It’s believed that a diverse workforce or student body can lead to a more equitable and socially just society.

One of the most common criticisms is that affirmative action can lead to “reverse discrimination” by disadvantaging individuals who do not belong to historically disadvantaged groups. Critics argue that this is itself a form of inequality.

Opponents contend that affirmative action policies undermine the principles of meritocracy and fairness by granting preferential treatment based on group identity rather than individual qualifications and abilities.

Some argue that affirmative action can stigmatize beneficiaries and result in tokenism, where individuals from underrepresented groups may be seen as beneficiaries of quotas rather than as individuals with merit.

The debate around affirmative action is fundamentally tied to the concept of equality. Proponents argue that these policies are necessary for achieving substantive or “equality of outcomes,” as opposed to merely “equality of opportunity.” They view affirmative action as a means to counteract deeply ingrained disparities. Critics, on the other hand, contend that it can sometimes lead to new forms of inequality and undermine the principle of equal treatment. [301 words]

2] “Equality of estates caused equality of power, and equality of power is liberty.” Comment. [2022/15m/200w/2b]

Property is either something not made by man but occupied or inherited by somebody; or it is a product of the cooperative effort of a large number of individuals, employing different talents labour. However, their share in the product of their labour is usually not determined by the value of their contribution.

The right to property is called in question particularly when it leads to concentration of wealth in fewer hands, and obstructs others from having any significant share in the wealth of society. It is this right that tends to divide society into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, and poses a great threat to the spirit of fraternity—the sentiment of brotherhood of all men.

Hobbes postulated that the state was created for the security of man’s property. Locke held that man’s right to ‘life, liberty and property’ was a fundamental natural right, and that the state was created for the protection of this right.

Liberal theory has usually regarded the right to private property as an essential ingredient of man’s liberty and his right to the pursuit of happiness.

Marxists theory on the other hand proposes that if the means of production will be concentrated in the hands of the few, meaning inequality of estates, then the masses would be slaves to the property owner, spiritually and materially.

Amartya Sen in his capability approach defines liberty as ability to achieve one’s best, which is not possible without equality. In other words, equal power of the people in the state and equal distribution of the resources.

In a society, equality of resources and representation and liberty of the people is interlinked and deterioration of one might lead to deterioration of the other. [281 words]

3] Comment on affirmative action [2021/10m/150w/1b]

Affirmative action may be defined as formal effort to provide increased employment and educational opportunities for the underrepresented and disadvantaged groups at a level sufficient to overcome past patterns of discrimination and present structural inequalities.

As a policy it seeks to ensure inclusion of disadvantaged groups that were hitherto excluded from full participation in citizenship. It is meant to compensate the relevant sections (e.g. women, blacks, Dalits, indigenous communities etc.) for the injustice meted out to them in the past.

The proponents of the idea claim that since the opportunities of advancement in social life are so scarce, these should be allocated not merely on the grounds of ‘merit’ but also on the basis of ‘need’. The need of the deprived sections is so pressing that if they have the minimum required qualifications, they should be given preferential treatment in the allocation of jobs and educational opportunities to enable them to escape the tough competition.

Affirmative action policies are rife with moral and political controversies. It is argued that if equality means ‘removal of discrimination’, there is no justification for turning the existing discriminatory practice on the basis of race and sex in the reverse direction. An attempt to establish literal equality by affirmative action would be disastrous because it would erode the spontaneous respect for merit and authority which is the foundation of social stability and progress. Others argue that such affirmative action is inimical to procedural justice. One criticism suggests that these policies inflict harm on the groups themselves by a process of stigmatization.

But with all its costs and imperfections, it will be imprudent to abandon the imperative of distributive justice. Jettisoning affirmative action is equivalent to turning a blind eye to the cause of social justice. [290 words]

4] Comment on equality of outcome as a political idea [2021/10m/150w/1c]

The Equality of Outcome, also referred to as equality of results or condition, is deemed an arguable political theory. While such a term is not often precisely detailed, it commonly depicts a state wherein people have roughly the same possession, or more generally, their general economic conditions are somewhat identical.

It would mean eliminating or minimizing possession inequalities between individuals or households in a community. Not to mention, this could include a transfer of wealth or income from richer to poverty-stricken individuals.

Instead of just looking at the opportunities people are offered, equality of outcome shifts the conversation to where people actually end up. At least on the surface, equality of outcome plugs some of the gaps left by equality of opportunity. Where equality of opportunity (in theory) provides that all start the race of life at the same time, equality of outcome attempts to ensure that everyone finishes at the same time.

Some of the biggest criticisms levelled at equality of outcome are around quotas. In an attempt to correct historical inequality, some organisations enforce diversity quotas. The thinking is that if society – or at least the job market – is about competition, it’s natural for there to be winners and losers, provided that these are dictated by competence.

Equality of income can be considered not a great idea in some aspects. It seems that its concept does not promote hard work because it incentivizes slacking. For example, in the workplace, workers won’t be motivated to work harder if they’re going to end up in the same position. It gives them the feeling and notion that working harder is unnecessary. [272 words]

5] Comment on equality of opportunity. [2020/10m/150w/1b]

Equality of opportunity exists when policies compensate individuals with disadvantageous circumstances so that outcomes experienced by a population depend only on factors for which persons can be considered to be responsible.

Equality of opportunity pertains to a theory that broadly illustrates “just competition” for significant positions and jobs in a way that competitors have fair opportunities to beat such positions. Likewise, applicants are not hindered or evaluated by discretionary or unjust discrimination. Equality of opportunity calls for the elimination of discretionary discrimination in the selection process.

The main contribution of the equality-of-opportunity literature to the vast literature on inequality is to point out that the source of inequality matters from an ethical viewpoint. Most would agree that effects of circumstances on persons’ well-being that are beyond the control of individuals should be rectified, while at least some differential outcomes due to choice are not compensable at the bar of justice.

The ideal of a society in which people do not suffer disadvantage from discrimination on grounds of unequal opportunities is widely upheld as desirable in itself. This requirement extends far beyond the vague injunction to eschew a public-sphere discrimination but it implies a central normative investigation for deciding on what grounds one might justify responsibility-sensitive policy interventions.

Arguing about equality of opportunity is really an argument about how best to understand the kind of society we should be striving for, one where free and equal persons live together. Although other ideals may also be worth striving for, equality of opportunity offers important guidance and a standpoint for criticism of contemporary societies, their politicians and our own personal conduct. [268 words]

6] Equality means fair treatment rather than equal treatment. Comment. [2018/15m/200w/2c]

The concepts in political science are regarded as ‘essentially contested’, and equality is no exception to it.

In a strict sense of the term, equal treatment denotes negative equality as classical liberals suggest. Making people equal only in terms of opportunities. As Nozick suggests, people should be held responsible for choices they make and doing otherwise will be a injustice to those who are hard working.

Liberal egalitarian scholars like Rawls and Amartya Sen do not agree with such an understanding of equality. For them, equality of opportunity is useless without level playing field. Historically disadvantaged sections like Dalits in India, blacks in USA, are not in position to make use of equal opportunities. Therefore, fair, rather than equal treatment is a better approach. The concept of positive equality which imposes duty on the state.

Rawls suggests difference principle, making policies in favour of disadvantaged sections to achieve this aim. Amartya Sen goes a step further and asks that state should build capacity of such section so that they can realize their freedom.

We can say that fair treatment is a more mature view of equality. It recognizes human dignity as a inviolable and it understands the ‘spirit’ of equality rather than focusing on the ‘letter’. [206 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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