Emerging Inequities

South Africa has had a history of unreliable power. The national power provider has been accused of the mismanagement of governmental funding for upgrades to the nation’s electric grid. As a result, communities across South Africa have begun to apply for waivers to allow them to set up their own power grids. If such approvals were granted, the national power grid would be further weakened. What would happen to communities who cannot afford their own micro grids? Could micro grids challenge a country’s goal of equity for all its citizens?

What is happening in South Africa is becoming more of an issue for other parts of the world, especially areas with vulnerabilities to extreme weather. In California, the state’s power producer shuts off power to some areas during fire season because of the fear that downed power lines could increase the risk of fires. Wealthy home owners have created back up power supplies and some communities are setting up micro grids. How equitable is this?

What happens when an essential public good becomes so unreliable that those with the means decide to go their own way to offset concerns. Could this become a new frontier for inequity?

How might we deal with these emerging inequities? The obvious answer would seem to be to improve the reliability of the public good. But those who have the means to reduce the concern for reliability also have an undue influence on what is acceptable in terms of investment in that public good. For example, in South Africa a major business has built its own solar farm and no longer relies upon the national grid. How interested are they likely to be in encouraging upgrades to the national power grid?

What Constitutional questions might arise should organizations or individuals not be permitted to fend for themselves when public goods are unavailable or unreliable? Is shared sacrifice a worthy idea that should be encouraged even if a go-it-alone approach is considered to be a Constitutional right?

Just imagine if COVID-19 vaccines were rationed and allocated to those communities who could afford to pay a free market price? How is that different from power being available only to those who can afford back-up micro power grids? Just imagine how the inequities of micro grids might become the model for other public goods? Just imagine how the inequities of scarce public goods could threaten our democracy?

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“It’s time to put back on the agenda the importance of public  ownership and public good, the values of working together collaboratively, not in competition.”  – Ken Loach (English filmmaker in socially relevant topics)

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