The greatest source of economic and social inequality

Professional or academic titles indicate field of training or function. —PNA FILE PHOTO

Holding title to property is the greatest source of economic and social inequality. Holding no title of any kind, whether to property or to social or academic standing, is a sure indication of being on the fringes, a ticket to poverty. Being king or emperor, or general or president, or doctor or attorney or engineer—titles appended to indicate position or professional qualification—distinguishes and separates these persons from whoever else doesn’t hold them.

Professional or academic titles indicate field of training or function. A basic degree of expertise or ability is expected, especially of someone with experience in that field. But being outstanding is something else. Many people, even the so-called professionals, are mostly of mediocre ability—for example, lawyers who have difficulty writing coherently or expressing themselves or, worse, becoming parties to crime. Thus, professional and academic titles are not an assurance of competence. Or of having the right values.

We do have a predilection for titles, coming up with descriptive ones like “megastar’’ or “concert queen” or “kilabot ng mga colegiala” or “hari ng Tondo.” Titles can be formal or informal, deserved or undeserved, wanted or unwanted, especially in the age of social media.

Titles are very important to us as a people. We hear someone pridefully described as “titulado” or with title, just as we presume a piece of property is legitimately owned because it is “titulado.” Visitors to certain towns will be amazed at banners festooning the streets and announcing and congratulating a resident’s passing of a government licensure exam or getting a government promotion.

Generally, titles reflect class differences. People from the middle and upper classes usually hold titles; those from the lower classes usually do not. But anyone can attain a title through various means—education, of course, equal opportunity, and hard work. Thus, there are innumerable stories of people who, through education, the right breaks, hard work and talent earn professional titles and become successful. 

There are also those who become immensely successful through business or innovation—the “tycoons” or “taipans” or “tech titans,” in which case academic titles become irrelevant because they can “buy” any number of people with professional titles. Besides, there is no shortage of universities who will award them “doctor of laws, honoris causa” or some such honorific, especially if the institution gains in prestige or endowments. In the United States, many such honorees are in fact school dropouts and started their businesses from garages (Microsoft’s Bill Gates) or dorm rooms (Facebook/Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg). 

People with inventive and innovative ability, including artists, own another kind of title: patents and copyrights. These are titles of intellectual property, not real property like land, and not titles of academic qualification and professional training. Here again, there could be an imbalance, as big companies, especially those with strong research and development expertise, hold patents galore to protect their inventions and innovations, which they use to corner the market for their products.

Inherited titles like those of the so-called nobility are the worst. Many of those with inherited titles and wealth are descended from plunderers and exploiters, ancestors who got a head start by enslaving other people.

Those holding titles to positions won in fair and honest elections are perhaps the most deserving.

In the past, societies with socialist ideologies sought to eliminate titles and class differences by disallowing private property—a move that boomeranged because those with positions in the state bureaucracy or dominant political party became the privileged class, and proceeded to stifle innovation and kill competition (and therefore productivity). 

Of course, there is China, which innovated with state capitalism and allowed private property including tools of production and raw materials, except for land and other natural resources. In doing so, it harnessed tremendous resources and brought unparalleled progress to its people in a relatively short period of time. 

Ironically, both those with titles and those without can assume a sense of entitlement. Some of the impoverished feel that rules don’t apply to them, that they can break traffic rules or set up stalls on streets and sidewalks to make their living (“naghahanapbuhay lang”). Or they feel entitled to besiege politicians and government to save them from literal drowning because they built their dwellings on riverbanks and under bridges. One cannot impute ill motives to them because their options are limited and all they may want is what is “rightfully” theirs: to not go hungry, to have a roof over their heads, to have a decent life—which their station in life denies them.

But this has also contributed to an attitude of dependence (“I am entitled to ask and receive!”) and a culture of patronage where the politician who helps more and readily is the one who will gain the greater allegiance. When a voter is asked why he or she voted for politician Y, a common answer is that Y is quick on the dole, is approachable: “Nagbibigay kasi,” “madaling lapitan.”

Titles, and the excesses they may engender, like too much of anything, can be bad in a world of finite resources. Titles must be deserved and used productively, and entitlement must be discouraged.

See: Poverty alleviation is at the mercy of political patronage

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