Vietnam Academy Of Social Sciences

Social Equity in Current Context of Scientific- Technological Revolution in Vietnam


Luong Dinh Hai, Institute of Human Studies, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences


Abstract: Vietnam has made great achievements in implementing social equity. However, the level of social equity in the country is still not yet as expected, while the rich-poor gap keeps widening. In the next ten years, when the achievements of the scientific-technical revolution as well as the scientific-technological revolution, Industrial Revolution 3.0 and  Industrial  Revolution 4.0 are brought to Vietnam more and more, their impacts on Vietnam will be stronger. On the one hand, they contribute to ensuring social equity on a more solid, broader and deeper foundation. On the other hand, social equity on the vertical dimension is accelerated by the scientific-technological revolution creating a more reasonable rich-poor gap. However, in order to achieve that, it is necessary to  promote the maximised  and  effective  use  of  the  achievements  of  the  scientific- technological  revolution  to  narrow the  gap  between  the  rich  and  the  poor.  To  properly  take advantage of the scientific-technological revolution for humanitarian goals and social progress has become an urgent task and requirement of the modern society.

Keywords:  Social  equity,  scientific-technological  revolution,  industrial  revolution,  rich-poor differentiation.

Subject classification: Philosophy


1. Introduction

Equity and democracy are the aspirations of every society, every nation that has social polarisation, or oppression or exploitation. Both of them are the measures for social progress, the common values of humanity, the target of modern societies. At the same time, they are the strong driving force of development of countries, nations and the

international community.  Equity and democracy in the societal history have a close relationship. However, that relationship is similar to many other social relations, and it is impossible to describe or shape them in terms of mathematical formulae or functions that are proportional or inversely proportional. Such relationship is complex, diverse, multidimensional and contains various contents depending on objective conditions. In each country, in each historical period, the relationship has its own specific characteristics different from other periods and other countries.

One of the manifestations of the level of social equity is the rich-poor differentiation and social polarisation. Therefore, one of the ways to implement social equity is to regulate the real income of social entities so that equity becomes the most powerful and inclusive human and social development motivation.  In Vietnam, social equity in the past decades has been implemented with many new contents in both  theory  and  practice  [5].  Regulating income by State policies is one of the main and  common  ways  to  implement  social equity   in   Vietnam.   The   State   adopts various   types   of   policies   to   regulate income such as economic policies, taxes, social policies, policies on health insurance or  education,  etc.  However,  in  reality, social equity is still not as desired and its implementation   still   faces   with   many difficulties. Poverty alleviation and income adjustment by different policies in the past few  decades  are  really  one  of  the  great efforts,  with significant achievements already recognised by many organisations and  countries  in  the  world.  But,  various recent  statistics  and  surveys  show  that income  disparities  are widening,  and  the rich-poor  differentiation  in  society  is  no longer ordinary as appearing are signs of social polarisation. In this article, we only mention the rich-poor differentiation from an economic income perspective. The differentiation has many other aspects, but, among them, that of economic income is a very fundamental one.

“In   an   hour,   the   richest   person   in Vietnam   gains   the  income  from   assets nearly 5,000 times more than the income that the poorest 10% of Vietnamese spends daily  on  essential  needs.  The  one-year income of 210 super-rich people in Vietnam is enough to bring 3.2 million people out of poverty to end extreme poverty across the country” [6], [7], [8]. "Vietnam is among the ten countries in the world with the rich- poor  gap  and  the  number  of  super  rich people  increasing the fastest. While property is increasingly accumulated among very few people in the society, the rate of income  transfer  of  the  poorest  group  to higher income groups is slowing down. The rich-poor gap is widening.” [10].

2. Causes of the rich-poor differentiation

Reasonable and legitimate rich-poor differentiation in the market economy and in societal history in general is the driving force  of  human  and  social  development; however,  the  polarisation  in  general  is  a barrier to human and social development. Rich-poor  differentiation and social polarisation  are  primarily  due  to  income disparities.  From  the  perspective  of  the relationship between personal income and institutional   framework,   which,   in   the narrow sense, is laws, rules, regulations and policies   of   the   State,   the   management apparatus and their operation mechanism, in Vietnam today the rich-poor differentiation is due to four sources:

First, the differentiation is from legitimate, reasonable and lawful income in institutional term, that is the income from talent, labour, other sources of income that are  legal  and  suitable  with  the  strongest capacities, competence and specific socio- economic conditions of each individual and community.  The  differentiation  generated by such income sources is also legal and reasonable. The differentiation of this origin is the driving force for human and social development  that  should  be  strengthened and encouraged.

Secondly, the differentiation is from reasonable, but  illegal  income. These  are proper incomes in line with the rules of in a positive and progressive direction. The elimination  of  the  illegal  source  of  such income  is  the  task  of  the  government, because it has created an institutional framework  that  is  inconsistent  with  the human and social development. Regulations, laws and policies should be adjusted so that such  income  sources  become  legal  and reasonable. In the context that the scientific-technological revolution is rising rapidly  and  exerting  stronger  impacts  on production, people and society, the regular improvement of the institutional framework in this direction is an urgent requirement and a frequent  and important task of the authorities at all levels. The nature and the extent of the government's effectiveness is clearly reflected there, therefore, it can be considered one of the criteria to  evaluate the  effectiveness  and  the  extent  of  being "tectonic", i.e. facilitating and constructive, of  the   government,   rather  than  relying merely on the GDP growth to assess it.

Thirdly,  the differentiation is  unreasonable, but legal sources of income, for  example,  from  BOT (Build-Operate- Transfer)  toll  gates  where  roads  are  not newly  built,  but  just  the  repairs  of  old roads   were   made.   People   having   this source of income are often afraid of being discovered and blamed for, so they often find ways to rationalise or hide in different ways.  The  existence  of  this  source  of income  is  often  due  to  the  fact  that  the institutional   framework   is   slow   to   be reformed  to  suit  reality,  or  it  reflects incorrectly the economic and social relations  that  need  to  be  encouraged  to develop. If the income this type is allowed to be long-lived or popular in the society, the consequences will be very unpredictable, because it does not encourage reasonable labour and income.  Then legitimate interests  and  social  norms  will  not  be strictly followed and self-disciplined; the institutional framework become environments  and  tools  to  facilitate  and encourage  unreasonable  and  illegitimate income; people lose faith in laws, policies, the  State’s  governance  and  management, social   values,   especially   the   value   of fairness; the society will suffer crisis in the non-material  life,  being,  first  of  all,  the crisis  in  the  political  consciousness,  and instability   sooner   or   later   will   occur. Therefore, the rich-poor differentiation due to   unreasonable   but   legal   sources   of income is very harmful to the human and social development. The regular task of the State is to promptly discover the sources to correct the institutional framework to suit the reality so as not to cause a negative social differentiation.

Fourthly, the social differentiation stemming  from  unreasonable  and  illegal sources  of  income  is  the  most  harmful. Income  from  corruption  is  one  of  those kinds of unreasonable and illegal income.

When  more  and  more  people  in  society have unreasonable and illegal income, and the situation persists, the social values are inevitably turned upside down, and, sooner or later, instabilities will appear, accumulate, converge and then trigger social conflicts. The rich-poor differentiation due to unreasonable and illegal income sources is one of the causes and sources of the rich-poor polarisation in society. The differentiation in such way is the typical injustice and serious violation of social justice. Of course, such differentiation will inhibit the development of production forces of the humankind and society. Removing as quickly as possible those sources of illegal and unreasonable income is an extremely important task of the State to ensure social equity and that is a condition for sustainable development of people and society. The existence of these sources of income represents  inefficiencies, or impotence  of institutions, primarily the State.

In fact, in Vietnam today, all the four above-mentioned sources of income exist, and, even, sometimes, in many places, the second, third and fourth  types are predominant over the first one. And the emergence of the fourth has even caused social  annoyance  and  seriously  reduced people's confidence in the State. The rich- poor differentiation caused by the second and  third  sources  of  income  is  also  a significant obstacle to the development of Vietnamese people and society.  If reasonable income is considered illegal by the institutions, like in the case of a café named  "Xin  chào"  (i.e.  “Hello”)  in  Ho Chi Minh City [12], [13], [14], or the case of  exchanging  USD  100  to  Vietnamese dong  in  Can  Tho  province,  which  were covered by the mass media recently [15], [16], [17], [18], exploration, creativity and innovation in business methods will not be encouraged. Such ways of handling will even squeeze talents, initiatives, and ideas towards new ways and new directions. The  phenomenon of  rào (breaking the hurdle) is the most focused and clear reflection of the situation that the  institutions  consider  legitimate  and reasonable activities and incomes of people and  communities  illegal,  which causes the people and society "to  break the institutional hurdle”. It was reasonable to  perform “khoán”, or make use of contracts, in agricultural  production in Vinh Phuc province and some other localities in the late 1970s to help generate more income for the local farmers, but it was considered illegal by the institutional framework. On the other hand, the unreasonable sources of income are, however, recognised by law as legal, which is also causing dissent in the public opinion. The  "backwardness" of the institutional framework is a reality existing  in  many  fields,  industries  and professions  at  different  levels,  causing considerable obstacles to the implementation of social equity.

The rich-poor differentiation based on legitimate and reasonable income, though it may not be legal at the beginning (for example,  the incomes  from  “khoán”,  the "third plan" in industry at the end of the 1970s,  which, due to being illegal,  were termed  as  the  phenomenon  of  "breaking the  hurdle",  etc.),  of  course  will  be  the driving  force  for  the  human  and  social development and ensure that social equity is to be realised in a sustainable way. It is also the foundation for a stable, developed, and united  society with consensus.

However, in practice, the above four types of income always go together, with interactions among them, though their degrees of significance are different from one another in different periods and social conditions. If one wishes for and only sees one type of rich-poor differentiation, which is reasonable and legitimate,  that will not be a multifaceted view, and the social governance and management will be subjective and wrongful.

3. The trend of rich-poor differentiation in Vietnam in the future

In reality, the rich-poor differentiation and social equity performance depend on many different factors. In the next ten years, in our opinion, the more the market economy develops   and the more strongly the scientific-technological revolution and Industrial Revolutions 3.0 and 4.0 develop, bringing more and more achievements to Vietnam, the more the  opportunities  and conditions for the rich-poor gap to expand. Meanwhile,  it  will  be  difficult  for  social institutions to make sufficiently strong changes to curb the increase in the rich-poor differentiation;  consequently, narrowing the rich-poor gap that has existed over the last two decades will also be harder.

Today is the era of the scientific- technological  revolution, in other  words, one  of  the  great  characteristics  of  the current  historical  period  is  the  enormous development  of  that revolution. Studying the impacts of the revolution, we conceive that such revolution from the 2nd World War to the late 1970s and early 1980s was the  theoretical  foundation  for  Industrial Revolution 3.0 with great achievements and unprecedented significant impacts on human and social development on a global scale. The scientific-technological revolution that has been taking place since the 1980s to now has created the theoretical foundation  for  Industrial  Revolution  4.0, which has just begun,  and  is  being mentioned a lot in Germany and Vietnam. At  the  same  time,  the  revolution  is  also continuing  to  boost  and  spread  Industrial Revolution 3.0 to all over the world.

In the history, Vietnam was not able to carry  out  any  scientific,  technical  and technological revolutions among those the world  has  made.  Even,  as  regard  to  the three industrial revolutions, Vietnam could not participate in them due to its historical conditions  and  many  other  factors.  The survey conducted by the National Research Project KX 01.11/16-20 in nine provinces of Vietnam’s all three regions, namely the North,  Central  region,  and  the  South2, shows  that  the  levels  of  production  and industrial   forces   in   regions,   locations, industries and fields quite vary3. There are still places and regions where production is in the pre-industrial stage, and many other places which are at Industrial Revolution

2.0  stage. Only enterprises in industrial zones, big cities, some industries and sectors have already reached the level of Industrial Revolution 3.0, but merely at its early stage. However, the achievements of the  scientific-technological  and  industrial revolutions  are  approaching  Vietnam  in very fast paces.

In fact, the  achievements  of  both  the scientific-technical and scientific-technological revolutions  are greatly affecting Vietnam. But,  as  seen  from  the  industrial  angle, Industrial Revolution 2.0 - the foundation of   electromagnetic technologies,  and Industrial Revolution 3.0 - the foundation of electronic technologies, are the foundation of Vietnam’s industry today. We would like to emphasise  this  to  note  that  there  are  a number of misconceptions about Industrial Revolution  4.0  and  Industrial  Revolution 3.0  when  it  comes  to  their  impacts  on Vietnam. There is currently not yet Industry 4.0 in the country because its technological base is artificial intelligence that has not yet appeared in Vietnam’s industry as a popular technological platform. Considering the impacts of the scientific-technological revolution  on  social  equity,  one  needs  to pay attention to this important feature of the modern Vietnamese society, to avoid subjective illusions, basing merely on one’s will, trying to bypass necessary  stages, which  can  lead  to  serious  mistakes  with unpredictable consequences.

The development of the scientific - technological revolution and industrial revolutions (both 2.0 and 3.0) in Vietnam now contributes positively to ensuring social equity on a much more solid, broadened  and  profound  foundation  than the social equity that is based on agriculture or production yet to be industrialised. Technology and industry are both products of science; and, when taken into production and  society,  technology  will  change  the people  and  society in the direction of progress and development. Science, especially social sciences, has strong impacts on the awareness  of  people  and society  of  social  equity,  creating  ideals, methods and solutions to implement it on a reasonable  foundation  and  making  it  fit with each development stage of production. The  concept  of  equity  has  been  changed towards a more progressive, comprehensive, complete, inclusive and profound direction, as analysed in a seminar [5].

But the important thing is that when the achievements  of  the  industrial  revolution approach Vietnam, turning the Vietnamese economy into an increasingly industrialised one, making its level higher and higher, there will be increasingly open and diversified opportunities to implement equity, and, as a result, more people will be able to achieve. That is because, on the one hand, science, technology and industry create  various  jobs  and  opportunities  for workers to generate their incomes, which is  a  requirement  to  achieve  equity. The pre-industrialisation society before could not have the conditions to carry out broad and complete equity, so it was forced to implement equity by means of egalitarianism. On the other hand, industry creates opportunities and conditions to free people from direct labour functions, such as motivation, transport, technology, and supervision, so differences in physical strength are less likely to affect the volume of products made, more sources of reasonable and legitimate income are created,  and  so  are  the  opportunities  to have them.

Along with the development of science, technology and industry since the end of the 20th   century till  now,  the number of jobs has increased rapidly, and the opportunity to   access income has not decreased, but  increased  more  and  more instead.  That  is  most evident in the fact that the number of workers has increased continuously and strongly, the number of careers has not  decreased but still continuously increased, although some traditional industries have been removed. The development process of the industry has removed some sectors and at the same time created many new industries which are one of   the   important   characteristics   of   the scientific-technical and scientific-technological revolutions and of industrialisation. That has created an opportunity for different human capacities to be utilised and thus the people can gain legitimate and reasonable incomes.

The  means  of  science-technology  and the industrial revolution create devices and tools   that   can   correctly   identify   and monitor the quality of products and labour productivity of  each  individual  and  each community. This means that each person's labour can be objectively evaluated, more accurately  and  more  reasonably.  That  is the  condition  and  premise  to  implement social  equity  in  a  reasonably  grounded way. In addition, science, technology and industry have helped increase labour productivity and production capacity of the economy,  creating more and more products.  More  wealth  is  generated,  and the basic needs of people and society are guaranteed to be the most important prerequisites for human and social development. Satisfying the basic needs of individuals  and society is  itself  equality, humanity and progress of the human race. On  that  equal  foundation,  the  modern society may provide other social equitable contents  at  higher  but  more  vital  levels such  as  equity  in  education,  healthcare, and environment, etc.

If previously, in the pre-industrialised societies, the saying "not to be afraid  of shortage, but to be afraid of unfairness" was absolutely correct, then in the era of scientific-technological and industrial revolutions today, it is not any more. Correct is now the phrase "sufficiency does not  always  mean  fairness,  while  shortage never  does".  This  means  that,  under  the impacts of the scientific-technological and industrial revolutions, horizontal equity (equal treatment for those who contribute equally)  is  like  a  condition  being  firmly assured, as the type of equity that has the character of the human race, being universally  humane.  Vertical  equity,  i.e. treating differently those who are different from the common groups or live in different conditions, means that people with higher abilities, working better, and making more contributions are entitled to more benefits which belong to the upper layer of social equity, bears special significance in the era of scientific-technological and industrial revolutions. It is the vertical implementation of equity that really drives the human and social development.

The scientific-technological and industrial revolutions contribute to extending the reach  of the hands  and the vision of  the eyes  of each person and each social community, helping them  to  continuously boost their capacities in all aspects as well as their labour productivity. In addition to the aspect of social differentiation due to ownership differentiation that creates social classes,  differentiation  due  to  increasing capacity and labour productivity is an important cause of social polarisation, despite  the  fact  that  this  polarisation  is reasonable and legitimate. In the early stage of industrialisation, most countries expressed an attitude of accepting and promoting rich- poor polarisation towards a vertical equity to  promote  rapid development   of  their people  and  societies. The differentiation here is due to fairness and therefore very reasonable and legitimate. It motivates people to be  more active and utilise rationally all of their capacities and enhance their  labour  productivity  and  efficiency, developing  the  economy  and  generating more wealth. Social progress is as a result maintained regularly.

While vertical social equity is accelerated  by  the  scientific-technological and industrial revolutions, creating a reasonable rich-poor diversification that is growing day by day, can this lead to social polarisation? That is a big question, which we  have  not  found  a  valid  answer  in research documents. Certainly, in principle, the differentiation taking place over a long period   of   time   will   inevitably  lead   to polarisation. Logically, that is unavoidable. But in reality, it is not really the case, as the opportunity  to  increase  income  generated by the scientific-technological and industrial revolutions is not permanent or long-term  for  any  specific  individual  or community.  The  opportunity  to  increase such income source is not confined to any specific type of subject, but to all subjects in   society.   Human   development   always takes place unevenly in all aspects. People’s capacities and qualities  also  vary. Taking advantage  of  opportunities  brought  about by the scientific - technological revolution and those by the industrial one are not the same. Therefore, it is essential to promote and expand the opportunity for maximum use   of   the   achievements   of   the   two revolutions. We should not be afraid of the rich-poor   differentiation   due   to   vertical equity under the impacts of the revolutions. The paradox of vertical social equity in the revolutions will create such a differentiation and  social  polarisation  that  is  a  reality which   is   tough   to   solve.   But   it   is unadvisable to base on that to constrain the development of the scientific-technological and industrial revolutions.

In Vietnam today, that paradox has not yet caused any consequences on the social development; on the contrary, it is the rich- poor differentiation due to other irrational sources of income that causes great harm to the  human and social development.

Therefore, in our opinion, the State should further encourage and accept the rich-poor differentiation due to vertical equity under the impacts of the scientific-technological and industrial revolutions to promote people and society to grow stronger and faster.

On   the   other   aspect,  the   scientific- technological   and   industrial   revolutions often promote the horizontal equity level. They create more products to satisfy needs of living and improve the society’s basic living   standards.   In   other   words,   the achievements   of   the   two   revolutions always  raise  the  people’s  average,  and also,  minimum,  living  standards.  It  also means that the scientific-technological and the industrial revolutions further horizontal social equity to be broader, more inclusive and at higher and higher levels. Horizontal equity, therefore, also rises and becomes more   sustainable.   More   products   are included  in  the  basic  needs  in  a  more diverse  way that  demonstrates  the  social progress at a higher level. However, when horizontal   social   equity   is   enhanced, vertical social equity will also be pushed to higher levels, the paradox of the situation "the  more  the  equality,  the  higher  the extent   of   division   into   layers/levels" continues to exist.

Along  with  the  development  of  the scientific-technological and industrial revolutions,  the  fairness  in  both  vertical and horizontal ways is increasingly expanded  into  many  elements  such  as environmental   fairness and fairness in achievements of all development aspects: education, healthcare, sports, etc. To ensure the implementation of social equity in   all   elements,   both  horizontally  and vertically,  is  very  difficult  when  ones needs  to,  at  the  same  time,  ensure  the development  of  a  market  economy  at  a rapid  pace.  Our  survey  shows  that  the majority of people deem the impacts of the scientific-technological and industrial revolutions  have  not  yet  exerted  great impacts  on  the  implementation  of  social equity,  and  the  paradox  of  the  situation "the  more  the  equality,  the  higher  the extent of division into layers/levels" is not as  strong,  as  under  the  impacts of the market economy and institutions. The shortcomings in the implementation  of social equity today are mainly caused by the market economy and institutions. Therefore, it is necessary to accelerate the application of achievements of the scientific-technological and industrial revolutions in socio-economic and human development, using them to limit shortcomings caused by the market economy and institutions which can distort social relations and restrain the human and social development.

4. Conclusion

While the rich-poor gap is widening, causing the risk of social polarisation, the matter is how to effectively utilise achievements of the scientific - technological and industrial revolutions to restrain such widening   and   to   narrow   the   rich-poor differentiation which is in existence today. The  achievements  of  the  two  revolutions themselves neither create fairness nor cause injustice, and neither increase nor decrease the rich-poor gap. Their application in line with  the  defined  purposes  of  individuals, social  groups  and  communities  based  on market rules makes  the rich-poor differentiation occur in different trends. The achievements  are  very  fundamental  tools, which  are  especially  effective,  to  raise income for social groups, either widening or narrowing the rich-poor gap in and social polarisation.  To  properly  apply  them  for humanitarian purposes and social progress has become an urgent task and requirement of the modern society.



1 The paper was published in Vietnamese in: Nghiên cứu Con người, số 4, 2018. Translated by Van Thi Thanh Binh.

2  The author uses research results of Project KX 01.11/16-20. The research team of that project has conducted sociological surveys, in-depth interviews, workshops with managers, executives, researchers, university lecturers, secondary school teachers, workers, entrepreneurs in the provinces and  cities  of  Lao Cai,  Quang  Ninh,  Hanoi,  Da Nang, Ninh Thuan, Dak Lak, Ho Chi Minh, Dong Nai and Vinh Long. Opinions assessing   the impacts of the scientific-technological revolution on the Vietnamese people and society vary on the basis  of  differences  in  evaluating  the  country’s level of industrial development. The majority of respondents said that Vietnam is currently only in the industrial period of 2.5, i.e. not yet reaching Industrial Revolution 3.0. But the impacts of the industrial and scientific-technological revolutions on  Vietnam’s  people  and  society  are  now  very strong  and  generating  more  and  more  pressure from many aspects. The impacts and changes in different  aspects  due  to  them  are,  even  though uneven,  gaining  more  and  more  strength,  being disruptive,  inevitably  changing  many  aspects  of life and people in a drastical manner. The impacts on   social   equity   implementation   and   social relations are also stronger and stronger, creating many challenges in the years ahead. A 2017 report of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences on the  impacts  of  Industrial  Revolution  4.0  also contributes to affirming that, though laying more emphasis on the challenges created by the revolution.  It  is  more  and  more  obvious  that impacts of the scientific-technological   and industrial revolutions on social equity are stronger and stronger in Vietnam.

3  We believe that the main technology platform of Industrial Revolution 1.0 was the steam engine and internal  combustion  engine;  Industrial  Revolution 2.0  -  the lectromagnetic machines   (power generators and electric motors); Industrial Revolution 3.0 - electronic devices; and Industrial Revolution 4.0 - to be artificial intelligence. Read more: [2, pp.3-14], [3, pp.3-16].



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Sources cited: Vietnam Journal of Family and Gender Studies. Vol. 14, No. 1 (195) - 2020






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