Taking on Inequalities

On Tuesday 9th May 2017, I attended The University of Manchester for a panel discussion on Taking on Inequalities #TOI17, with the Global Development Institute @GlobalDevInst. I thought I’d write up some of my notes.

It was chaired by Anna Leach, from the Guardian, and she was joined by the following experts:

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The panel started by talking a bit about the work they do and the inequality issue the find most interesting. Then questions were taken from the audience and Twitter using #TOI17.

Carolina Sanchez talked about the impacts of globalisation, specifically the distributional impact. Policies need to be inclusive – need to promote access to opportunity and connect developing countries to the global marketplace.

Dr Rory Horner gave some background to the shifting geography of inequality: at the beginning of the 19th century, 80% of inequality was within countries, the rest was between countries. By 1990 this ratio had reversed, with 80% of inequality between countries. Since 1990 this gap has closed with the rise of India and India.

He also posed a couple of questions for the audience:

Would you rather be poor in a rich country or rich in a poor country?

The show of hands seemed to roughly coincide with previous studies in which 70% of people would rather be rich in a poor country. Dr Rory then revealed that a Norwegian in the 95th percentile has 5x more purchasing power than someone from the 5% percentile in Niger.

Will a child born today have a better life than us or a worse life?

The results here surprised me a little, with about three quarters responding that today’s child would have a worse life. I don’t know what this majority would have factored in, but that pessimism was reasonably consistent across the countries polled, with France being the most pessimistic at 92%!

Rebecca Gowland works on Oxfam’s UK campaign regarding public engagement in inequality. This involves how to communicate the problems and, more importantly, the solutions in an accessible and tangible way. She argued that we should measure a nation’s wealth and prosperity beyond merely GDP and take into account things such as their impact on the environment, e.g. use of CO2 or land. Rebecca referred to a report that states just 8 men own the same wealth as half of the world population (down from 62 people the previous year). She also talked about growing the voice of developing countries and there was a prepared video, featuring Jane in Kenya, here:

Oxfam video

Here are some of the discussion points from the questions I remember:

Should a living wage be a human right? Rebecca gave a couple of examples from DRC and Vietnam, which highlight the fact that this is a huge problem for some of the working population. Carolina answered that wages are only part of the story and there should also be a focus on the type of jobs available, people’s access to those jobs and the opportunities for people to gain skills.

The term political will was mentioned several times, once after it was summed up that inequality is a political choice. A related question was posed regarding how to redistribute the concentration of wealth/power, when this is inherently going against the interests of the currently wealthy and powerful. I think this is a huge issue in countless situations across the world. One of Rebecca’s proposals was a Global Tax Body, which could promote tax transparency and fiscal justice.

A member of the audience stated that globalisation is often seen is inherently good and something to strive for, even though there’s now a large body of evidence that shows “it doesn’t work”, i.e. globalisation increases inequality by encouraging a race to the bottom on price. He continued and suggested that the World Bank and IMF should be restructured or even abolished. A follow-up question asked whether the World Bank would ever consider a policy of degrowth as a solution.

The panel’s closing remarks were interrupted by an emergency evacuation of the building, but we’d already overrun and had a good night.

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