‘Unchecked inequalities can jeopardise sustainability of economies’

New Delhi, Nov 10 (IANS) Growing inequalities, caused by the concentration of global wealth in just a few hands, could jeopardise the sustainability of economies, societies and communities, undermining efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a British expert has warned.

“The fact that 62 people own nearly half of the world’s wealth proves the extraordinary concentration of wealth. This is disruptive not just to well-being and social cohesion, but to the entire democratic process,” John Gaventa, Research Director at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, told IANS during a visit here.

“Globalisation has contributed to economic growth of the countries but that economic growth has been highly unequal. The opening up of economies for trade and globalisation has strengthened economic inequality and which, in turn, has reinforced other inequalities, including social, caste and gender inequalities,” he said.

The IDS collaborated with the International Social Science Council (ISSC) to prepare the World Social Science Report 2016, Challenging Inequalities – Pathways to a Just World, for whose launch Gaventa was in New Delhi.

The report projects a grim picture of the prevalent inequalities, besides highlighting the global “culture of underinvestment” in social science research into inequality. Gaventa said that unless the inequalities were addressed urgently, it will make the cross-cutting ambition of the SDGs to “leave no one behind” by 2030 an empty slogan.

One of the most comprehensive reports, it identifies seven intersecting dimensions of inequality — economic, political, social, cultural, environmental, spatial and knowledge-based.

The report highlights the data gaps in social science research into inequality and advocates the need to invest in and develop “meaningful social science research” into inequality to develop meaningful policies to reduce inequality.

With insights of over 100 social scientists and co-published with UNESCO, the report calls for a change towards a research agenda that is inter-disciplinary, multi-scale and globally inclusive to inform pathways towards greater equality.

One of the authors of the report, economist Jayati Ghosh, says concentration of wealth in India has been “extreme”.

“Contrary to general assumptions, inequality in India is much higher and has increased over time. In fact, concentration of wealth in India is far more extreme than in many other countries,” the JNU professor told IANS.

According to the report, while India has been rapidly growing, particularly after 2002, the benefits of growth remain very unevenly distributed across the population.

The report also says that, in India, “the power of the state has been used to advance the accumulation project by various means,” including “displacing people from their land, from their livelihood and from access to natural resources, as well as substantial fiscal transfers and indirect subsidies to large capitalists”.

“Indian capitalism has exploited specific socio-cultural features, such as caste, community and gender differences, to enable greater labour exploitation and generate higher surpluses,” said Ghosh, citing the report.

“So, there is a need to address the growth strategy itself. The need is proper and just control of resources, universal good quality health and education, universal housing and affirmative action to address social inequalities,” added Ghosh.

Highlighting the report’s call for transformative pathways for challenging inequality, Gaventa stressed the need for linking policies to address the multiple forms of inequalities.

“It’s not just economic, but the whole gamut of inequalities needs to be addressed. The need is linking economic policies, trade policies, social policies and gender policies.

“A strong political will is required by leaders and policy makers to come out with suitable inter-linked polices, as also global organisations like the UN has a very big role to play,” added Gaventa.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at anurag.d@ians.in)