IMPLICATIONSOF INEQUALITY IN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT WHYINEQUALITY MATTERSGoal 10 of the SDGsstates: “Reduce Inequality Within and Among Countries,” Every country onthis planet has distinct social problems and political economy that shapes theextent and effects of inequalities.
Economic forces do not solely determineinequalities, but it is also shaped by politics and policies. Extremeinequality often leads to harmful social, economic, and political effects. EconomicArgumentsInequalities of anytype and specially that of incomes and assets have detrimental economiceffects. Growing inequalities, with top-heavy income distributions, diminishesaggregate demand which slows economic growth.
The attempt of monetaryauthorities to offset these effects can contribute to credit bubbles, and thesebubbles in turn lead to economic instability. That is why inequality is often linkedwith economic instability. It is not a surprise that inequality reached highlevels before the Great Recession of 2008 and before the Great Depression ofthe 1930s.
Reducinginequality has clear economic as well as social benefits. It strengthenspeople’s sense that society is just and fair, improves social cohesion andmobility, making it more likely that more citizens will live up to theirpotential; and broadens support for growth initiatives. Politicaland Social ArgumentsGaps between the rich and the poor arepartly the result of economic forces, but equally or even more, they are often theresult of public policies, such as taxation, the level of the minimum wages,and the amount of investment in health care and education facilities. This iswhy countries with similar economic circumstances can have noticeably differentlevels of inequality.
These inequalities then affect policy-making because evendemocratically elected officials respond more attentively to the views ofaffluent constituents than they do to the views of poor people. The more thatwealth is allowed unrestricted roles in funding elections, the more likely itis that economic inequality will get translated into political inequality. THEMANY DIMENSIONS OF INEQUALITYThere are many dimensions toinequality—some with more invidious effects than others. One thing is however certainthat sustainable development cannot be achieved while ignoring extreme inequalities.
There are four specific angles from which to scrutinize the SDGs and theirinteraction with issues related to inequality: access, gender, opportunity andoutcomes. Income, as a primary focus for much inequality-related research , isa crosscutting issue addressed both directly and indirectly in all four of these.The income angle is relatively straightforward in most respects.
Tacklingpoverty itself is an important part of reducing inequality.One of the most malicious forms ofinequality is the inequality of opportunity, which reflects in a lack ofsocioeconomic mobility, condemning those born into the bottom of the economicpyramid to almost surely remain there. Just focussing on one dimension at atime may underestimate the true magnitude of societal inequalities and providean inadequate basis for policy. For example, health inequality is both a causeand consequence of income inequality. Inequalities in education are a primarydeterminant of inequalities in income and opportunity. When there are distinctsocial patterns of these multiple inequalities (for example, those associatedwith race or ethnicity), the consequences for society (including socialinstability) are increased.
We are currently standing at crossroads.The challenge of unsustainable growth means that we are hurtling towardsclimate catastrophe, and the challenge of inequitable growth means that we arehurtling towards increased poverty, increased marginalization and increasedanger.The problem has been that we have alwaysbelieved and continue to do so that we can practice unsustainable developmentand then clean it up. However, such an approach does not work.
We will always endup managing small fallouts and stay behind the problem. We have to learn thatgrowth that is not affordable or in other words equitable, cannot besustainable. We cannot push away the politics of development when we discusssustainability.Thecase of air pollutionWe can take an example of air pollution toillustrate these points. Today, a small fraction of people in Delhi drives acar.
In Delhi, the proportion is approximately 15 per cent, but air pollutionis at a very high level and the congestion has become unbearable. The questionis how will Delhi combat air pollution as more and more people start to drive?What contingencies can be put in place for the remaining 85 per cent? Is therespace on the road and corresponding space in the air shed?Clearly, a simple technical solution isnot feasible. We simply cannot fix the tailpipes of individual cars. Instead,we will have to change the way people drive (or do not drive). We would need toplan for sustainability for all, and for this, we would need to re-inventmobility at a scale not seen ever before. Without this, we cannot clean our airfor anybody, regardless of his or her economic position. It should be clear solutionsmust work for the poor, for them to work for the rich.
In this, managing localair pollution is no different from the management of the global commons – theatmosphere mirrors the air pollution of Delhi’s roads on a grand scale. Climatechange cannot be mitigated unless we issues of equity are addressed and new waysof growth that work for all are found, without destroying our planet. Thecase of water pollutionIndian rivers are extremely polluted, butthe question again is that how can we clean up our rivers when large numbers ofpeople are not connected to sanitation and do not have access to clean water? Thecurrent system of water and waste management in cities like Delhi is bothcapital-intensive and divisive.
The state has limited resources and can onlyinvest in providing for some – and this is too often the rich and not the poor.However, we should know that if only a part of the city has access tosanitation and underground sewage, pollution control will not work. That isbecause the treated waste of a few will be mixed with the untreated waste ofmany and the end result will be increased pollution .Greater the pollution, thehigher the costs of cleaning the water – even the rich will not be able toafford the increasing costs of delivery of water or of taking back waste.
Thisexample therefore illustrates again that solutions must work for the poor, forthem to work for the rich.States,markets and society – for whom?In the coming years, when we think aboutdevelopment it is imperative to rethink the question of states, markets andsociety. In recent decades, we have dismembered the state, grown the market andbelieved that we have empowered society. The current state–market–societyconfiguration is about the survival of the fittest, in a way that drives bothgrowing inequalities, and ultimately unsustainability too. So, in the comingyears, we must also ask insistently – whose society are we talking about, thatof the poor or that of the rich? In most countries, electoral democracy is notproving sufficient to represent the poor. Therefore a central part of thedevelopment challenge is therefore deepening and strengthening democracy, notjust for the socially connected but for all.
It has increasingly become clear thatsustainable development is not possible if it is not equitable. Growth has tobe affordable and inclusive for it to be sustainable. We will have tounderstand that environmental challenge is not technocratic but political. Wecannot neuter the politics of access, justice and rights and hope to fixenvironmental or development issues.MEASURESPROPOSED TO TACKLE POVERTYPoverty alleviationand sustainable development supplement each other.Poverty is more than the lack of income and resources to ensure asustainable livelihood. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition,limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination andexclusion as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.
Economicgrowth must be inclusive to provide sustainable jobs and promote equality.THEKEY FACTORS TO FIGHT POVERTY AND HUNGERSustained EconomicGrowthAcross the globe, economic growth over the past years hasbeen quite promising. Due to strong growth in developing regions over the pastfew years, a large number of people around the globe managed to get out ofextreme poverty.
However, the progress attained so far is not sufficient and wecannot be complacent. Overall progress in reducing poverty remains uneven.Sustained economic growth is a major factor in reducing poverty. However,growth alone, as we have seen from our own experience, is not sufficient. Itdoes not translate automatically into reduced poverty levels and less hunger.In fact, in most of the rapidly growing economies, inequalities tend toincrease as well.
In order to translate economic growth into pro-poor gains atthe domestic level, growth must be accompanied by strengthened institutionalcapacity, equitable delivery of public services, active social inclusion,bridging the gap between urban and rural development, as well as investment inhuman capital. Empowerment of the poor, of the vulnerable -empowerment in thebroadest sense of the word – is extremely important in bringing about a changefor the better. Empowerment ofwomenThe importance of empowering women in the context ofovercoming poverty and hunger merits a special mention and cannot beunderstated. The productive and creative potential of women who make up overhalf of the globe’s population is a tremendous asset. Counties around the globeneed to identify and implement four priorities for women empowerment: women in decision-making,balance between family and work, equal wages policy, and gender roles.Focus on education,employment and skill acquisition Education and skill acquisition are equally important andpowerful tools in poverty eradication.
Lack of education and employmentopportunities are among the determinants of poverty’s perpetuation fromgeneration to generation, and without added improvements in this field,breaking away from the poverty trap is highly difficult.Global partnership of developed anddeveloping countriesTheeradication of extreme poverty demands a constructive and truly globalpartnership of developed and developing countries. Developed countries shouldtake steady steps in providing assistance to developing countries. There is aneed for assistance and sustained aid to extremely poor countries, which can onlybe achieved through better coherence and coordination.Adequate public expenditure incritical areasAdequateexpenditure should be made to enable access to basic services like quality andaffordable health care, quality education, good nutrition, infrastructure,water resources, electricity and information and communication technologies toall sections pf the population.
While fiscal sustainability is important in themedium term, greater flexibility on public expenditure and public investmentfor key physical infrastructure, human resources and strategic sectors isneeded in the short term.Good governance and acceleratedimplementation of pro-poor policies and programsGoodgovernance at all levels, including the fight against corruption, is acornerstone of eradicating poverty. National strategies are working, althoughnot on the scale required. There is a need to accelerate implementation byscaling up effective policies and programs and fueling innovation.Encouragement to privatesector/businesses for poverty eradicationProfitablebusinesses are putting billions of dollars into developing economies andproviding economic support to millions of people.
If one applies specialefforts to boost local suppliers and develop sustainable businesses in thelocal supply, the effect can be magnified at no great cost. Through theeffective running of normal business, with extensions into its supply chain andusing its skills in enterprise development, a company can have a very significantimpact on the establishment and growth of sustainable livelihoods which areessential to poverty reduction.