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What is driving inequality?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Friday, May 17, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program investigates the causes of inequality in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Global inequality has been on the increase for decades. There are fewer people living in poverty today yet global society is probably more economically unequal than at any other time in history. This trend poses obvious threats such as lack of social cohesion and sub-optimal economic performance. What is driving this inequality? What does this mean for the future?

 

There has been a continual shift from agriculture to other sources of livelihoods, accompanied by urbanisation.   The economic opportunities created by this shift require more skilled labour than agriculture. This has made it harder for the less formally educated to engage economically. If they manage to find employment in industry, the disparity between their pay and that of the more skilled is stark. The trend is likely to worsen as urbanisation increases.  

 

The constant today is the rapidly accelerating change in technology. Currently, skill-based technology is a key driver of income and economic growth. Sadly, the poor who have less skill are not benefitting as much from this technologically driven economic growth. The inequality gap thus continues to widen. The situation is likely to be sustained into the future unless remedial action is taken.  The introduction of simpler forms of technology such as use of mobile telephony presents hope.  

 

Closely accompanying this technological change is globalisation. Technology has enabled economic integration at a speed which was unimaginable a couple of decades ago. In pursuit of greater efficiency and effectiveness, organisations can open business offices in faraway countries for both production and distribution of goods and services. Offshoring of production to low-income countries creates employment opportunities, improving incomes and decreasing income disparities across states. This could, however, generate income disparities in the target country as the more skilled get a premium on their labour. A reduction in trade barriers and emergence of regional trade agreements has also played a role in expanding globalisation. Globalisation and technology are self-enforcing. Firms and individuals who have the resources to take advantage of globalisation and technology benefit most from it. This further compounds the inequality gap.

 

Another driver of inequality is government policy. Countries that have reported decreased inequalities have implemented policies that promote redistribution of income through social protection transfers and progressive taxation.  A significant share of national revenues in such states is spent on public services such as education and healthcare, and infrastructure. Sectors which support the livelihoods of the majority such as agriculture in agrarian economies are sufficiently funded. Such policies empower most of the citizens rather than benefiting a small minority. Although an effective driver of equality, government policy is highly subject to political will. Public corruption on the other hand acts as a tax on the poor. 

 

What does this mean for inequality? Not much can be done to slow down globalisation or the rapid change of technology. These trends are not negative in themselves. They present opportunities for realising a more equitable and sustainable society. Technology such as digital infrastructure can be used to effectively deliver public goods such as health and education at scale. In addition, progressive taxation and a clamp on public corruption could create a more equal society.

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  inequality  rights  society 

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Is trust an endangered species?

Posted By Robin Jourdan, Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Robin Jourdan examines the contemporary status of trust in her fifth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Globally, self-serving politicians undermine trust in government. Is trust on the decline today? For a long time, trust has been imparted to CEOs, experts, academics, economists and the like. Now that’s being turned sideways, extending instead to individuals, “friends,” and peers. As children, we’re told to avoid strangers, yet today Uber, Airbnb rentals flourish.

 

By 2012, on average only four out of ten people in OECD member countries expressed confidence in their national government. Populism versus progressivism in any of their flavors is merely insufficient to the anti-politics conversations. Both rely on the fantasy of public interests’ importance. Broadly speaking, trust in government requires both: 1) social cohesion, citizens’ confidence in their communities and 2) political confidence, citizens’ rankings of government and its institutions.

 

The following is a series of mock interviews with representatives of three government systems. The question: “why should we trust you?”

 

Interview with Technocracy: why should we trust you?

Technocracy is essentially when political outsiders, technically skilled, become the leadership for society. It protects the interests of priorities in service of the many. In a true technocracy, the leadership is unelected. Still, it determines the path for the society to take, like a board of directors. Its best quality is competence to decide. Technical expertise becomes essential as our lives become increasingly joined with technology. Technology has nearly always improved the lives of humans throughout history. Why slow that progression?

 

Interview with Autocracy: why should we trust you?

What societies hunger for is security in this volatile and chaotic world. Maintaining order and stability are an efficient means to remain committed to custom and tradition. During the 20th century, autocratic leadership was often the norm in most administrations. Autocracy optimizes efficiency. Here, culture is often homogenous. Changing away from this system can be unpredictable. However, this governance model is very appealing when it builds inner confidence and serves its people. The deeper worry for trust is in countries where autocrats silence opponents, damaging cohesion. When an autocracy reinvents its future and governing persona with trust concerns safeguarded, its long-term success increases as is evidenced by Singapore today.

 

Interview with democracy: why should we trust you?

Accountability and growth are the hallmarks of this system. Here, leadership represents and works for the interests of the many. Society honors the rule of law, unambiguous and impartial. No one, including government, is above the law, where laws protect fundamental rights, and justice is accessible to all. Society can be either homogenous or heterogeneous by culture, creed, religion or other measures. Political leadership and stability are maintained mostly on an appeal to reason and experience. As of the end of 2016, a majority of nations were democracies, a post-World War II record. 

 

Besides freedom of speech, other human rights are no safer in democratic countries than they are in autocratic countries. The rights one enjoys in any country depends on several factors, but most importantly whatever rights a person has is at the mercy of the government in power at the time. There are very few if any pure democracies at this time in the world. As is often the case in our history - perfect democracy is an ideal.  In the cases where a government calls itself representative and simultaneously it does not serve its people, that condition speaks to a failure of the leadership not a breakdown of the governing methodology.

 

Finally, at the local level, trust in any government refers to its impact on people’s daily lives. Is trust an endangered species? It’s a complicated question. Confidence in governance reinforces the social contract between people and the state. As importantly, trust is like energy; it changes form rather than be destroyed. Like energy, it also means people have more influence in the trust pact than they may realize.

 

© Robin Jourdan 2019

Tags:  confidence  rights  trust 

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Does religious freedom constrain liberty?

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 10, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines personal liberty in the light of religious freedom through her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


In today’s world, people of faith are seeking to preserve their practices of religion. These practices are generally based on conservative traditions and observances developed over hundreds, even thousands of years throughout various geo-political settings. They are often based on the belief in a higher purpose, being, god or gods and the commandments to behave in a certain way, and to educate their children within the religion.  They seek to protect their own against a confusing and threatening multiplicity of opinions and lifestyles. This is against typographic negative portrayals of the ‘other’, clinging to the mythical stories that they were raised with to cope with societal change.

 

Enshrined Human Rights practices allow freedom of religious thought and practice at the individual and collective level, as long as that practice does not interfere with the individual’s other human rights which may be encoded in law.  This sets boundaries for religious freedom, with many modern examples highlighting conflicts such as religious recognition of contraception, honor killing and non-heterosexual marriage.  In the eyes of the law, freedom to hold a view is absolute, but freedom to act on that view is constrained by other Human Rights. A ‘free society’ is one that allows freedom to think, debate and challenge the dominant beliefs system without fear of reprisal, as long as individuals and collective groups are not harmed as a result. 

 

In today’s society, the more conservative religious viewpoints argue that past traditions provided guidance and wisdom for current practice and lifestyle, carried through generations. These practices of faith are derived from divine providence or right.  These beliefs may provide protection against the uncertainties of change, as they have ‘stood the test of time’. Where this leads to crisis is where the conservative religious belief specifically rejects change and this may put it into conflict with changed societal views of morality and human rights. A resilient society will allow adaptation, integration and growth of belief and practice where these make sense, to support future generations’ health and well-being. A healthy society is one that looks to the future for sustainability. It derives wisdom from the past on what worked or didn’t, and is guided from a mature integration of cultural, social, intentional and behavioral practices and beliefs, rather than setting absolute rules on that basis.

 

In the post-scarcity future, it is postulated that the current resource crises may be overcome, and people’s basic needs will be met. Such a society may support the freedom of association of individuals with collective beliefs without the necessity to band together over scarce living supplies. This society may move beyond the need for the human rights recognition that the historical Enlightenment gave rise to.  Evolved from the separation of Church and State, the common law provided protection of individual rights and promotion of individual liberty of belief.

 

Such an evolutionary society will promote wisdom beyond the traditional tribal and magical worldview of religious belief and practice.  It will evolve into

a society that promotes a common recognition that the core of all religions and beliefs contain a series of trans-personal, trans-rational practices that seek a higher level of wisdom and being. With this evolution, true freedom will be found through individual and collectivist transformation to a holistic worldview of human flourishing. This will promote liberty of the mind, soul and spirit in the pursuit of higher purpose for being. But in this scenario, will we still need to define and enforce Human Rights?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  liberty  religion  rights 

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Can Disembodiment Fuel Equality?

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 3, 2019

Charlotte Aguilar-Millan examines the effect of disembodiment on equality in her fifth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

The gig economy is often hailed as the future of work. It offers more flexibility than standard roles to both employee and employer. It offers greater independence. It offers more variety in roles. Yet with all these benefits, the workforce is experiencing inequality within corporations that is increasing exponentially. Over the past decade in the UK, corporations have seen CEOs’ earnings in the FTSE 100 increase four times as much as national average earnings. It is much higher in other countries including the US. It is little wonder that employees are seeking to take more ownership through contracting or temporary work. Employees do not want to represent corporations that demonstrate eye watering CEO pay and lavish corporate greed. Examples of this were seen during 2018. This includes Credit Suisse’s CEO who received a 30% pay rise whilst the share price fell by 38%.

 

Progress, however, has been made in legislation for greater transparency. From January 2019 within the UK, legislation now requires disclosure of the CEO to employee pay ratio for all companies employing over 250 staff. The inequality within one’s own company can now be brought to light. This will enable easy comparison of companies to measure inequality.

 

Such transparency has already caused staff to act. The CEO of the Financial Times, John Ridding, received a 25% pay increase in 2017 to £2.5m annual salary. Staff within the Financial times, were made aware of this and a revolt took place which saw his salary reduced to less than £1.2m in 2018. Progress in transparency reporting has enabled both consumers and employees to demonstrate their discontent with excessive boardroom pay.

 

This does not solve inequality in companies with no employees. Examples of this include UberEats and Deliveroo who will not fall under this legislation. They have few staff as they resource through contractors rather than staff. For globalised companies whose staff are often located separately from the client, such as Upwork or Gigster, there are no reporting requirements on transparency. Gig work provides no safety nets that accompany being an employee. This includes medical insurance, parental leave or pensions. Legislation has not placed a responsibility on companies to provide these benefits. Unions have developed to protect the gig worker. In February 2019 the union GMB agreed a deal with Hermes, a delivery company, to give enhanced rights to gig workers.            

 

There are other industries from which inspiration can be sought. Acting, historically, has been an industry with many employees on short term contracts. To future proof their careers, the Screen Actors Guild Benefit Fund allows actors to pay into a progressive form of union. This provides a safety net for insurance and healthcare by gig workers earning credits each time they work that are used to contribute towards healthcare and retirement funds. However, organising a global contractor workforce who are located globally is difficult without the contracting party’s support. The gig economy represents a work force who have different expectations in working conditions.

 

It is up to legislators to protect the disembodied workforce. Disembodiment can fuel equality if the appropriate support is in place. Disembodiment gives the worker control over how they work in a way that employment cannot offer. Legislation is being considered to ensure the advantages of disembodiment are equally shared. As detailed in the Taylor Review of working practices, disembodiment benefits need to be two ways. Therefore, two-way flexibility should be in place. This could take the form of holiday pay, healthcare fees, and retirement funding. In this way disembodiment could fuel equality.

 

© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019

Tags:  disembodiment  economics  rights 

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What are the threats of growing inequality?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program warns about the threats of inequality in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

A widely held belief is that the defining factor between the wealthy and poor members of society is their level of hard work. This is underpinned by the view that the poor can pull themselves out of their situation by their bootstraps. The proponents of this theory find it easy to justify growing global inequality. They probably feel secure in their status and are little bothered by the growing level of inequality. Are they truly secure or is this just an illusion? Let us examine the threats that growing inequality poses to society.

 

The global economy has witnessed growth for decades. This growth has been accompanied by increase in inequality in most regions and individual countries within these regions. If Piketty can be believed, the underlying factor to this is that the return on capital is greater than overall economic growth. While per capita growth has been sustained, there has been a more proportionate distribution of this growth among the various wealth segments.  The profit share often surpasses the wage share of GDP growth.

 

It would appear that economic growth will be sustained despite the inequality. So why bother? This is not the case. Growing inequality is potentially harmful to social cohesion. People find it hard to connect with those noticeably different from themselves. Inequality could result in natural tensions between the various economic groups. It could lead to tensions between the rich and the poor who feel disenfranchised.  It could also lead to loss of trust in the government and public institutions. The poor could begin to feel that the government has failed them or does not care about their plight. Inequality could be a threat to democracy and the rule of law as witnessed in the Arab uprising. Wealthy elites who assume power could implement policies to entrench their own interests at the expense of the poor.

 

Inequality also has economic consequences. Employment income is a key factor of inequality. Growing inequality means that those at the bottom of the economic pyramid in society would effectively experience a sustained erosion of their disposable income. They would not be able to invest in their personal development and that of their children through quality health and education. This would in turn decrease the quality of labour available in the economy. Their ability to contribute to the economic growth of their nations would also be impaired, further widening the inequality gap.  The end result would be a degradation of the supply side that perpetuates itself in a negative feedback loop.

 

What does this mean? Effective engagement of all sections of society is necessary for sustained and strong economic growth. There is a need to enable each citizen to contribute to and benefit from the economic growth of their country. This can be attained through investment in public goods and services such as health, education, and infrastructure. If the national cake is not shared, it is unlikely to grow as fast as it potentially could. It could even stagnate.

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  inequality  rights  society 

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Is liberty compatible with public safety?

Posted By Website Admin, Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the compatibility of liberty with public safety in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


It seems that in today’s world our security and safety are constantly under threat. Every day brings more tragic news of innocent people murdered, women killed by strangers or beaten by violent husbands, children co-opted for economic or political gains, racists and extremist views given undue publicity. Political expediency demands quick response by governments to prevent such occurrences. They trade off our personal liberty for the good of public safety and security. The outcomes may make us temporarily feel safer, but actually apply discrimination or restriction upon society’s minority groups, the women and children at risk, restriction of freedom of expression or lifestyle for those under threat in order to secure their safety.

 

Many people argue that there is always a trade-off between liberty and safety, between freedom and security. Others suggest that safety response must cut through any considerations of liberty, and restrictions on minority groups must take priority for the good of the society. Still others think that security is a pre-requisite for liberty and freedom, to protect the collective well-being. A well-defined barrier will prevent ‘evil’ from seeping into society, so we can all sleep well at night.

 

Safety through restriction doesn’t necessarily mitigate the risk, and can bring unintended consequences that can harm long-term liberty. A well-intended curtailment of freedom for the sake of protection can turn into a vicious cycle of ever greater restrictions of liberty. We are told that the girl who is murdered in an alley shouldn’t have been wandering in the dark alone. The man with the funny headdress or dark skin is to be feared or discredited because he is one of the ‘other’ and shouldn’t be living amongst us. The evil of fear grows and ferments within our society, and no barrier can keep it out.

 

By engaging in Sir Isaiah Berlin’s two-toned notion of personal liberty as both freedom from oppression (safety) and freedom to do what we want to do (liberty), we see a symbiotic relationship between safety and liberty. Their practices must exist together and evolve sustainably over time. Every citizen must be equally free and safe to reach their potential in accordance with human rights principles for today’s societal needs. Future generations must similarly be accorded the same rights. This can only occur in an open, just and inclusive society, where we recognise our bonds and obligations to our fellow human beings and their individual rights within an integrated society.

 

In order to promote human flourishing, we need to recognise and celebrate the diversity and temporal position that we hold in our universe. We must undertake custodial responsibility as a society to look after the security and safety of our environment, the food, water, shelter, energy and climate that we all need to survive. We must create a virtuous cycle whereby the positive contributions of all humanity can be celebrated, protected and encouraged.

 

We must promote both liberty and public safety with a long view to the consequences of today’s decisions on today’s complex society, as well as tomorrow’s generations, their health and their environment. So, liberty is absolutely compatible with public safety, but only if we recognise and share a common and equal entitlement to these aspirations. But does that mean that we must all believe in the same thing? How then does religious freedom affect personal liberty?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  freedom  liberty  rights 

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