Why should we hold out any hope for greater equality when the very richest people in the world are taking more and more? Pessimistic reactions are commonplace. But there is often great pessimism just at the point when a great injustice becomes apparent – when it becomes widely accepted that it is an injustice and people start to correct it.
The evidence that inequality is harmful comes largely from the rich world. In the 1960s affluent countries were so similar that it was not possible to see the negative effects of greater inequality. But since then some have become much more unequal, providing us with outcomes that illustrate the harm so well.
Today, for many people – especially in the most unequal of countries such as the US, Brazil, the UK and South Africa – the idea that your children and their children might live more equitable lives can seem like a pipedream. But evidence from the more equal affluent nations – as well as from a growing number of poorer countries where inequalities are now falling – shows what is possible. This evidence is fully laid out in my new book The Equality Effect.
Elsewhere in the magazine Ana Palacios’ remarkable photo reportage from Togo and Benin brings to life efforts to ensure a safer future for trafficked children. And our Making Waves profile of Indian activist Prafulla Samantara demonstrates how not giving up can sometimes bear fruit.
Danny Dorling for the New Internationalist co-operative.
The political landscape may seem particularly bleak at present. But, if we stand back and look at the bigger picture, the dominance of rightwing populists and neoliberal policies is likely to be a temporary blip. The evidence is mounting that greater economic equality benefits all people in all societies, whether you are rich, poor or in-between. Once this is widely understood, politicians and policymakers will be forced to take note, as Danny Dorling explains.
For the three decades prior to 2008, some countries, including the US and the UK, chose a path that led to greater inequality, often on the assumption that there was no viable alternative. Yet, even under intensifying globalization, many other nation-states have continued to take a different road and have chosen ever-greater equality. Today, it is through the examples of how life differs between more and less economically equitable countries that we are able to measure the equality effect.
While it is clear that equality matters in terms of health and happiness, surprising new data reveals that it is also better for the environment – in the more equal rich countries, people on average consume less, produce less waste and emit less carbon.