Inequality Lane and the way out of it

Joseph F.X Zahra's article on Newsbook

The international convention held annually by the Fondazione Centesimus Annus- Pro Pontifice in the Vatican, has this May dealt with the topic “The Good Society and the Future of Jobs: can solidarity and fraternity be part of business decisions?” This Foundation is an important think tank that deals with socio-economic matters that are relevant to the world today. The president of the Scientific Committee of the Foundation is Professor Alberto Quadro Curzio, a renowned Italian economist who has been a great influence on critical economic thinking of both centre right and centre left governments in Italy, and the committee is made up of economists from all parts of the world.

The theme of this year’s convention centred around two main issues – inequality in income and job opportunities. A kick-starting presentation on his research on new calculations of global inequality by  Brano Milanovic from the University of New York, provoked a lively debate on income distribution both within and across countries. Milanovic sees a shift from the cause of this inequality from that of the traditional occupation and social class, to one oflocation (on both national and international level) or citizenship. This also explains the shift that even skilled and technical people are moving from one country to another where the expected income to be earned is higher than they are getting in their own country. In my opinion, the situation is getting worse as government policies  (the Malta case in particular) seem to be aimed at what it describes as the “middle class”, while ignoring the reality of unskilled persons or those living in depressed areas. Much can be done in policies aimed at this neglected sector, including education (starting off with literacy programmes and specifically aimed vocational training) and the creation of jobs that match the aptitude level of this category.

The intervention of Cambridge researcher Adrian Pabst from the University of Kent on the second day of the Convention was an eye-opener as he started by rejecting a pessimistic view of the individual as one permanently craving on self-interest and greed. Human beings, even for their own personal peace, seek to create long lasting relationships with fellow human beings. Pabst gave a list of concrete proposals on how to create a better society by striving towards more equality. Some points he made on market aimed proposals are not new, but are still highly controversial such as debt forgiveness or turning debt into equity. His proposals for the State are stronger and personally I consider more relevant – decentralise the welfare state, transfer corporate governance responsibility to all stakeholders, and promote more strongly vocational training.

Around three hundred delegates contributed through workshops and group work to the ideas that will be published later this year on how market economic changes and public policy can contribute to the narrowing of the income distribution gap without eliminating the incentive to work, create and innovate. A key note speech delivered by former Maltese prime minister Lawrence Gonzi at the end of the convention invoked the difficult balance between economic drive and growth which has successfully kept the country out of the misery and devastation of other European countries during the most recent economic and financial crisis, and the values of solidarity and subsidiarity in policy that sustained the country’s social fabric.

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