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Redistribution: The sane alternative

05 June 2011

Across the world, the gulf between the rights of ordinary people and the interests of those who hold the reins of the world’s financial wealth has rarely been so stark.

Whilst governments throughout Europe and in the United States legislate for further cuts to essential public services and welfare, 12 million people in the Horn of Africa remain on the brink of starvation – representing a small fraction of those who live in extreme poverty worldwide. At the same time, the number of high-net-worth individuals and the profits of many of the world’s largest corporations are higher than ever before, and there is no shortage of food, finance or other resources to end needless deprivation.

As stock markets across the world continue to plummet amidst fears surrounding unsustainable debt levels in the US and Europe, many analysts are predicting that we are on the verge of a second financial crisis. The dislocation between the activities of global finance and the concerns of ordinary people who live and work in the ‘real’ economy is more apparent than ever before.

Yet the desire to protect financial markets through harsh austerity measures has become the standard political response to the crisis, and given far more importance than the basic needs of people for jobs, social security and public services. The only sane alternative to social spending cuts in any debt-ridden nation – greater economic sharing through a more progressive redistribution of income and government resources – has yet to be discussed seriously by politicians and world leaders.

Any system of economics that discriminates against the majority in favour of the privileged few cannot be permitted to continue unchallenged forever. The response from civil society to such immense injustice is increasingly one of defiance, as protests in Greece and other European countries echo the courageous uprisings in the Middle East. In the same spirit of goodwill and solidarity, mostly led in a non-violent fashion by a younger generation undaunted by outmoded economic ideologies, we are now seeing ‘people’s camps’ being established in the city of Tel Aviv, Israel, as well as the rise of popular opposition to government spending cuts in North America.

It has long been clear to concerned citizens that our political and economic systems must be radically reformed to secure ongoing access to essential goods, services and jobs as a human right. The creation of a more equitable and just world will only be realised when global public opinion against austerity, inequality and environmental degradation reaches historic proportions – a phenomenon that is already taking shape. An immediate demand from the world’s public should be to share the necessary economic resources to finally end hunger and deprivation throughout the world, and prevent more than 40,000 poverty-related deaths that occur unnecessarily each day.

Given the common financial predicament of countries in the Global North and South, there has never been such an opportunity to call for a fundamental reordering of government priorities in favour of safeguarding basic human needs for all. It is high time that international dialogue around economic and social policy shifted away from protecting global finance and the ultra rich, and focussed instead on establishing socially sustainable societies through a fairer sharing of the world’s wealth, power and resources.

Newsletter editorial, June 2011