Equality matters for reaching true well-being

The Global Risks Report is released every year by the World Economic Forum ahead of the Davos meeting. The 2019 edition is particularly interesting. Its opening figure shows the impact and likelihood of risks for the world and people, and for growth in particular. On the right top hand of the image, where the risks that are more impactful and likely to happen are placed, is everything related to climate change dramatic consequences. Environmental risks account for three of the top five risks by likelihood and top four by impact.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a very influential institution among capitalist decision-makers, and meets every year at the Davos Forum. To find our views shared by the top influencers of the decision-makers, at least when it comes to identifying the challenges and the battles to be fought, would appear to be a welcome development. Nevertheless, having acknowledged the pivotal role of the ongoing changes, the WEF and its members then fail to focus on what needs to be done in society and its governance to enable people to overcome successfully climate change and growing income inequalities, also identified by WEF as a global risk for stability.

“Stability first” is the mantra of the defenders of the status quo, including Davos’ main actors. The WEF’s report rightly pinpoints the reasons to fear the onset of instability and the poor prospects of overcoming it. It’s not the job of World Economic Forum, in the end, to provide the guidelines to overcome it, this is the job of politicians. But now  that the financial markets have taken the power to decide the allocation of public budget resources away from the politicians – by speculating over public debt stocks – the politicians have also lost, or yielded, their prerogative to decide how to better pursue the people’s well-being. So can the world’s leading capitalists be exempted from responsibility?

Well-being does matter, as the report rightly says. As does its distribution. Surprisingly, the WEF doesn’t consider severe income disparities as having a significant impact, although this is mentioned as one of the global major risks. But by glancing at the map of governments around the world, how can anyone not see the enormous impact of severe income disparities over the major political cleavages today? How can anyone disregard the fact that the politics of fear is fuelled precisely by the discontent, anger and frustration that populists are so adept at channelling, distorting the analysis of the societal structural change that we are witnessing? Migration flows above all.

Changes come with choices. This is pure politics. We have got used to listening to endless analyses over the crisis of the left and its failure to provide convincing solutions to the changes in society. But look at the conservatives. Look at their champions, WEF and the Davos Forum. They have finally realised that the world is shaken by an epidemic of anger, both physically and metaphorically. Yet they can’t see any other way but to preserve the status quo and fight back at the changes, especially if related to governance, and power and income distribution.

Rethinking power and participatory democracy are not even taken into account as game-changers by the report. A reform of the WTO is. But is the person who vote for Trump interested in that? Is the person voting for Salvini the Gilet Jaune interested in that? Anger is commonly referenced as the defining emotion of the zeitgeist. So the reasons that generate it should be addressed promptly and decisively to avoid a new dark age. An age dominated by anxiety, judging by  World Health Organisation data showing that depression and anxiety disorders increased by 54% and 42%, respectively, between 1990 and 2013. Still uncertain over the current zeitgeist?

It all comes down to sustainability and, more precisely, to sustainable equality. This is the solution to successfully make the ongoing transformations a path to progress, rather than darkness.

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson explain why more equal societies reduce stress, restore sanity and improve everyone’s well-being in their ground-breaking book The Inner Level. We would like to send a copy of it of all the Davos attendees, as it would be clearly a better reading exercise than the WEF Report. But starting from where we are, we invite you to take a look at our briefing paper resulting from the SOLDIAR Conference The Unsustainable Burden of Inequalities where Professor Pickett, together with many other brilliant minds, delivered an analysis of the global risks for our society that is well worth reading. Check out also the enlightening report on Sustainable Equality released by the Independent Commission of Experts coordinated by the Group of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

For well-being to flourish, it must stem from equality!

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