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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/30/15

Have We Finally Moved Beyond GDP?

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Inequalities within nations, the 2015 How's Life? emphasizes, can rival inequalities between nations.

In the UK, for instance, incomes run 50 percent higher in the London area than in Wales. In Mexico, a separate new OECD study released at the Guadalajara World Forum details, the differences can be even starker. Household disposable income in Chiapas only averages one-third the disposable income in Mexico's capital city region.

But powerful stats like these can only take us so far. Stats on their own don't move national governments. Indeed, stats on their own don't even automatically move the global organizations that create them, as one World Forum speaker, former UK civil service chief Gus O'Donnell made clear last week in one particularly dramatic World Forum moment.

Researchers at top global economic institutions, O'Donnell noted, have made a convincing case that modern societies need to become more equal, to go beyond GDP and begin paying prime attention to the actual economic, social, and environmental well-being of their people.

Yet the global institutions where these researchers labor continue to single-mindedly lecture nations dependent on their support on the inadequacies of their GDPs. These agencies, O'Donnell lashed out, need to focus instead on "what's wrong with our well-being."

On paper at least, the new "sustainable development goals" adopted at the United Nations earlier this fall should make the "beyond GDP" wisdom of global economic agency researchers much more difficult to ignore. These new "SDGs" even include one goal that explicitly calls on nations to "reduce inequality within and among nations."

"Evidence shows," this new sustainable development goal points out, "that, beyond a certain threshold, inequality harms growth and poverty reduction, the quality of relations in the public and political spheres, and individuals' sense of fulfilment and self-worth."

One new UN sustainable development goal explicitly calls on nations to reduce inequality.

The agenda adopted at the UN Sustainable Development summit gives nations 15 years to achieve the new goals and, in the process, "end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all."

But don't, say critics, hold your breath. The new goals, they charge, "will not deliver the new economy that the world so desperately needs."

What's the problem? The goals' creators, writes London School of Economics analyst Jason Hickel, are aiming "to reduce poverty and inequality without touching the wealth and power of the global 1 percent." The new goals fail to understand that "mass poverty" reflects "extreme wealth accumulation and overconsumption by a few."

At Guadalajara last week, NGO leaders seemed to see the new UN goals in a more positive light. The goals have emerged from "an intergovernmental negotiation," as "very much a product of realpolitik," Claire Melamed of the London-based Overseas Development Institute told me in a World Forum interview.

"It's pretty astonishing," Melamed added, "that that many governments managed to agree on a free-standing goal on inequality and goals on sustainable production and consumption."

The new UN goals, she summed up, "give advocacy groups another tool in their toolbox."

But this new sustainable development tool, Melamed readily acknowledges, will only make a difference if advocacy groups use it -- "in clever and politically smart ways" -- to hammer home pressure on their governments and the global agencies that hover over them.

If that pressure doesn't build, then the gap between the egalitarian "beyond GDP" insights of global agency policy analysts and the actual inequality-widening policy demands on governments from the movers and shakers of global economic institutions will only continue to widen.

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Sam Pizzigati is an  Associate Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies

Editor,  Too Much ,  an online weekly on excess and inequality

Author, The Rich Don't Always (more...)

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