Equality, Solidarity, and Sustainability, Part 4

In this final installment of our four-part interview with regular Triple Crisis contributor Jayati Ghosh, she sketches her vision of an egalitarian and democratic society, and strikes an optimistic note about the prospects of achieving it. (Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the interview are available here, here, and here.)

Jayati Ghosh

D&S: The problems we face are not going to be solved overnight, and certainly the world is not going to be transformed overnight. What do you think are the most important changes that we need to start making now, though, to see a world more like the one we want—more egalitarian, democratic, cooperative, and sustainable—forty or fifty years from now?

JG: For me, the desired goal for an ideal society would be one in which some things that you cannot control—where you are born, what you are born as, the family into which you are born—do not affect your basic conditions of life—having a secure home; peace and security; access to nutritious food and other basic requirements for good health; access to education; opportunities for work, leisure, self-expression, and social participation.

This would not mean putting an end to all social and cultural differences, because after all, that is what makes life interesting. But it would mean that your life chances are not fundamentally different because of accidents of birth. So if you are born as a girl of a minority ethnic group in a rural area of a poor region, you would still have access to minimum conditions of life and opportunities for developing your capabilities that are not too different from a boy born in a well-off household of a dominant social group in an affluent society. This would obviously require a certain organization of both economy and society.

To begin with, it would mean that economic arrangements would not be oriented around the simple expansion of aggregate incomes and profits as the most significant goals. It is actually irrational to be obsessed with GDP growth. Consider just one example: a chaotic, polluting, congested, and frustrating system of privatized urban transport generates much more GDP than a clean, efficient, affordable, and “green” system of public transport. This in turn means that other goals would matter: reasonable living conditions for all, development of people’s capabilities and space for their creativity, decent employment opportunities, safe and clean environments.

Access to the essentials of life—food, water, basic housing, and so on—would not be determined by the ability to pay but treated as human rights, made available to all in an affordable way. Ensuring this does not mean eliminating market forces altogether. Rather, market forces that help in achieving these goals would be encouraged, while those that operate to reduce standards of living and quality of life of ordinary people would be regulated, restricted, or even abolished.

Extreme inequalities would not be tolerated. Systems of taxation and distribution, as well as methods of monitoring and regulating pay and other returns, would ensure that material differences between people did not grow too large. Social discrimination and exclusion of all kinds would be actively discouraged and sought to be done away with. In addition, in these economic and social arrangements there would be much greater social respect for nature. Economic activities would be monitored and assessed for the damage they do to nature, with a focus on reducing this as much as possible.

All this means that governments would obviously be much more important. So they would have to be more genuinely democratic, transparent, and accountable, and adjust policies to changing conditions. There would more people’s voice and participation in the decisions that affect their lives. Governments would respect both the collective rights and concerns of groups and communities as well as the individual rights of all citizens. For these to be possible within one country, it would be necessary for international political and economic arrangements to support the possibility of such societies emerging and being sustained, without the threat of destabilizing trade and capital flows or military aggression.

At least some of these goals are not so hard to achieve, after all. And for the more ambitious goals, it only requires more people everywhere to share them and strive to achieve them.

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