progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

mind the gap

"Achieving ‘equality of opportunity’ is very hard when there are such wide differences between the resources which people and their families have to help them fulfil their diverse potentials."

So says the Report of the National Equality Panel, released today.

Since the break-up of the post-war consensus of a mixed economy - welfare state, nationalised industries and private enterprise - we've seen the growth of a super-rich elite and the slowing of social mobility. The Thatcherite promise of "popular capitalism" and "property-owning democracy" has become the reality of utilities controlled by foreign corporations and a housing market distorted by speculation. The creation of global capital flows through deregulation and the opening up of China, India and Central and Eastern Europe, has meant the continued decline of manufacturing and extractive industries.

In their book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue against the neo-liberal argument that inequality benefits the poor. This latter credo was made most famously expressed by Lord Griffiths of Goldman Sachs who told us that we should learn to live with "inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all".

Sadly, the rising tide doesn't float all boats. Wealth doesn't trickle down, it gushes up. As Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, has said today when welcoming the work of  National Equality Panel, "growing inequality destabilises the wider economy, leaves a substantial proportion living in real poverty and undermines the social cohesion that provides a large part of what makes for a good fulfilling life."

So there's no point in examining inequality if production and distribution are not also taken into consideration. From reading the executive summary of the report, it appears that policy solutions are not offered - the purpose of the Panel was to examine how inequalities are linked to "characteristics and circumstances".

It is true, as equalities minister Harriet Harman notes in the foreword, that public policy interventions can help achieve fairness. But if the economy is geared towards profit-maximisation for the few, rather than well-being for the many, public policy will have a limited effect.

Which is why it is important to promote cooperative and mutual enterprises (CMEs) as the best model of ownership for the private sector. Business as usual will only create the same inequalities. As William Davies argues in Reinventing the firm, co-ownership can boost productivity, empower workers, and ensure sustainable development...

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