The international conference, "From Inequality to Justice: International Experience and Solutions for Russia," opened at the Russian Civic Chamber on December 10.
This is the first such conference ever held at the Civic Chamber which brings together participants from 43 countries, analysts and researchers, and political and public figures to a discussion platform to exchange experiences and practices for overcoming inequality.
“Absolute poverty around the world has begun to decline, but it is still common, and relative poverty in some cases continues to create sharp social contrasts,” said Civic Chamber Secretary Lidia Mikheyeva
at the conference opening. “Vast numbers of people have moved up the global social ladder in China, South Korea and India in the wake of rapid growth, but this has done nothing to remove the differences in income between countries and between 10 percent of the richest and 10 of the poorest within individual countries. In fact, once formed, social inequality is surprisingly resistant to economic growth, even high rates of growth.” The Civic Chamber head noted that a sharp stratification of society occurred in Russia during the transition to a market economy in the early 1990s and then froze.
“It has become clear lately that society has changed and become more sensitive to social injustice,” she said. “People are disgruntled not only because of deteriorating financial status, but also because of the many instances of social injustice, especially the gap between the rich and the poor, between urban areas and rural areas, and between individual regions.”
Lidia Mikheyeva is convinced that the growing demand for social justice can be met only through a broad-based discussion of these issues involving the state, businesses and public organizations. “When people participate in developing, implementing and monitoring decisions, society develops trust in government institutions, which consolidates it and makes creating an optimal development strategy possible."
“The Civic Chamber engages in actual assistance for citizens and plans to come up with systematic regulatory solutions to reduce inequality in Russia by resolving specific cases,” the social activist concluded.
Deputy Secretary of the Civic Chamber Sergey Ordzhonikidze
linked the stratification of society to globalization.
“Globalization and its impact on people's lives cannot be assessed unambiguously, which is understandable, since the interests of all countries, peoples and groups of people are not taken into account in the globalization process. So, the number of those who lose as a result of this process is likely higher than the number of those who gain,” he said, emphasizing that economic growth alone does not reduce poverty.
Sergey Ordzhonikidze is convinced that even being fully aware of the interdependence of all global processes, one cannot neglect existing dialogue mechanisms. The issue is about joint constructive work at UN institutions, as well as the G20, BRICS, the SCO, ASEAN and other international organizations.
“New centers of economic growth and political influence, primarily, China and India, have emerged and are becoming stronger,” he said. “Africa and Latin America have great potential. A sustainable solution to global problems in the emerging multipolar world is unlikely to be found without them. These challenges can only be overcome on the solid foundation of the UN Charter through a balance of interests of all states.”
The keynote address was delivered by Valery Fadeyev, Adviser to the President and Head of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, who headed the Civic Chamber until October and spearheaded the convention of this conference.
“The world is stalling, economic growth is slowing, the pace of global trade has slowed significantly and social tensions are running high,” Fadeyev said. “What path should we take? What’s the key link in this chain? I believe it’s inequality. If the leading forces begin to address this problem, we’ll be able to pull out the entire chain, and life will become more comfortable, better and financially secure for most people.”
He pointed out that income inequality hinders economic growth. The greater the numbers of low-income groups, the lower the economic demand.
“True, on the other hand, the greater the inequality, the greater the demand on the part of the rich, but their demand is exclusive and cannot benefit the global economy since high end custom-made yachts do nothing to raise the standard of living for millions of people,” he said.
According to Fadeyev, the world needs to move away from "hysterical and stressful" consumption to rational consumption. Valery Fadeyev clarified that he is not talking about a decrease in the standard of living, but a transition to the production and consumption of high-quality goods in smaller quantities to avoid the need to keep buying more things with shorter life.
“To do this, it is imperative to reshape the economic system which currently focuses on profits,” Fadeyev said. “This approach has been productive and has seen excellent results, but it has run its course. How do we move to a new system that will save resources, be environmentally friendly and reduce existing inequalities? I have no answer to that. We must put this issue on the agendas of society and the world. We need to start looking for the solution.”
“We are on our way to global apartheid,” Fadeyev said. “That's where we are all headed. Apartheid not by skin color, but by social affiliation. We need to avoid this. We should think about this, and this is what our conference today is about.”
Professor of Social Ecology John M. Whiteley
from University of California, Irvine, United States, noted the polarization of the modern world, adding that we cannot stay away from what is happening in society where 20 percent of children live in poverty.
According to Whiteley, California, where he lives and works, is also home to two big money institutions - Hollywood and Disneyland - but lots of local people are living on a shoestring.
He believes that poverty can be reduced by investing in education for young children and developing programs for children aged 3 to 5 to stimulate their cognitive skills and make them more successful later in life. He also said that the United States has a problem with labor resources, since the poor are unable to get a good education and will not become highly skilled specialists.
According to Professor Whiteley, many children from families living below the poverty line lack a good education. He also believes a nutritional model for children should be created, as nutrition is no less important in creating a healthy society. Third, parents should be involved in raising and educating their children. Often, parents themselves come from families that live below the poverty line and are thus unable to provide a better life for their children. There’s a stereotype that if you are born into the family of a millionaire, you will be rich, but if you are born into a poor family, you will stay poor for life. Helping parents is helping children, Whiteley says.
Head of the Civil Alliance of Kazakhstan Asylbek Kozhakhmetov
talked about inequality and socioeconomic stratification in his country and about state-sponsored measures to improve the situation.
He said that inequality shows itself in the large income gap between the rich and the poor in Kazakhstan where the income of 96 percent of the population is under $10,000 a year. On the other hand, 2.7 percent earn up to $100,000 a year, 0.35 percent up to $1,000,000 a year, and 0.05 percent up to $50,000,000; 162 people own as much as 55 percent of the national wealth.”
He also noted that inequality manifests itself in education, the judicial system and digitalization, since the internet is not available in rural areas, and access to electronic services is not equal.
Many programs are being implemented to eliminate inequality in many areas, he went on to say, adding that low-income employees will have their income tax rate reduced to 1 percent.
Director of Research at the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute and Chief Researcher at the Central Economics and Mathematics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Popov
focused on the dynamics of inequality throughout history.
“Inequality today is almost at an all-time high,” he said. “If we review the trends in inequality change over the past 2,000 years, we can see that inequality was low until the 16th century, then started growing and spiked around the 19th century. Later, with the Soviet Union and the international socialist system in place, inequality began to decline. But it began to grow again in the 1980s,” Popov said.
He believes that inequality has negative consequences which directly affect physical abnormalities among children, higher crime rates and the development of society in general.
“With sharp inequality, social elevators do not work,” Popov said. “If you have a billionaire dad, you will be a billionaire, but if you were born into a poor family, your chances of making it big are slim. Inequality leads to an anti-globalist sentiment. If there are so many ramifications, why is no one fighting inequality? Everyone is saying that inequality must be reduced, but progressive tax rates as a tool to reduce inequality have become less effective.”
Moon Sung Hyun
, President of the Economic, Social and Labor Council of the Republic of Korea, said the problem of inequality is relevant for most countries and overcoming it is a priority. He said inequality has worsened since the middle of the 19th century from the point of view of income distribution and has become a threat to society since the 1980s.
He says the gap between the 5 percent richest and 5 percent poorest is getting wider. Inequality can be based on gender, social background or skin color. The opening of the capital market, which is now facilitated by the technological revolution, also increases inequality. Inequality is widespread and inevitable, and if we don’t take the necessary steps, it will lead to political and social disaster, Moon Sung Hyun said.
According to Moon Sung Hyun, inequality can be found in South Korea as well, both at large and small- and medium-sized enterprises with 65.5 percent of workers believing they are underpaid. Among part-time workers, 5 percent are at the very bottom of the social ladder. In addition, he argues, we can talk about inequality in income distribution between men and women, which makes women unwilling to get married or have children, because they believe they can’t afford it.
Moon Sung Hyun said that inequality and the income gap are observed not only on the labor market, but in society in general. The Korean authorities are developing economic and social measures to put an end to this trend, but economic growth aggravates inequality and widens the gap between social groups. In a matter of several years, we have increased the minimum wage by 3 percent and are now doing our best to increase the number of employable workers. We are trying to promote a social dialogue on various matters.
He said that local and national authorities in South Korea are taking practical steps to overcome social inequality in an attempt to make social programs accessible to greater numbers of workers. They seek to raise the level of education and discuss measures to unite the efforts of the private and public sectors. He also emphasized the importance of sharing experiences, which is why the international conference at the Civic Chamber is particularly important.
Member of the China Economic and Social Council Expert Panel, Executive Vice President of the Translators Association of China and former deputy director of the department for publishing and dissemination of literature in foreign languages of China Huang Youyi
said that just 40 years ago China lived in dire poverty, but the situation has improved now.
He said that China is fighting poverty and creating programs that allow people with disabilities and rural residents rise to a certain level. China has been carrying out reforms for 40 years now which have lifted nearly 800 million people out of poverty, and today it plans to take another 12 million citizens out of poverty by 2020 so they can join the ranks of employed and well-to-do citizens. The Communist Party of China and the government are determined to achieve this goal.
Huang Youyi said that measures to overcome poverty include financial support for the poorest regions; special attention to economic development, education and improving workers’ well-being; and uniting developed and wealthy provinces with less developed.
China believes that no family should be left behind in overcoming poverty, so, representatives of government organizations send their delegations to study the state of affairs in the poorest regions and villages and to build relationships with the poorest families. In addition, managers from the central government can only leave these villages when poverty is overcome, Mr Youyi said.
He believes China's social organizations, which focus on lending a helping hand to the poor, are an important resource in overcoming poverty. In addition, he spoke about China’s Social and Economic Council, which also focuses on overcoming poverty, and the Chinese Translators Association, which is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy with a total revenue of $51.2 billion and about a million members, the main goal of which is to spread knowledge about interpretation and translation.
Foreign languages are an important tool for young people living in poverty; it helps them find work. Each year, volunteers from the association go to schools in poor areas and teach foreign languages. The target group also includes people with disabilities, Huang Youyi said
President of the Conoscere Eurasia Association and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Banca Intesa Antonio Fallico
noted that the global financial crisis in the United States in 2008 was non-cyclical and was the deepest and most devastating since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Mr Fallico said that this crisis was caused by mounting economic inequality in society. The Great Depression in the United States was caused not by cyclical or economic events, but political tools. It quickly spread throughout the world, especially continental Europe. This crisis was caused by the neoliberal movement’s structural problems which affected Europe more than the United States. Today, the world is suffering and fearing a new recession. The global economy remains trapped by low growth rates. Conditions for a new bubble where securities are traded above their real value are growing. American society is a consumer society ruled by the logic of hegemony. A product is identified by its image and brand. Consumers are striving to buy more goods and use more services than they need. Finance has become more important than the manufacturing industry. Neoliberalism is shaping society after the market, which ultimately destroys society’s welfare.
For example, in Italy, 10 percent of wealthy families own 40 percent of the country's wealth, with 6 percent of families living below the poverty line. In 2018, Italy's 21 billionaires owned resources equal to the incomes of all of Italy’s poor.
Radical economic inequality is rampant, he went on to say. We need to consider an alternative neoliberal economy. It is necessary to form critical thinking in society, and to build a unipolar political movement. We need structural reform of the International Monetary Fund. America must move toward healthy production and moderate consumption, Mr Fallico said, adding that he believed this was an achievable goal.
Two plenary sessions were held as part of the conference, “Justice for Everyone: Eliminating Inequality as Today’s Key Goal,” and “A Strategy for Overcoming Inequality in Russia. New Approaches Based on International Experience.”
Six themed panel sessions were held, “Education for Everyone: How Can Equal Access to Modern Education be Ensured?,” “An Economy For Everyone: Reducing Inequality in Opportunities and Income,” “Ideological Platform To Combat Inequality: In Search of Justice,” “Healthcare for Everyone: How Can Equal Access to Modern Healthcare be Ensured?,” “Social Policy: Combating Social Inequality and the Polarization of Society,” “An Environment For Life: How to Ensure Equal Quality in Ecology, Housing and the Urban Environment.”