Oxfam are participating in the development of a new method of highlighting levels of inequality through an index of Commitment to Reducing Inequality .
It is an international measure drawn up from the priorities that over 150 countries allocate to expenditure on social services such as education and health; policies on personal and company taxation ; and policies on employment.
The purpose of the index is to inform political programmes and the wider debate that seek to shrink the gap between the rich and the rest.
In first place, as the country that is regarded as the most committed to reducing inequality, is Sweden.
The UK is in 17th. place on the index.
The USA stands in 23rd. place
“The wealthiest country in the history of the world” — as Oxfam describes it - has the highest level of inequality “among major industrial countries”
In addition it now has the new, internationally unwelcome doctrine of Trumpism intent on tearing down the US health
law of President Obama.
By contrast, the OECD ( Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ) described first-place Sweden thus :
“Sweden performs very well in many measures of well-being relative to most other countries in the Better Life Index. Sweden ranks above the average in almost all dimensions: environmental quality, civic engagement, education and skills, work-life balance, health status, subjective well-being, jobs and earnings, housing, personal safety, and social connections.”
The value of such an index arises from the destructive failure of austerity with its race to the bottom, insecure work, low pay , longer hours and zero hours.
The imposition of austerity has never been an irreversible law of economics , but a political choice with consequences such as attacks upon the rights of organised labour, severe reductions in public expenditure, and the reversal of the benefits of progressive taxation.
The harsh cuts in social protection and a deregulated labour market has led to insecurity for the many , so much so that both the IMF ( International Monetary Fund) and the OECD declared that :
“rising inequality poses risks to durable economic growth” (IMF)
“compelling evidence proves that addressing high and growing inequality is critical to producing strong sustained growth , and needs to be at the centre of the policy debate” (OECD)
During the General Election campaign Jeremy Corbyn brought Labour back to focussing on its fundamental message of social justice to :
“create a society where people are not held back and create a Britain for the many, not the few.”
He attacked the distribution of wealth in this country as “ grotesque” , adding that :
“Wealth creation is a good thing: we all want greater prosperity. But let us have a serious debate about how wealth is created, and how that wealth should be shared.”
"Guardian" video link
The view from elsewhere in Europe indicates that Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are in the mainstream of left-of-centre politics on the continent :
“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat. His policy-platform places him squarely in the Norwegian Labour Party .
“Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society.”
In support of this view , during the period of this year’s General Election, a letter from a a group of economists and other academics was published in the “Guardian” stating that , in contrast to the Tories’ programme :
“ Labour’s manifesto proposals are much better designed to strengthen and develop the economy and ensure that its benefits are more fairly shared and sustainable, as well as being fiscally responsible and based on sound estimations.
“We point to the proposed increases in investment in the future of the UK and its people, labour market policies geared to decrease inequality and to protect the lower paid and those in insecure work and fair and progressive changes in taxation.”
The strength of the message - for the many, not the few –is that redistributive policies can counter the effects of inequality in many ways , ranging from life expectancy, standards in education, to social mobility, and engagement in civic engagement.
Thus , information from the OECD suggests :
In Sweden, the most-committed country to reducing inequality
In civic engagement .. in a recent General Election in Sweden , the turn out of voters in the top 20% of the population was an estimated 90 per cent; the turn out in the bottom 20% of the population was an estimated 84 per cent.
In the US, over 20 places below Sweden on the same Index of Reducing Inequality.
In civic engagement .. turn out amongst voters of the top 20% of the population is put at 75 per cent ; the turn out in the bottom 20% of the population was an estimated 53 per cent.
As the legendary US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously observed :
“ We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.”