Thursday, 11 April 2013

Is inequality irrelevant for social progress?

So, today saw the "Social Progress Imperative" launched in the triumphal spotlight of the Skoll World Forum.  A grand new multi-country initiative to measure and compare "Social Progress" across countries.  Involving the thought-leadership of Michael Porter, MIT, the cheerleaders of philanthrocapitalism (Matthew Bishop and Michael Green) and impact investing (Alvaro Rodriguez).

The initiative wraps itself in the flag of Joe Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, while defining Social Progress as "the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential."

So far so worthy, right?  What could be wrong with that?

Well, is inequality relevant or irrelevant for social progress?  Is inequality relevant or irrelevant for opportunity, equity and inclusion?

Judging by this new index, inequality is indeed completely irrelevant.  If you don't believe me, go and explore the index here, and look at the component parts.  Drill down even further into the specific sub-components, or even look at the 16 page methodology appendix.  Not a single mention of inequality or gini (try doing a word-search to see for yourself).

But hey internet access and mobile phone subscriptions are there!

At a time when inequality is rising, when intergenerational mobility is declining, when the world is becoming more plutocratic everywhere you look, these folks would have us now believe that social progress should not even look at inequality.

And this paradigm shift is subtly layered in to people's minds through events nominally about fighting poverty (with suitable glamorous celebrities, ecstatic social media, dynastic successions).  And through vehicles which purport to be about progress.

Beware these wolf in sheep's clothing.  When rich people come to save you (with attendant "movements" and sycophantic courtiers and service-industries in tow) be careful - what they leave out tells you more than what they leave in.  The oldest trick in the magician's book is to distract the audience while the rigging happens.

I want to say that its damning that they can try and do this and get away with it.  But whats more damning is that they succeed so often - the dumb sheep of this world (with their electronic anaesthesia) deserve what they get while the wolves feast on them.

Its late, I'm tired and more words fail me.

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