The North Atlantic financial crisis and the severe economic slowdown which is afflicting several parts of the world has reignited the debate on the negative consequences of rising inequalities of income and wealth. Several well-renowned economists such as Thomas Piketty have well documented how the growth in income and wealth inequality has risen quite sharply during the period of global economic integration initiative in the early 1960s.
The neoliberal economic paradigm has led to a gradual shift of political power in favour of capital – and against labour – and has generated an unsustainable growth model based on wage repression and divergence amongst countries. This approach has contributed to the expansion of inequality within and between countries and, fi nally, inequality has also become an obstacle to the economic recovery we have been expecting for too many years now, because impoverishment causes the fall of consumption and domestic markets, which is the real problem of the EU.
As highlighted in this edition of Queries, it is therefore important to put forward a set of alternative economic policies, which would bring Europe towards a new developmental trajectory, with equity and sustainability at its core. Further, any progressive economic policy should also be evaluated on the basis of its contribution to equality.
Additionally, in this issue of Queries, we want to emphasise that the discussion on inequality should not be confined to income and welfare. Inequality touches upon different spheres. For instance, inequality must be seen as an obstacle to health and happiness, as reminds social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson.
Inequality is multidimensional and, as highlighted by Professor Frances Stewart, goes well beyond economic inequality. Indeed, income is only a mean to an end, and ‘the end’ is the ability of people to live well, perform and achieve certain actions. Age, gender, ethnicity, race, and religion are all important dimensions of a human being, and anything that impairs the capabilities of an individual because he or she belongs to a certain group of society should be combated.