Global Social Policy Mechanisms Affecting Inequality

Moral justifications and ideas are not the only concerns of national social policy-makers when addressing inequality. Global context, structures and conditions must also be considered. In this section, I address: (1) global context and structures that matter for inequalities; (2) prescriptions for ‘basic packages’ that should be available to any citizen of the world; and (3) redistribution via development aid.

Global Structures

In an interconnected world, global policies and structures matter for inequality. Historical trajectories (colonialism, for example), global economic structures, trade patterns and so on have an impact on the extent and patterns of global inequalities. The idea of global social policies is, ideally, to influence and shape such global structures in order to cushion the effects of globalization on vulnerable people and to make a more social world. This desire to go beyond analyses and to provide prescriptions for tackling the extent and shape of global inequalities is visible in several accounts. The OECD’s report In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits Us All, for example, discusses the adverse effects on patterns of inequality of the global economic and financial crisis that started in 2007/2008. In the aftermath of economic and financial breakdowns, unemployment has grown, and in many countries austerity policies have dominated political reform agendas. OECD data testify that, as a consequence, inequality has reached historic heights (OECD 2015c). Such a view is shared by Oxfam’s Working for the Few briefing paper (Oxfam 2014b), which argues that not only is extreme economic inequality is a moral problem, it also negatively affects economic growth and poverty reduction. Both the OECD and Oxfam publications conclude that policy packages must address these challenges. For the OECD, that includes women’s participation in economic life, employment promotion, skills and education, and tax-and-transfer systems for efficient redistribution (OECD 2015c). Oxfam emphasizes the importance of democratic participation, universal health care, education and social protection for citizens, living wages (wage floors and workers’ rights), and equal rights and opportunities for women (Oxfam 2014b). The ILO frequently pushes for the involvement of social partners and social dialogue to guide decisions on social policies (see, for example, ILO 2013).

Another perhaps more abstract and regulatory mechanism of redistribution can be seen in attempts to promote global taxation. The OECD is one of the actors involved in improving the national and international tax system. This involvement has included facilitating international exchange on transfer pricing, informational exchange and measures against tax avoidance and evasion (see, for example, OECD 2014). While these are relatively strong initiatives, the energy behind setting up ‘real’ global taxation is much less convincing. For example, there is little progress on financial transaction taxes (see, for example, Oxfam 2014a), the Tobin tax or the air ticket tax, all of which have been considered ways to generate resources that allow for global redistribution and that support development. At the same time, there are important issues around tax havens and tax avoidance by multinational corporations. In the context of global taxes and social justice, Brock (2008: 177) argues that making sure everybody is paying a fair share of taxes on profits, income, wealth and so on will facilitate proper public services in education, infrastructure, health and other areas, even in low-income countries.

Meanwhile, at the more individual level, remittances factor importantly in global redistribution and thus affect inequality. In the context of significant labour migration, the World Bank’s 2015 ‘Global Economic

Prospects’ report shows remittances to be relatively stable and acyclical (see also World Bank 2014, 2015: 176), thus serving the purpose of continuous global (re)distribution even in times of global economic crisis. Interestingly, this redistribution is not happening in just a north-south direction. In fact, the majority of migrants are in countries of the Global South, implying that remittances from one southern country to another are at least as important as those from the Global North to the Global South (IOM 2014).

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