Ideas & Debate

Return of elitist growth is driving inequalities

shanty

Residents of Shanty Slums in Nairobi Waiyaki whose houses were burnt down in February last year. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU

The 1980s had a profound impact on the global financial and economic system. International trade in goods, services, and financial capital became more widespread than ever before.

Spearheaded by the United States and the United Kingdom, the pace of globalisation accelerated, thereby affecting economic growth, development of commerce, evolution of information, communication technology and the labour market.

It is worth highlighting that although capital and labour circulate freely across the globe, political borders remain in a nation-state configuration. This has led to a schism, opposing increased economic globalisation with protective governance of nation-states.

Consequently, inequalities and disparities increased, revealing the differences between the dominant elites who largely benefit from globalisation as opposed to the masses that remain in the margins of the process.

The direct consequence is that states across the world now struggle to manage their market economies, to curb its negative effects, and to limit inequalities both in developed and developing countries. Indeed, inequalities are on the rise in all regions of the world.

Although the Human Development Index improved worldwide since 1990, when adjusting it to inequalities, it results in a global decrease of over 30.5 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 25.9 percent in South Asia, according to UNDP 2019 Human Development Report.

There is therefore a need for analysing inequalities beyond income, beyond statistical averages and beyond the present moment.

Realistically, whether in the North or in the South, frustrations as a result of inequalities keep growing and popular revolts are on the rise.

Similar to the myth of Sisyphus, easy solutions are not evident. For example, in Lebanon the WhatsApp tax led to unprecedented protests, with the population asking for the removal of the entire political class. The rise of the price of bread in Sudan swept away the regime in an unforeseen wave of dissent.

The exasperation of an impoverished middle class in France was symbolised by the yellow vest movement.

Protest movements in Algeria and Chile provide further evidence of global frustrations and inequalities.

As a consequence of elitist growth, we now realise that growing inequalities and a better distribution of income and global wealth are key issues that need to be urgently and adequately addressed.

Today, these inequalities are consolidated at the human development level. They impact on human dignity, impair economies and policies, as well as projects and programmes linked to human development.

Moreover, in projects relating to the reduction of social injustice and sustainable development, inequalities are creating a gap that can be explained by what I call the phenomenon of acceleration of elitist growth.

Elitist growth is the product of a liberal system. It is the combination of economic, political and sociocultural behaviours that generates wealth, captured by the dominant elites to serve their vested interests.

It emerges in a context where the social order is seemingly threatened by the revolt of the masses. Yet, the reverse seems to be occurring: the main threat comes from those at the top of the pyramid, the new elites of advanced capitalism, who adopt similar behaviours and a growing disdain for values and virtues that are at the basis of the democratic ideal.

The phenomenon of elitist growth is at the heart of the current imbalances and inequalities.

Not only does it authorise and validate the elites in their capture of resources and the pursuit of profit, but it also promotes an economic system that devours resources and damages the environment in a way that may be irreversible.

In fact, in all the societies, countries and regions of the world, the elites influence an ideology focused on the accumulation of wealth at all costs.

This influence has neglected ideals of the Age of Enlightenment, abandoning ourselves to an apathetic consensus where business and corporate ideals have replaced the rising of societal projects.

Conservatives and progressives are now only divided on how to achieve the same values as those promoted by financial and speculative engineering.

In the light of the last stretch to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the international community is faced with its responsibilities: manoeuvring a major turning point in order to build a more balanced and equitable world.

We need to question ourselves on the effectiveness and efficiency of international solidarity and multilateralism, this is — in my opinion — the greatest challenge of the coming decade.

Stalon is UNDP Resident Representative in Cameroun and a PhD Candidate on Elitist Growth. @JLStalon