The final problem I want to talk about in relation to campaigning on inequality is the lack of a clear alternative vision. We’re against inequality. But what are we for? What is the vision we want, and what narratives can we use to inspire people it is possible?
Oxfam’s analysis is that both the primacy of economics in policymaking and the inadequacy of that orthodox neoliberal economics are major problems. Just as history belongs to the victors, so economics tends to belong to the winners.
We need to overcome the way the economy is discussed in public policy and media. Think about how the economy is discussed in popular discourse as an independent entity: the economy is healthy or unhealthy, strong or weak. This suggests it needs care over and above the people for whom it should be working.
Where we do ask what the economy is for, the answers seems to be to deliver GDP growth, now and forever — no matter who captures all the growth. The upshot of this being that getting an economy that actually works for most people is seen as a “nice to have,” whilst keeping the overall economy healthy and growing is somehow the main prize. This is all very convenient for those at the top.
So Oxfam is working alongside many others on a similar mission, with community groups around the world to recast some of the popular ways we think and talk about economics.
We refer to the need for a more “human economy,” an economy that explicitly sets out to deliver socially just outcomes for everyone and protects the planet, rather than simply assuming these things will be the outcome of market-based activity.
Essentially, it’s about putting the needs of humanity, and the planet on which we fundamentally rely, first. The role of economics is to serve their needs — not the other way around. It is human outcomes that are fundamentally more important.
We’re at the start of a long journey, with more questions than answers. There is an urgent need to talk about inequality and what to do about it. People from all sides of politics see this — Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. There is a big interest in getting it right, because arguably those who do will define the next decades.