Platform for the Welfare Conference 2012

Redistribution of wealth – a question of social power: All over the world people are struggling on how resources and wealth should be distributed in society. People are seeking security and safety for themselves and their loved ones – in a struggle against strong economic and political interests. The distribution of wealth is closely related to democracy, taxation and the existence of universal public services accessible to everybody. Fundamentally, it is a question of distribution of economic and political power.

At the Welfare Conference 2012 we will focus on the distribution of wealth at many levels; Distribution of wealth between inhabitants and groups of inhabitants in countries, distribution between private and public expenditure and wealth – but also between poor and rich countries. Furthermore, we will look at what should be done in order to fight poverty and increased inequality – and promote redistribution and increased democracy.

Redistribution of wealth

Based on more than one hundred research reports it has now been proved that increased equality benefits everybody in society. In the book “The Spirit Level” the professors Wilkinson and Pickett gathered documentation and put it in a social and health related context. The more equally wealth is distributed in society, the more we get of what a society yearn for, like social security, good health, mutual trust and the possibility to develop ones capacities independent of social background. At the same time it leads to less violence and crime, drug abuse and suicide.

More equal distribution of wealth does not, however, come by itself. It is an effect of a social struggle. In Norway, as in many other countries, this struggle led to the development of a comprehensive public sector, a taxation system which redistributes wealth and a central wage negotiation system which have contributed to more equality. The development of universal services gave equal rights to education, health services and social benefits for all, as well as equal access to basic infrastructure in society.

This is how our welfare state was developed – including social and democratic structures which created a more including society, where more people could take part in building a society and lead more dignified lives. From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs, was a central goal. Increased market power and a more demanding and partly brutalised working life prevent many people from taking part in this community – at the same time as many people are met with repressive workfare policies rather than solidarity.

Distribution between private and public consumption

If public services are to fill their tasks and meet the needs of the inhabitants, it is important that they are developed at the same pace as prosperity in society in general. The growth of public consumption must in other words keep pace with the growth of private consumption. Over the last ten years, however, the growth of private consumption has been considerably higher than the growth of public consumption. Thus, the quality of the public services is increasingly lagging behind what people are used to in their private life. The problem is then that well-off people lose confidence in public services and start to look for better alternatives in the market place. The result can be a two-tier welfare system – with increasing inequality at the same time as the willingness to contribute through taxes is further weakened.

Welfare services are mainly financed through a comprehensive and redistributive taxation system. Right wing politicians and corporate interests are fighting hard to reduce taxes and weaken their redistributive elements. This will undermine common, universal welfare services, and thus also a more equal society. At the same time strong corporate interests are fighting to get straws into the public purse through privatisation, competitive tendering, public-private partnership and other arrangements in which private interests are running businesses at the cost of the public. In this way great parts of our collective public income are channelled to private profit, rather than contributing to improving the public services.

Global crisis and growing inequality

Through market deregulation, free hands to banks and financial institutions, as well as regional and global trade agreements, financial capital and big multinational companies have achieved ever more freedom over the last 30 years, while democracy has been weakened. One of the results was the extensive financial crisis in 2008-9. Many governments raised enormous loans to save the financial institutions from their self-inflicted crisis. The necessary regulation of the financial markets, however, has not materialised, and thus financial institutions have continued to speculate.

Ordinary people have to foot the bill, as can be seen in Europe today. Deeply indebted governments are forced by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement massive austerity policies, to de-democratise their societies and to introduce more authoritarian government. Public property is extensively being privatised, wages and pensions are being cut dramatically and social rights are being undermined. Those are the same developments as many developing countries went through in the period of 1970-90.

Collapse in the global trade negotiations is a signal that ever more poor countries oppose the current free trade ideology. They refuse privatisation and the undermining of the commons and demand room for manoeuvre to develop their own economy. Control of and long-term management and manufacturing of own natural resources, as well as the development of their infrastructure, are fundamental to develop strong societies with the ability to equally distribute the wealth which is created.  

At the Welfare Conference 2012 we will look closer at these developments – describe them, analyse them and discuss strategies to strengthen democracy, redistribute wealth and see to that our public sector keep pace with increasing prosperity in society at large.

Welcome to the Welfare Conference 2012!

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