Adalgiso Amendola is an economist, a veritable expert who teaches at Salerno University and looks at things with the watchful detachment of science. On July 17, he will be at the Bell to discuss Goal 8 of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, that which pursues "lasting, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all".

A noble intent, but is it realistic?

To understand the nature of this goal we need to start from the prologue which states that the real challenge for humanity in the near future is to defeat poverty.

And can it be done?

Partially. The main difficulty lies in the fact that the prevailing economic model, born of the deregulation policy of the 1980s, is centered on financial capital. Objective 8, on the other hand, focuses on work. With regard to economic growth and employment from 2015 to today, with the obvious exception of 2020 plagued by the pandemic, some results have been achieved, albeit with numerous differences from country to country. The balance may be considered moderately positive. But if the ambition is to truly build a more equitable world in which there is indeed decent work for all, it is legitimate to express some doubts regarding its actual feasibility. The 2030 Agenda specifically identifies a series of policies that would be useful to implement, but there is no systemic assessment of the radical changes that should be made to the market economy model of our times: the so-called financial globalization.

What might realistically be improved in this situation?

The measure of achievement of the 17 Objectives, in turn divided into specific targets, may be calculated on the basis of indicators developed by the UN Headquarters or by national and supranational entities. The European Union, for example, through Eurostat, draws up an annual report on this subject, which, in the case of Objective 8, measures economic growth using the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, i.e. evaluating how much material wealth produced annually in a country affects every citizen on average. If on the one hand this reduces the obsession with the GDP growth rate, on which the assessments of economic trends are generally based, in contrast it does not faithfully reflect the idea of sustainable development to which the Agenda aspires. It would have been better to refer to the Human Development Index, an indicator proposed by the UN that brings together not only material wealth (the GDP, in fact) but also the possibility of access to education and health care, life expectancy and the degree of income distribution among individuals. However, it must be taken into account that each indicator in itself is necessary, but not sufficient. They need to be evaluated as a whole.

Let's take a concrete example.

The targets to be achieved are defined by taking the development of each country into account. It would be unrealistic to use the same criteria for all. In many areas of the planet, especially those which are less developed, even in the presence of some significant improvement, per capita GDP, employment and the quality of work are still very far from a minimum threshold that could be considered adequate in industrialized countries. Of course, if we start from extremely difficult economic and social conditions, even a small step forward leads to an improvement, which however cannot be considered sufficient. Some might observe that the exploited workers in some African countries are a little less exploited than before, but nevertheless remain very far from having a decent job and full recognition of their rights.

Are economic differences around the world widening?

The risk is there. Obviously this does not depend on the failure of the 2030 Agenda, which is in any case yielding results, if only in terms of greater attention to the need to correct the many imbalances present in today's world. It is the very functioning of the system of financial globalization that creates the economic and social conditions that contribute to increasing inequalities between nations, geographical areas, social groups, and in recent decades, for the first time in more modern history, even within industrialized countries.

A structural problem?

Somehow yes. The basic idea on which the system is based is that an increase in inequality in the early stages of development favors growth. In the long run, in fact, spillover and overflow effects should be generated: the wealth accumulated by the major players in the economy would end up "dripping" on the less well-off classes, improving the overall level of living conditions and reducing inequalities.

The pool is for a few and the splashes that come after each dive are for many. But does it work?

This view of things, also based on statistical evidence from the 1960s and 1970s, is not confirmed today, especially in developing countries. However, the idea that inequality should be accepted as a side effect of growth still remains widespread and is at the origin of the belief that a model focused on competition and financial capital can favor the increase in overall wealth and, consequently, the well-being of all.

However, it seems that this "transitional effect" is proving to be permanent.

Over the course of the twentieth century, we felt that we were moving towards a more equal world. And this, especially in the golden years of the second post-war period, took place in most industrialized countries, for example with the improvement of the living conditions of what was once called the working class. But this trend proved to be only temporary, because since the end of the 20th century and especially in the last twenty years, the globalization of the economy and the increase in the return on capital have considerably increased the gaps between rich and poor, eroding the role and the economic conditions of the middle-class.

Does money make more money than work does?

The concentration of income in very small portions of the population has increased. Today a manager may earn up to 100 times more than an employee of the same company, which was not the case in the past. The difficulty of intervening in these imbalances also depends on the fact that, as the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz explained, this type of gap, for example in wages, reflects mechanisms that are in essence efficient from the point of view of individual companies. Managers, for example, receive part of their earnings based on the share performance of the company they manage. Their commitment will therefore be aimed at increasing the value of the shares, even at the cost of undertaking high-risk development policies, which could generate contagious instability. In particular, when the financial system collapses somewhere in the world, crises of a global nature may be triggered, such as that from 2008-2010, which started in the subprime mortgage sector in the US and ended up with the banking system and then the real sector crashing in all industrialized countries.

Adalgiso Amendola

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