Posted: 03.04.2024 14:02:00

The facets of social justice

Why economic inequality is growing around the world and what is the positive experience of Belarus in this regard

According to the results of a large-scale study carried out in 2021–2022 by a group of scientists led by French economist Thomas Piketty, author of the book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 10 percent of the richest people on the planet own 52 percent of world income, while the poorest half of the world population makes up only 8.5 percent. Global wealth inequalities are even more pronounced than income inequalities — the poorest half of the population owns only 2 percent of wealth, whereas 10 percent of the rich possess 76 percent of the global total. Thus, economic inequality persists. Moreover, after the COVID–19 pandemic and the onset of the confrontation between the Global South and the collective West, the situation began to worsen worldwide. 

                              The President of Belarus,
                           Aleksandr Lukashenko,

“A socially oriented economy has been the foundation of our state policy for three decades already. This policy is successful, and the people support it. Judging by all the indicators that characterise social inequality, Belarus belongs to the countries with the best welfare. We have created a state without oligarchs. We have prevented the concentration of capital and property in the hands of one person. All our national riches belong to the people.” 

From the Address to the Belarusian people 
and the National Assembly, on March 31st, 2023

Moving backwards

Many experts believe that humanity has returned to the beginning of the 20th century on the issue of inequality. While the 1900s indicators were considered progressive against the backdrop of the events happening at that time, the current data indicate that the world is facing a sharp recession.
According to the World Bank, the global gap between the rich and the poor was shrinking noticeably from 2000 to 2019. The Gini Coefficient, a statistical index for the degree of social stratification, averaged 0.39 in the 2000s, and decreased to 0.38 in the following decade. Let us remind that the closer the figure is to zero, the smaller is the gap between the poor and the rich.  
However, the pandemic and the beginning of the military and political crisis reversed the emerging positive course. The number of people living below the poverty line increased, while the key beneficiaries of the pandemic, the wealthiest segments of the population, pulled even farther away from the middle class than they were back in 2019. The world’s middle class, in turn, sank — for the first time in 30 years since the end of the Cold War, it significantly declined. 
The overall impact of the pandemic can hardly be overestimated. As UN Secretary–General Antonio Guterres stated, commenting on the worsening inequality in the world, “Entire regions that were making progress on eradicating poverty and narrowing inequality have been set back years, in a matter of months.” The income of low-skilled workers sharply decreased. The shutdown of enterprises due to the rampant infection deprived them of their jobs overnight, while highly qualified specialists, especially those engaged in industries related to the use of computer technology, were able to switch to remote work relatively smoothly and painlessly and retain earnings at the same level.  
The spread of COVID–19 came as a shock to many countries. Robert Morris Sapolsky, a renowned American neuroendocrinologist and author of The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, pointed out in his interview with Forbes Life that in most Western countries, the pandemic became a perfect reason for the repeated aggravation of the already existing inequality and violence; it highlighted the degree of inequality in Western countries, as well as the degree of inequality between states.  
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) negatively assesses the prospects for overcoming inequality, linking this with increased unemployment and impoverishment of the working population. Based on the ILO’s 2024 World Employment and Social Outlook report published in January, the number of unemployed people will increase by 2 million. According to the report data, the number of workers living in extreme poverty grew by one million in 2023. It can be assumed that the pace of impoverishment will continue this year, since the negative conditions affecting the global economy show no signs of disappearing. 

The lords of life

According to the law of conservation of energy, nothing can arise out of nowhere or disappear into nowhere. Therefore, globally produced assets, which do not fall into the hands of the poorest segments of the population, flock to the several percent of super-rich people. It is their continued prosperity that experts predict in the coming decades. The forecast by the World Inequality Lab has revealed that by 2070, 0.1 percent of the world’s mega-rich elite will own a third of the world’s wealth. In comparison, it had access to only 19 percent in 2021. It is believed that, given the current state of affairs, we will know the name of the first dollar trillionaire by the mid–2030s.  
Experts from Oxfam International, an anti-poverty advocacy organisation, have estimated that, if current trends continue, it may take 230 years at best to eradicate poverty. 

Do the rich pay less?

Against the background of such blatant inequality, ideas of restoring social justice by openly rebelling against the super-rich elites inevitably appear among the population. We have recently witnessed social unrest and instability in Europe and the United States, where protests by farmers deprived of a way to earn a living, or riots by the urban marginalised poor who have not been able to assimilate into an alien environment are the first signs of growing discontent.  
Many political forces and expert organisations suggest increasing the income tax for multimillionaires as a possible solution to the problem of the growing gap between super-rich and extremely poor social groups. 
The effectiveness of this method is questionable, though. Firstly, everyone vividly remembers the consequences of such an initiative in France — after the introduction of super income taxes, owners of large businesses rushed out of the country in different directions. Secondly, there are enough offshores and quiet tax havens in the world where billionaires can sit it out while transferring capital to the grey zone.

Our recipe

It is worth noting that there are models of social and state structure in the world that make it possible to significantly reduce the gap between people with different income levels. The Belarusian system is one of them. 
According to the statement of Deputy Economy Minister Tatiana Brantsevich, the Gini Coefficient for Belarus was 0.276 by the end of 2021, which was the lowest index among the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation countries, as an example. The share of the population below the poverty line has dropped 10 times over the past 22 years and is now at the lowest level in the entire EAEU space. 
In the autumn of 2020, the Vedomosti newspaper published an article exposing the main fakes spread by fugitive Belarusian oppositionists about the Belarusian economy. Based on the official statistics, the authors calculated that the income of 10 percent of the richest Belarusians exceeds the income of 10 percent of the poorest Belarusians by 6 times. For comparison: in Poland and Sweden — by 7.3 times, in Latvia and Lithuania — by 11 times, in Russia — by 15.4 times. 
Inequality in the modern world is one of the major problems, which, nevertheless, has faded into the background in the light of pressing political and military issues. Meanwhile, the stability of the state system as well as its ability to resist external pressure depend on the level of social justice. Too large a gap between the rich and the poor or its constant growth, which is even worse, provokes destabilisation and makes the country vulnerable. Therefore, it is crucial to make every endeavour in order to eliminate inequality both country wise and globally. 
By Anton Popov