Democratic equality, economic inequality and the Earth Charter

By Professor Rockefeller.

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We are pleased to announce the launch of a new publication entitled “Democratic Equality, Economic Inequality, and the Earth Charter” written by Steven C. Rockefeller, and published by Earth Charter International and Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development at UPEACE under the UNESCO Chair on Education for Sustainable Development and the Earth Charter. The publication was launched on 29 June on the occasion of the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the launch of the Earth Charter.  Pr Rockefeller chaired the Earth Charter international drafting committee from 1997 to 2000. Since the launch of the Earth Charter, he has played a leading role in efforts to promote the Charter’s ethical vision for a just, sustainable, and peaceful world. His guidance, expertise, and passion for ethics and sustainable development were indispensable forces in moving the Earth Charter drafting and consultative process though its various stages to completion.

The essay explores the origin and meaning of the principle of equality, considers the economic implications of the ideal, and provides a brief historical overview of liberal democracy and economic inequality since the American and French revolutions. The essay then highlights the principles in the Earth Charter that have been designed to frame the intensifying debate on these critical issues and guide change. It concludes with reflections on equality and sustainability as two transformative ideals that have become interrelated and are the principal keys to a promising future. It is organized around the following themes: The Modern Democratic Concept of Equality; Economic Inequality; The Earth Charter and the Principle of Equality; The Earth Charter and Economic Inequality; A World Founded on Visions of Equality and Sustainability.

Please read a piece of the book :

DEMOCRATIC EQUALITY, ECONOMIC INEQUALITY, AND THE EARTH CHARTER  

INTRODUCTION

‘In the process of building and sustaining a democratic society, the ideal of equality and the closely related ideal of liberty are the fundamental guiding principles. An economic environment supportive of free enterprise and innovation is vitally important, but in the final analysis a democratic nation’s economic system is to be judged by its success in providing equality of opportunity and a decent standard of living for all citizens. However, as the world approaches the third decade of the 21st century, many developed and developing nations are failing to meet these criteria for a fair and just economic order. What was stated in the Earth Charter Preamble in 2000 remains an accurate description of a major challenge facing individual nations and the international community: “The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening.” Rising economic inequality is once again becoming an acute social, economic, and political problem, undermining confidence in democratic governments and capitalism.

In an effort to clarify the ideas, values and challenges under consideration, this essay explores the origin and meaning of the principle of equality, considers the economic implications of the ideal, and provides a brief historical overview of liberal democracy and economic inequality since the American and French revolutions. The essay then highlights the principles in the Earth Charter that have been designed to frame the intensifying debate on these critical issues and guide change. The Earth Charter, however, views the issue of economic inequality in the context of the emergence of a planetary civilization and in relation to an even more fundamental problem facing governments and market economies—the widespread, accelerating degradation of the planet’s life support systems.

The Earth Charter recognizes that the planet Earth is part of an evolving universe, that Earth’s biosphere is one interconnected ecological system of which people are a part, and that under the impact of modern technology and economic globalization all peoples are living in an increasingly interdependent world. The challenges facing humanity, therefore, require a new global consciousness and spirit of worldwide cooperation as well as transformative local action. The Earth Charter both promotes respect for cultural diversity and calls for universal ethical values that support creation of a just, ecologically sustainable, and peaceful global community. The Earth Charter’s broad vision will lead the essay to explore the interconnections between long-term solutions to economic inequality and the urgent need for a worldwide transition to sustainable development. The essay concludes with reflections on equality and sustainability as two transformative ideals that have become interrelated and are the principal keys to a promising future.

Since the Earth Charter was launched, dramatic progress has been made in reducing mass poverty. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in China, India, and other developing nations. The first United Nations Millennium Development Goal, which involves halving the percentage of the world’s people living in 1990 on $1.25 a day, has been exceeded. However, in recent decades, a new trend has emerged within many countries in both the North and South involving an increasing concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent and top 10 percent together with growing income inequality. This problem is especially acute in the wealthiest countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, but it is also a growing problem in emerging nations such as Brazil, China, and Indonesia. An unchecked rise in economic inequality undermines the bonds of trust that hold societies together and is a source of social unrest. There is also mounting evidence that high levels of inequality have a harmful impact on an economy, reducing consumer demand, slowing progress in education, and generally creating instability.

The economic situation worsened with the global financial crisis that struck in 2008, ravaging economies and throwing millions of people out of work. In Europe and North America the impact has been particularly severe and many families are experiencing declining standards of living. There is today a global unemployment crisis, especially among youth. Gender inequality continues to be a major source of income inequality. Economic inequality within nations and the substantial gulf between the wealthiest countries and the poorest are fundamental problems that the international community must confront, if there is to be any hope of building a global social and economic order in the 21st century that is just, inclusive, and sustainable.

As long as there is opportunity for all and upward mobility in a democratic society, most citizens will find no reason to object if through innovative leadership and hard work someone achieves exceptional financial success, especially when many others share in this success and the enterprise contributes to the well-being of society. However, when wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of an elite and opportunity and mobility are denied the larger population, reasonable people can only conclude that the policies and regulations governing the system are unfair. Under such circumstances distrust and protest spread, leading to calls for reform of both the political and economic system and for a redistribution of wealth. It is issues and concerns of this nature as well as the persistence of mass poverty in parts of the world, especially in regions being impacted by climate change, that animate the contemporary debate regarding economic inequality.

With regard to the story of the distribution of wealth and economic inequality since the American and French revolutions, two recent studies are particularly illuminating: Pierre Rosanvallon’s The Society of Equals (2013) and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014). The two authors agree in general on the major elements of the story, which this essay will try to outline. Piketty’s book has attracted wide attention because it sets forth the path breaking research that he and his colleagues, including Anthony Atkinson and Emmanuel Saez, have done in assembling a vast amount of new statistical information on economic inequality since the 18th century with a primary focus on Europe and North America. Piketty acknowledges that “Social scientific research is and always will be tentative and imperfect,” and he cautions that his findings should be taken as approximations that describe the general nature of situations and trends.

Toward the end of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Piketty acknowledges that the deterioration of humanity’s natural capital in the century ahead…is clearly the world’s principal long-term worry. However, neither Piketty nor Rosanvallon explore the interrelation between long- term solutions to economic inequality and the need for a transition to sustainability. For that the essay turns to the Earth Charter and many other sources’.

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Rockefeller and book

Read the book DEMOCRATIC EQUALITY, ECONOMIC INEQUALITY, AND THE EARTH CHARTER

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