We need to talk about inequality not just Economic growth – Vanguard

Un-inclusive growth, which benefits only a few at the expense of the many, is responsible for a growing number of conflicts and political instability around the world. Donald Trump probably wouldn’t have won the 2016 US election without stoking the xenophobia, status anxiety and resentments of White working-class people following an economic downturn, and decades of feelings of betrayal by an ultra-capitalist economic system which benefits only the top percentile of the economy.

Yet, pundits around the world, while recognising the failures of unregulated capitalism which has virtually destroyed Western society’s cohesiveness, are still pushing the developing world to uncritically embrace an ideology which has already shown its negative consequences. Neo-liberal messianism Foreign media, corporations and so-called development experts have been pushing the same liberal agenda which gave us the disastrous structural adjustment programmes we are yet to recover from.

They call Buhari a statist, interventionist relic, or even a populist because he doesn’t blindly endorse their neo-liberal messianism which prioritises financial interests over the goals of the real economy: employment creation and poverty reduction.

This obsession, for example, with the privatisation of NNPC, which on paper might seem like it makes sense, is in defense of the profiteering of the same unproductive business interests who took over government assets during privatisation in the 90s (allegedly with access to government funds and support) and have been unable to increase Nigerians’ power supply.

Total pledges continuous youth empowerment, community devt Those of us who believe, as I said in my column last week, that a strict, unquestioning adherence to neo-liberalism is at the root of global poverty, are still of the opinion that chasing economic growth alone will not yield results for the majority of Nigeria’s poor or working class people unless we embrace an ideology that puts inclusive growth at the centre of our political targets: chasing Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, alone, obsessively watching GDP growth without first re-writing our economic philosophy will get us nowhere fast.

People who think that investing in poor people doesn’t benefit the economy have basically embraced every tenet of neo-liberalism without stopping to think why it seems, that across the decades, no matter the head of state or the party in power, the overall situation in Nigeria seems to stagnate, getting better on the surface (progress for a small number of people with access to government, or their hangers-on) and slipping back into chaos as soon as any major shock occurs.

Without safety nets for everyday people, including greater insurance for the average Nigerian’s deposits in a reckless system where banks keep giving loans to the same set of predatory individuals whose debts are written off, putting the rest of us at risk, chasing economic growth will not deliver the promised national benefits.

Not only have we embraced the elitist, ultra-liberal assumption that only the top one per cent economic prospects must be protected at the cost of opportunities for everyone else, we believe only they have the capacity to create wealth and jobs and therefore we give them untenable advantages in the form of tax cuts, subsidies and waivers, forgetting that without improving the incomes of working-class families, we cannot build and sustain economic recovery.

Our economy works only for plutocrats, people who have already received so much from the system and given much less back. We will continue to see violence and insecurity across the country if we do not put working class individuals at the centre of our economic policy: trickle-down economics has failed and will continue to fail.

Investing in the same people at the top (through corrupt practices or semi-legal, unethical means) isn’t just untenable, it doesn’t produce lasting results. All over the world, policymakers know the middle class is the engine of any successful economy: yet, Nigeria hopes to grow without rescuing its decimated middle class. The rich getting richer at the expense of the rest of society isn’t just ironically inimical to the very growth we pursue, it is dangerous for our democracy, due to the control over our institutions and politics which money buys.

Globally, we determine how well nations are doing by tracking Gross Domestic Product, GDP, the measure of activity in the formal economy, and thus our measure of growth. Interestingly, the creator of the concept, Simon Kuznets, had reservations about it which he expressed: “The welfare of the nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.

Distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between its costs and return, and between the short and the long run. Goals for ‘more’ growth should specify more growth of what and for what.” The kind of growth Bloomberg and other neo-liberal institutions are calling for isn’t pro-poor growth, it’s a growth that only empowers local and foreign private financial interests, those, for example, who would be interested in buying a dismantled NNPC. Watching Africans relinquish sovereign control of their resources is a capitalists’ dream, and it is essentially separate from producing jobs and wealth for ordinary people.

Modern economies Prioritising growth has cost the world economy a lot in terms of wages: people do more business and that’s wonderful, but why are salaries still falling for those at the bottom? Why do most of humanity have to go through life without access to healthcare? Why is it a crime to demand that government directly invests in those whose combined health and education produces a purchasing power which is the backbone of modern economies?

Rather than simply reviving our economy, we must transform it: state-sponsored economic activity at the top, allowing wealthy businessmen get away with tax fraud, or by granting them monopolies, will never produce enough jobs to impact unemployment. Prioritising private financial interests over the welfare of ordinary people is killing society and re-writing the rules of engagement. How did we get to be such a lawless, predatory country? By enshrining economic growth as the measure of success and refusing to talk about growing inequality.


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