Obviously, this brings cheer to the mega-rich, some of whom have amassed personal wealth in the region of $100 billion. However, here comes the big snag. This enrichment of the few doesn’t necessarily benefit the many. While the richest 1 percent own half of the world’s wealth, the 3.5 billion poorest people possess just 2.7 percent of global wealth. The Panama Papers also revealed that some of the accumulated wealth has been due to the different standards of taxation that the mega-rich are held to compared with the rest of us mere mortals. To a large extent, this explains French President Emmanuel Macron’s warning at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last month, when he said: “Let us not be naive, globalization is going through a major crisis and this challenge needs to be collectively fought by states and civil society in order to find and implement global solutions.”
For too long, development has been seen through the very narrow prism of growth in GDP or booming stock markets, factors that have very limited relevance for, and at times adverse impacts on, the lives of billions of people who struggle daily to access their most basic needs.
One important contribution of the WEF is its highlighting of the need for a paradigm shift in measuring development, through the Inclusive Development Index, so that it also able to reflect the conditions and the benefits for a greater proportion of the world’s population. To a large extent, the IDI follows in the footsteps of the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI), as it argues there is a need for a more “inclusive and sustainable mode of growth and development that promotes high living standards for all.” Hence, besides considering indicators such as GDP and labor productivity, the IDI measures healthy life expectancy, the poverty rate, and the wealth gap between rich and poor through the Gini income and wealth coefficient. Such inclusivity means that inter-generational equity and sustainability are also taken into account as our generation, with its careless approach to the environment and exploitation of resources, has compromised the present lives of the poor and the future of everyone.
The Inclusive Development Index deserves to be championed as a major contribution to improving the quality of life of billions of people who don’t want to merely exist, but long to fulfil their potential and live their lives without depending on others.
Similarly, examining the ratio of dependent people who are of pre-working age or in retirement gives us a better picture of those who are usually left behind in our societies. The figures, as represented in the Inclusive Development Report, highlight the massive gap in performance between advanced and emerging economies in nearly all indicators of equality and sustainability. The report also exposes the enormous disparities in some of these indicators, such as health and income distribution, within some of the most advanced economies. As such, these figures don’t tell us anything that we don’t already know. It is shocking that, despite the availability of this information, it has been largely ignored and there have been no attempts to introduce policies that would ensure fairer and more equitable societies. The contribution made by those who gathered this data, put it in the public domain and, especially, presented it to some of the most powerful WEF participants, at least ensures that those participants won’t be able to deny knowledge of such human disparities.
Urgent and efficient approaches dealing with these issues will not be an act of charity or favor for the less fortunate. Development that is inclusive is simply more just and more sustainable, and hence contributes to political and social stability. The “spirit of Davos” encourages global cooperation and interaction in the search for global solutions, but these must be solutions that, above all, respect human dignity. Improving, year on year, on the indicators of the IDI can serve as a major contribution to improving the quality of life of billions of people around the world who don’t just want to merely exist, but long to fulfil their potential and live lives without depending on others. These should be lives in which they are not subjected to the will and whim of great economic and political powers, but in which they are empowered to be men and women in charge of their own destinies.
• Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.