A Voice at the United Nations the World Needs to Hear

We have seen, Guterres would go on to explain, “an unprecedented shift in the distribution of income,” with 27 percent of global income growth over the past four decades going to the world’s richest 1 percent.

“Tax breaks, tax avoidance and tax evasion remain widespread,” he noted. “Corporate tax rates have fallen. This has reduced resources to invest in the very services that can reduce inequality: social protection, education, healthcare.”

“We are sometimes told that a rising tide of economic growth lifts all boats,” Guterres then added. “But in reality, increasing inequality is sinking all boats.”

High inequality, he said, brings “economic instability, corruption, financial crises, increased crime, and poor physical and mental health.”

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Meanwhile, in the wake of inequality, more and more people feel excluded, and the excluded will always be “vulnerable to arguments that blame their unhappiness on others, especially those who look or behave differently”. The resulting extremism, racism and scapegoating create “new inequalities and divisions within and between communities, between countries, between ethnic groups, between religions”.

And where does the United Nations fit in all of this? According to Guterres, the UN’s original “vision and promise” states that “food, health care, water and sanitation, education, decent work and social security are not commodities to be sold to those who can afford them, but basic human rights to which we refer are all entitled.”

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Realizing that vision and promise, he explained, will require “a Global New Deal: a redistribution of power, wealth and opportunity.” And this redistribution has become more important than ever here in the 21st century – since the “two seismic shifts” shaping our century, the climate crisis and the digital transformation, “could exacerbate inequalities even further”.

A meaningful Global New Deal, Guterres made clear, would require “a new generation of social protection policies with new safety nets, including universal health coverage and the possibility of a universal basic income.” Also required: a new tax approach that understands that “everyone – individuals and corporations – must pay their fair share” and recognizes “that the rich and well-connected have benefited enormously from government and from their fellow citizens”.

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Global leaders must decide, Guterres concluded, whether we continue on our current course and “succumb to chaos, division and inequality” or “right the wrongs of the past and move forward together, for the good of all.”

Guterres put these questions to world leaders two years ago. He and we are still waiting for an answer.

Sam Pizzigati is Associate Editor of Inequality.org. His latest books include The case for a maximum wage and The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy That Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Twitter: @Too_Much_Online.

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