Where should pressure on policy-makers be coming from, in order to address inequality?

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12 June 2017

Salvatore Babones

Well ... everywhere.  But it won't come from everywhere.  Pressure for good policy should come from experts -- academics, but also unions, NGOs, and all the other people who are active in organized civil society.  Few academics actively promote good public policy.  I wish many more would.  In democratic societies, ordinary voters who are not experts need to have the evidence placed before them.  When academic experts don't do this, they cede the field to the paid mouthpieces of industry and the wealthy.  I really wish that more academic experts would write for popular audiences.  We often blame universities for discouraging academics from popular publishing, but that is a poor excuse. 

In my experience, most academics -- even most academics doing policy-relevant research -- simply don't want to talk to the public.  That's a sad reality, very sad.  We academics hold a public trust, most of us supported at public expense.  We have a responsibility to educate the public, even if that means a little extra work now and then.  We have a responsibility to positively work to educate the public, not simply place our academic research in the public domain with an invitation for the public to "come and get it." 

Catherine Boone

With respect to the international financial institutions, and those based in the United States, there have been civil society actors that have raised voices for more pro-development, macro-economic and social policies for many years that have not been very strong voices. They have played a role over time but it took them many decades to have an impact, and when they were heard it was because partially because the powerful actors realised that their radical and harmful programmes had failed.

I also think that on some level one thing that could be interesting to note here is that citizens need to have a more global conscience, because what governments do in their names affect our world as a whole as we know. Climate change, for example, is where global commentary on the direct and dramatic effect a country’s policies have on another country’s people – the global consciousness that is now around through various forms of media – this is a very good place to start.


Melani Cammett

I would love to see pressure on policy makers coming from everywhere, but in reality, politics gets in the way. A good example is tax policy, which is very political. Most people don’t want to advocate higher taxes on themselves, especially the wealthy! So I think pressure is more likely to come from social mobilisation from below, and that’s what we’re seeing.

There will always come a point when it’s very hard for even authoritarian rulers to ignore social mobilisation. They don’t entirely rule in a vacuum, they cannot rule purely through coercion, so they are responsive to popular pressures. Interestingly, the Chinese government is particularly responsive to popular pressure and implements a lot of policies to expand social benefits – even in areas where it sees potential for unrest, like Xinjiang. But with similar models in the Middle East, aside from being normatively bad, we’ve seen social benefits decline for decades. So it’s not necessarily sustainable.

And in democracies, electoral accountability push politicians towards a more responsive course. But obviously, there are also a lot of interest groups who have an impact on policy, and it doesn’t always work as perfectly as the pluralistic view of democratic politics would have us think.

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