Last November the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) submitted its report Perspectives on Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World.
In the event of release, the report was presented by the Organization as follows[i]:
In 2011, the world was witness to mass citizen mobilisation. From Tahrir square to the Puerta del Sol, from the streets of Tunis to the avenues of New Delhi, calls for more social and economic justice, political participation and openness have resounded. These aspirations for greater social cohesion, with fair chances for everybody in society, are rooted in profound global economic transformations that have taken place over the last two decades. The new geography of growth brings new financial resources to fast growing countries while at the same time uncovering new challenges which require action and long-term commitment from governments, underlining an opportunity that is too good to be missed.
The website Perspectives 2012[ii], refers to the events that started in the Arab world:
Recent events in well performing countries in the Arab world but also beyond such as in Thailand, China and India seem to suggest that economic growth, rising fiscal resources and improvements in education are not sufficient to create cohesion; governments need to address social deficits and actively promote social cohesion if long-term development is to be sustainable.
The report[iii] reviews the opportunities and challenges posed by the “moving of wealth” in the social cohesion field, the importance of the respective public policies and the possible design of such policies to address these new challenges and seize the emerging opportunities.
The document describes the concept “Shifting Wealth” as follows:
The world has changed markedly since the beginning of the new millennium. “Shifting Wealth” describes a phenomenon in which the centre of economic gravity of the world has progressively shifted from West to East and from North to South, resulting in a new geography of growth. The new scenario presents some major opportunities and challenges for the creation of socially cohesive societies.
And regarding the new challenges specifically mentions:
Economic and social transformations during a period of fast growth bring new stresses and strains with which governments have to cope. The challenges include rising income inequalities, structural transformation, and the need to meet citizens’ rising expectations of standards of living and access to opportunity.
Citizens living in a fast-growing economy have rising expectations of their current and future standards of living as they seek to share in the benefits of growth. As an emerging middle class increasingly compares itself with peers in advanced economies, its patterns of consumption and demands for quality services can be expected to change. Higher incomes, better health and improved education do not automatically translate into higher life satisfaction as the decline of life satisfaction in fast growing countries such as Thailand and Tunisia reveals. Governments should not ignore the toils of these emerging middle classes nor underestimate their capacity to mobilise people and exert pressure for more open and transparent governments or for an increase in standards of service provision.
In this context, strengthening social cohesion becomes a critical policy objective Governments which ignore questions of social cohesion risk having to face social instability and undertake ineffective policy interventions. Recent events – ranging from pro-democracy unrest in Thailand in 2010 to the Arab Spring revolutions – lend support to the thesis that it is clearly not sufficient to apply technocratically good policy frameworks while disregarding people’s desire for inclusive political processes.
Social and political claims of the Egyptian spring are in the heart of the analysis: shifting wealth can bring many benefits, but also rising inequalities, and the latter fueled the events of Tahrir Square.
The emerging and developing countries may become increasingly rich and developed countries may be less, the point is, however, if their societies becoming wealthier and their resources are distributed equitably.
Whatever the center of the global economy, and whatever the old or new scales of selected economies, if they do not cover the “social deficit”, no matter where the wealth moves.
[iii] OECD Development Centre, Perspectives on Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World – ISBN 978-92-64-113145 © OECD 2011.