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ECLAC Reaffirms Equality as the Fundamental Value for Driving Sustainable Development

The organization’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, presented the document “The Inefficiency of Inequality” during a keynote speech made at UNAM, in Mexico City.

29 August 2018|Press Release

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ECLAC's Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena (far right) during her keynote presentation held at UNAM, in Mexico City
ECLAC's Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena (far right) during her keynote presentation held at UNAM, in Mexico City.
Photo: courtesy UNAM

Equality is the basis of development and plays an instrumental role as the driver of sustainable development, contributing to innovation, increased productivity and environmental sustainability, according to Alicia Bárcena, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), who spoke today at a conference held in Mexico.

Bárcena offered a keynote presentation in Mexico City, at the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), to share the main conclusions of ECLAC’s institutional document entitled The Inefficiency of Inequality, which was first released during the Commission’s thirty-seventh session, held last May in Havana, Cuba.

“For more than a decade, ECLAC has positioned equality at the center of development as an unwavering ethical principle, centered in a rights-based approach. This is also a necessary condition for moving toward a development model oriented toward closing structural gaps and focused on technological convergence, which will allow for achieving greater levels of productivity with economic and environmental sustainability, for future generations. This is about growing to equalize, and equalizing to grow,” the senior United Nations official indicated.

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary was welcomed by the Rector of UNAM, Enrique L. Graue; the Director of the University’s Faculty of Economics, Eduardo Vega López; the Professor from the same faculty and future Undersecretary of Expenditures at the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP) in the government of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Gerardo Esquivel; and the Secretary-General of UNAM, Leonardo Lomelí Vanegas.

The rector, Graue, stressed the importance of ECLAC’s document “since it helps us reflect on this brutal and lacerating Latin American reality of inequality, which is a monster that feeds itself and tends to perpetuate itself.” He added that “ultimately, if we do not fight it, inequality will destroy us, because of its own inefficiency. It is not possible to continue in this way with this inequality, which harms our future so.”

Meanwhile, Gerardo Esquivel indicated that this document by ECLAC is very relevant since it talks about the costs of inequality, “an issue that was minimized for a long time” and that “has returned to the discussion table in Mexico and in Latin America” thanks to ECLAC’s studies. He said now that we are at the gates of a new administration, books like these are very important because they help establish guides and patterns on economic policy. “In fact, the budget that is being prepared for 2019 contemplates a number of very significant resources to support the fight against inequality,” he said.

In her presentation, Alicia Bárcena highlighted that inequality is not only unjust, it is also inefficient and unsustainable, because it produces and sustains institutions that do not promote productivity or innovation by rewarding or punishing people on the basis of class, ethnicity or gender, and because it creates a culture of privilege that reinforces these inequalities, incorporating them into social relations as something acceptable and natural, and reproducing them over time.

“Equality is not just an outcome of the economic system, but also a variable explaining its efficiency in the long run. Equality, productivity and democracy are complementary strategic goods, not substitutes for one another, even more so in a world with sharp economic, political and environmental tensions such as ours today,” she said.

Bárcena explained that inequality is inefficient because it creates barriers to education that are transmitted across generations and to access to healthcare, which reduce productivity and life expectancy. It also fosters discrimination based on ethnicity, race, gender or class, and promotes tax evasion and avoidance.

“For that reason, we propose a new generation of fiscal policies with renewed institutions that create space for taking action in the social arena and ensuring that no one is left behind, precisely as indicated by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” approved by the United Nations in 2015, she stated.

With regard to the 2030 Agenda, Alicia Bárcena emphasized that it is about a civilizing agenda, a global response to confront the attacks on multilateralism today, especially in the trade arena, in the increase in conflicts, violence and threats to peace. “The 2030 Agenda is a centerpiece of international politics, it gives us guidelines. It provides governance for creating global public goods based on multilateral cooperation, which is necessary for correcting asymmetries and imposing fewer restrictions on national decisions. It also requires a new equation between the State, the market and the society,” she said.

According to ECLAC’s document, although Latin America and the Caribbean is not the poorest region of the world, it continues to be the most unequal. More than 187 million people continued living in poverty and 62 million in extreme poverty in 2017. In addition, there is a lack of access to quality education, with a very significant proportion of the population over age 18 that still has not achieved an educational level equivalent to completing the first cycle of secondary school; a high rate of adolescent pregnancy, which affects as much as 20% of women in indigenous groups; important economic costs in various countries related to the double burden of malnutrition; strong ethno-racial discrimination, especially against Afro-descendant and indigenous women; and tax evasion amounting to 6.7% of GDP in 2015.

There are also territorial and environmental inequalities, among them the heavy dependence on exports of natural resources (especially in South America), lags in infrastructure investment, gaps in access to sanitation and electricity, health costs due to environmental pollution, spatial segregation that is manifested, for example, in long travel times in Latin American cities, increases in economic costs due to climate change and extreme meteorological events, and gaps in infrastructure for the technological revolution (access to Internet).

“For all these reasons, we must orient investment, industrial and technological policy, toward structural change and an environmental big push that enables greater productive specialization; the building of endogenous capacities, absorbing innovation and creating technologies; and quality employment and local capacities that incorporate the technological revolution and ecological know-how,” Alicia Bárcena stressed.

“The sum of national actions is not enough to achieve the provision of global public goods. Governance, integration and collective action are needed,” she concluded.