Category: Research (page 1 of 4)

Global Inequality: Don’t Look Up!

Today, inequality is high on the international agenda. After the hype on poverty – Millennium Development Goals -, U.N. organisations and the Bretton Woods institutions play a major role in producing and distributing knowledge on the different dimensions of inequality and on how it is shaping today’s world and its perspectives on development.

In this contribution, I want to examine what knowledge these institutions create and disseminate about ‘inequality’ and how this knowledge has evolved since their inception – the end of the Second World War and the start of a decolonisation process with an associated development project.

The methodology used for this research is based on Michel Foucault’s concept of discourse (Foucault, 1972) and starts from the statements in major documents on inequality from 2000 to 2020, the way they can be understood and how they can be explained.

This involves deconstructing and reconstructing various documents, bringing out the intertextuality, exposing the continuities and discontinuities between them and looking for the ‘order of discourse’ – that is, the definition of a field of knowledge -, and for a ‘dispositif’ of knowledge and power.

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The World Bank and Social Protection

Created: 07 December 2012

The World Bank plays a major role in the global spreading of new ideas and discourses. While many people might think the UN, UNDP or the ILO have more interesting things to say on development, more often than not, it is the World Bank which succeeds in promoting a new ‘order of discourse’.

In 1990, it was the World Bank which put poverty on the international agenda. While the ‘human development’ concept of UNDP was launched in that same year, five years later UNDP also adopted the priority of reducing extreme poverty.

In 2000, the World Bank proposed a strategic framework for social protection, and while this ‘risk management’ strategy did not have immediate success, it now has been re-launched and probably will influence the new way of thinking on social protection.

The reasons for this success are quite simple. The World Bank has willing media for its economic (neoliberal) messages, and it has huge resources to implement its ideas in countries all over the world.

In June, the ILO adopted a Resolution on a Social Protection Floor, which it is now trying to implement. The European Commission published in 2011 its Development Report on Social Protection, and in 2012 a Communication for a social protection strategy in its development cooperation policies[1].

What exactly does the World Bank propose?[2]

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On the social dimension of the climate justice

Details Created: 02 June 2012

‘Sustainable development’ remains a controversial concept, though it is still part of the dominant discourse on ecology and climate change. Activists have pointed to the impossibility and undesirability of ‘development’ – a western concept intrinsically linked to economic growth and to a reprehensible modernity, so they say – and the equally unacceptable and undesirable ‘sustainability’ which, according to them, perpetuates an unjust world order.

Words have their importance. As it is clear that the famous Brundtland report1 of 1987 and the World Development Reports of 1992 and 20032 of the World Bank do indeed link ‘sustainability’ to the possibility of ‘sustained’ growth, and since it is also clear that ‘development’ has been abandoned to the market and been replaced by ‘poverty reduction’, ‘sustainable development’ largely lost its meaning as bearer of fundamental change. The activist ‘climate justice’ concept may usefully replace it3. It makes clear that we are talking about justice and consequently about ethics as well as about the rights of current and future generations. It also facilitates the link which has to be made with social justice. These two agendas, it has to be stressed, are interdependent and one can never be complete without the other. This vision fits in with the definition of ‘environmental justice’ decided in 1991 : a rejection of all forms of injustice that takes away the dignity of some social groups and that hurt the integrity of nature. It has to be seen against the background of the reciprocity of all human beings, non human entities and supports of life4.

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Social Protection Floor: beyond poverty reduction?

Details Created: 15 July 2012

Francine Mestrum, PhD

In this article I want to analyze different proposals for a ‘social protection floor’. What exactly do they mean? Do they go beyond poverty reduction? Is it a step towards a universal social protection system? The ILO recommendation will be compared to the report written by the Advisory Group chaired by Michelle Bachelet, the European Development Report 2011 on social protection, and the Latin American ECLAC (UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean)proposal for an Inclusive Social Protection.

Since 2000 two parallel global strategies for poverty reduction are being followed. On the one hand, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) changed in 1999 its ‘Enhanced Facility for Structural Adjustment’ into a ‘Facility for Growth and Poverty Reduction’ (FGPR) and asks poor countries to introduce a ‘PRSP’ (Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper) in order to receive concessional funds and debt relief. On the other hand, the UN (United Nations) Millennium Summit adopted a Declaration from which were taken –afterwards – eight so-called ‘MDGs’ (Millennium Development Goals) which became the guidelines for development cooperation.

More than ten years later and three years short of the MDG-deadline of 2015, both strategies seem to be failing. Poverty may have been reduced – and if China is included the first MDG of halving extreme poverty by 2015 will probably be met – but with severe geographical imbalances[1]. Furthermore, inequality is rising almost everywhere[2].

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The World Bank and its ‘new’ Poverty Approach

Francine Mestrum*

We should strive to eradicate absolute poverty by the end of this century’ said World Bank President Robert McNamara in 1973 at the annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. As we know, at the end of the century, the World Bank and the IMF introduced their ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers’ and at the UN General Assembly it was decided to halve extreme poverty by 2015, compared to 1990. To-day, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim proposes to ‘end extreme poverty by 2030’.[i]

A new goal, a new hope?

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The end of European welfare states?

Created: 25 June 2013

Challenges for the European elections of 2014 on the eve of the European Council of 27 and 28 June 2013

At the end of June, as usual, a European Council meeting will be held in Brussels. Once again, economic governance is on the agenda, as well as the ‘social dimension’ of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). For those who might think this is a step in the direction of the so often claimed ‘social Europe’, disappointment will be inevitable. What can we expect, then, of this Council meeting?

With ups and downs but steadfastly, the financial and economic crisis has increased the pace of work concerning the ‘economic governance’ of the EU. After the publication by the European Commission of an ‘Annual Growth Survey’, the European ‘Semester’ starts to run and ensures a coordination of fiscal policies of Member States; the legislation of the ‘sixpack’ and the ‘twopack’[2] gives all details of the way the European Commission organizes the surveillance of national policies. The ‘Fiscal Treaty’ institutionalizes a ‘golden rule’ (fiscal balance) and sanctions in case of non-implementation. The Euro+ Pact, which is the most amazing part of it from an institutional perspective – national governments giving recommendations on issues that admittedly are no European competences -, shows that there are no limits to what Member states are willing to do in order to impose their neoliberal austerity policies. A ‘Compact for Jobs and growth’ was adopted with very few concrete or new measures. Finally, there also is a ‘Banking Union’ in the pipeline.

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An emerging new social paradigm for Europe

Created: 21 February 2013

Francine Mestrum[1]

Western European countries still have the best developed and the most efficient welfare states in the world. They are looked at with envy by many people from less developed countries. Yet, these welfare states are threatened, and instead of serving as a model for other countries, it may well be that the population of the EU will soon learn what it means to live with less security. The reason is very simple. The huge public debt, a consequence of bank bail-outs, will oblige countries to more and continuing austerity programmes.

In this contribution, I want to summarize what is being prepared at the level of the European Union for Europe’s social future. There should be no misunderstandings: even if much of the work is done by the European Commission, it is fully in line with the wishes of the European Council, that is the national governments. The aim of this article, then, is not to blame the European institutions, but to show how the change of scale at which decision-making is done contributes to making the policy changes almost invisible. While trade unions and social movements are mainly working within their national democracies, their governments are preparing  a new social paradigm at the European level. Moreover, many of the social changes are hidden in other policies or programmes, such as the internal market, EU2020, etc.

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Social protection and the common good of Humanity

Created: 22 September 2013(Text presented at the internation conference on the Common Good of Humanity, Rome, 2012

Thinking about the common good of humanity involves a reflection on human relationships, human rights and social justice. I want to argue that social protection is an essential and constitutive element of it. Social protection is at the heart of social justice and can be conceptualized in such a way that its main objective becomes the preservation of social life which is threatened by neoliberal capitalism. This contribution is but a first attempt to re-define social protection as a ‘commons’ and as part of the Common Good of Humanity. I therefore look forward to comments that will make it possible to develop this reasoning further.


Social protection is but one of the many victims of neoliberalism. The ‘European social model’ Western democracies were rightly proud of has been mutilated and is being dismantled. While this model, with its social security and its public services was meant to be implemented progressively all over the world, people in Third World countries have in fact been the first to be faced with the destructive ‘Washington Consensus’.

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Human Rights and Social Commons

Created: 04 November 2013

Social protection has been put high on the international political agenda by the international development organisations. The ILO (International Labour Organization) has adopted at its International Labour Conference of 2012 a recommendation on ‘social protection floors’. UNDESA (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs), UNRISD (UN Research Institute for Social Development), UNICEF (UN Childrens’ Fund) and the World Bank have made their proposals for social protection programmes. The European Commission plans to introduce social protection in its development cooperation programmes.[1] Many speak of ‘transformative’ social protection, though the meaning of this concept is different from one document to another.

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Global, European and national: on the neoliberalisation of social policies

16 February 2014

In 2012, 24.8 % of the European Union population was at risk of poverty. 40.2 % of the population said it would be hard to be faced with unexpected financial expenditures. In Belgium, 21.6 % of the population is at risk of poverty, but without social allowances, this would rise to 27.8 %.[1] In other words, social protection is needed and is useful.

In all European countries political declarations on welfare states show the same pattern. Welfare states have to be come ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’, people have to take on more responsibility and have to ‘participate’, unemployment benefits are being curtailed, pensions are privatized, costs have to be reduced in health care. In many countries the focus is now on ‘child poverty’, as if children did not live in poor households …

Of course there are differences, between countries and between political parties. Right wing parties will be more willing to accept the austerity policies imposed by the European Union, while social-democratic parties will try to soften their consequences. But all in all, the philosophy of their policies is the same. And the only conclusion this leads to is that welfare states are in decline.

Should we blame the European Union for this? Did the European Commission not propose to add a ‘social dimension’ to the Economic and Monetary Union? Did it not write a communication on a ‘social investment package’ beginning of 2013? It certainly did, but the fact is that the European Union has no competences for the social security systems of its Member States. Secondly, the recent proposals of the European Commission do not offer more or better protection to people.

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