The co-existence of deep and persistent inequalities as well as increasing prosperity is a paradox of our time, a paradox that calls into question global development and processes of modernization in today’s world. Despite a fall in global levels of economic inequality, driven in part by the reduction of poverty in India and China, inequality within countries has risen over the past forty years and has recently accelerated further, especially following the 2008 financial crisis.
Economic inequalities in income and wealth, social inequalities in health, education and access to welfare services, gender and racial inequalities, cultural and religious discrimination, barriers to political participation, all are main instances of inequalities, global in scope, often intertwined and influencing each other. All these inequalities go against widely shared values of social justice, equitable and sustainable development, individual freedom and collective empowerment, cultural pluralism and peaceful coexistence.
As a matter of fact, deep inequalities among social classes and groups undermine social cohesion and the legitimacy of political institutions. High differences in educational and health levels, and discrimination based on gender, dramatically reduce the potentiality for individual self-realization, as well as the amount of human resources available for societal progress. Uneven income distribution hinders economic growth as it implies a reduction of the consumption power of majority of the population that cannot be compensated for by the extra spending of the wealthiest 1 per cent. Repression of ethnic, religious and political minorities fosters waves of exploited migrants and asylum-seekers. While the processes influencing declines or increases in inequality are global and interlinked, the responses to these processes are specific, heterogeneous and uneven.