It is wrong to see today’s high inequality as the product of forces over which we have no control. – Anthony B. Atkison, Inequality.
The Fifteen Proposals for Social Justice is a report drafted by the Forum Disuguaglianze e Diversità (1) – which coordinates the work of various organizations and whose mission is to produce, promote and influence proposals for the collective and public action in order to reduce inequalities and foster social justice, according to the goal set by article 3 of the Constitution (2).
The report is composed of an introduction which explains the motivations, the goals and the methodology deployed to draft the proposals and three other parts. Each part tackles one of the three mechanisms according to which wealth is produced and distributed: technological innovation , relationship among workers and the ownership of firms and the intergenerational passage of wealth.
The report begins with a digression about inequalities and their social and political consequences. Taking inspiration from Anthony Atkinson’s Program for Action in Inequality: What Can be done? (2015), the authors argue that inequalities and social injustice are not an unavoidable condition for humanity, but they are the consequence of specific political choices which have been taken in Italy and elsewhere since 1990. These choices mainly meant tax cuts, reduced public spending, deregulation of markets and a strong state intervention only limited to guarantee “security” under this framework (3).
According to the Gini Growing Inequality Impact commissioned by the EU, Italy is the second country with the highest level of income inequalities (4); the Gini Index, which measures the way wealth is distributed, has increased by four points from 1991 to 2016 . Since 2008 the average wealth of the Italians decreased by 15%, while the wealth of the top-1-percent increased by 83% (5). Furthermore, there is also the issue that, especially in Italy, inequalities are not just among social classes, but are also generational, as the eldery benefit from stable social security and well-paid retirements, while the youth suffer either from unemployment or job precariousness.
This is the fertile ground on which the consensus of the populists and the far-right have flourished: anger and resentment towards a process which have benefited the few and marginalized the many.
However, as among Salvini’s proposals we find measures like the flat tax and Quota 100 (pension scheme) which are respectively preached with the slogans of “less taxes for everyone” and “go to retirement earlier” but that will actually benefit those social strata which have suffered the less from the crisis (the wealthy and the eldery), we can understand that his consensus is purely emotional and solely based on a feeling of grudge towards those other political actors which either failed to communicate their solutions to reduce social inequalities or did not have a social commitment at all.
This is what the report is about: to create a new social compact between the citizenry and the political class by fostering collective actions and bottom-up initiatives, with the essential commitment to make the proposals understandable for everyone.
These are the 15 Proposals for Social Justice with a brief description:
- To end the monopoly of knowledge and research owned by a few corporations (that led to dramatic consequences, especially in health-care) and make knowledge a common good, accessible to everyone. This goal can be reached by modifying the international treaty which rules the current regime of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) and by making a new international agreement at the WHO which would create the conditions for single national health-care institutions to buy drugs at an affordable price and would foster the research for those diseases which are neglected by pharmaceutical corporations because they are not “profitable”.
- To create supra-national technological hubs aimed at producing goods and services for the collective good. The basic idea is to extend the role of public institutions to the whole value chain in order to bring to an end the paradox of having research outcomes that, in spite of being initially funded by public money, end up in the hands of a few private monopolies (ironically we pay it twice: first with our taxes and then in the market).
- To direct the strategies of national public firms through political transparency, monitoring, long-term missions and visions and stronger regulations in order to guarantee their compliance with the needs of competitiveness, social and environmental justice.
- To bring the commitment towards social justice back to the attention of public universities. This can be pursued by adding social justice to the “Third Mission” of university education and by creating new criteria of evaluations (aimed at giving relevance to social outcomes) for allocating funds for research projects and scholarships.
- Encouraging social justice in private research by creating stricter parameters for granting public aids to private firms.
- To foster cooperation among universities, competence centers and small and medium-sized enterprises. This cooperation would allow SMEs to have access to knowledge and to recover from the loss of competitiveness generated by the current regime of intellectual property rights which favours big monopolies.
- To break the monopoly of personal data and algorithms by a few corporations or by the state (Chinese case) through the establishment of a regime of collective sovereignty. The regulations laid down in France, Germany and at European level (General Data Protection Regulation) already represent a first achievement. Furthermore, we need to keep the pressure on web giants, to promote diversity of gender and discipline in the composition of private and public research staff, to create collective digital platforms and to remove the obstacles for the development of network communities of innovators.
- To foster the development of the poorest areas of the country and the suburbs through the active involvement of their local inhabitants.
- To promote the use by public administration of contracts directed to the needs of the citizens (those who in the end demand that service or good). This goal can be reached by increasing the level of preparedness of public officers, by removing the obstacles for innovators to participate in tendering and by spreading information and building consensus among the communities involved about the requirements decided for a tender.
- To make environmental justice consistent with social justice through fiscal policies, the relocation of public aids from the fossil fuels sector to the renewables, the upgrading of buildings and public spaces (in particular in the outskirts), the development of green areas, energetic decentralization and the granting of ecobonus.
- To change the future requirements for the recruitment of personnel in public administrations. If we want public institutions to carry out effectively all the tasks stated before, we also need to improve the quality of their staff. This is especially true in the Italian case, where there is still a rooted a mindset which focuses too much on the procedural part and neglects the outcomes and where there is also a strong need to rebalance the age composition of the staff (only the 2% of the staff have an age between 18 and 34, Italy is the last among the OECD countries). However, this goal should be pursued progressively, avoiding revolutionary measures which would only cause resentment and social damage, taking advantage of the cyclic renewal of public administrations. We should also eliminate the incentives based on individual outcomes and replace them with those based on an evaluation of organizational skills. The outcome of public administrations should not be assessed individually but as a whole and it should be made available to citizens.
- A new set of guarantees for all workers such as the establishment of a minimum wage of 10 euros (a minimum that can have an impact in many fields) and whose progressive increase will be decided by a mixed commission of politicians, technicians and trade unions, in addition to a reinforcement of the wage bargaining for the workers through proper legislation (an essential condition if we want to increase the minimum wage).
- Creation of Labour Councils aimed at pushing the participation of workers to decision-making process. The council shall be also open to external stakeholders, like the representatives of consumers and the local communities interested in the environmental impact of the firm’s strategies.
- To create easier conditions for Workers Buyouts (purchase by the workers) for firms in crisis or in difficult generational transition.
- To increase the inheritance taxes for the richests, using the revenue coming from this tax to grant an income heritage of 15.000 euros to all citizens once they turn 18 (with deductions according to the income of the family). This is conceived both as a way to reduce the gap between social classes and between age groups. (6)
- The Forum Disuguaglianze e Diversità is composed of eight organizations that work in the field of active citizenship and by a group of researchers and scholars. The activities of the forum are funded by the Fondazione Charlemagne, the Fondazione CON il SUD and the Fondazione Unipolis. The Forum is guided by a coordination group led by the economist Fabrizio Barca. (1)
- Article 3 of the Italian constitution states: All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and social conditions. It is the duty of the Republic to remove those obstacles of an economic or social nature which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, thereby impeding the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country. (2)
- See the developments of massive incarceration in the U.S in the 1980s and 1990s: Lopez G., Massive incarceration in America explained in 22 maps and charts, Vox, October 11, 2016. (3)
- Bisazza B., Distribuzione dei Redditi, Italia seconda in Europa per disparità, Il Sole 24 Ore, June 24, 2013. (4)
- Carlini R., Cos’è l’eredità di cittadinanza e come può ridurre le disuguaglianze, L’Internazionale, December 4, 2019. (5) (6)
- https://www.forumdisuguaglianzediversita.org/proposte-per-la-giustizia-sociale/. In the website you can find the entire report, its summary, the introduction and a video presentation of the report (in Italian).