“Many would argue, however, that we should ultimately care about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.” As it happens, Hockey has defended his budget’s unfairness with just that argument....
“The problem is that opportunities are not equal. Money will always buy better-quality education and health care, for example. But due to current levels of inequality, too many people in too many countries have only the most basic access to these services, if at all. The evidence also shows that social mobility is more stunted in less equal societies.”
Disparity also brings division, she said. “The principles of solidarity and reciprocity that bind societies together are more likely to erode in excessively unequal societies. History also teaches us that democracy begins to fray at the edges once political battles separate the haves against the have-nots.”
“It is therefore not surprising that IMF research - which looked at 173 countries over the past 50 years - found that more unequal countries tend to have lower and less durable economic growth,” Legarde also said.
Get that? Until now, the conventional wisdom among economists has been that efforts to reduce inequality come at the expense of economic growth. Now a pillar of economic orthodoxy, the IMF, has found it works the other way round: rising inequality - as is occurring in Australia, the US and almost all advanced economies - seems to lead to slower growth.
Lagarde said other IMF research had found that, in general, budgetary policies had a good record of reducing social disparities. Social security benefits and income taxes “have been able to reduce inequality by about a third, on average, among the advanced economies”.
What can we do? “Some potentially beneficial options can include making income tax systems more progressive without being excessive; making greater use of property taxes; expanding access to education and health; and relying more on active labour market programs and in-work social benefits.”