Levelling the spirit

2013 bnr



Addressing the social impacts of economic inequality

The last decade or so has seen social and economic inequalities increase in many countries including Australia. A recent OECD report points to an increase in income inequality in most (but not all) OECD countries in the two decades to 2008 and notes that:

Rising income inequality creates economic, social and political challenges. It can stifle upward social mobility, making it harder for talented and hard-working people to get the rewards they deserve… The resulting inequality of opportunity will inevitably impact economic performance as a whole… (OCED,  Summary of Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising, 2011: 40).

In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009) Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett suggest that the broader economic and social consequences of high and growing levels of inequality include the prevalence of health and social problems, teenage births, violence and rates of incarceration.

While the dimensions of change differ from country to country, common trends include increasing inequality in both economic dimensions such as income, living standards and wealth, and in social dimensions ranging from social exclusion to the digital divide. In Australia, inequalities in school funding and tertiary education participation, in locational disadvantage, between Indigenous and non- Indigenous groups, and between and within generations present challenges that the political system seems incapable of dealing with.

This symposium will explore the nature, meaning and especially the impacts of inequality for the fabric of social relations, public policy and democratic government. It will feature the launch of a new series of ABS Measuring Economic Wellbeing Facts Sheets giving high quality information about the most important dimensions of inequality in income and wealth in Australia. While the symposium will inform its audience about magnitudes and patterns of change, the emphasis will be on open discussion of issues, perspectives and implications.


Presidents Welcome and opening


Andrew Leigh


Lars Osberg


Fran Baum


Jen Skattebol


Rosanna Scutella


Brian Head


Shaun Wilson


Facilitated Discussion and Conclusion

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