On December 16th, 2021, a new Agora of El Día Después (The Day After) took place promoted by the Community of Inequality and New Economic Model. In it, different professionals and experts in economics, child poverty, education and social integration debated the opportunities for progress and equity that the current economic transformation can create -especially for younger generations- if it is based on a new social contract where the fight against poverty and inequality prevails.
A new social contract and investing in the development of talent, keys to combat inequality.
The conversation started from the thoughts posed in the book “Labyrinths of Prosperity” by the economics professors Antón Costas and Xosé Carlos Arias. In a vibrant dialogue between political scientist Cristina Monge and Antón Costas, both members of the Community of Inequality and New Economic Model, the economist began by recalling that “inequality is not a divine curse, a fate of nature. It is the product of certain policies ”. However, tackling it does not seem to be a priority on the public agenda because, as Costas explained, “old ideas have a great strength to remain, an inertial force. It is the ideas, both the good and the bad, and not the interests, what really move the world ”.
Inequality is not a divine curse, a fate of nature. It is the product of certain policies.
In the current situation, Antón Costas proposes the implementation of a new social contract, understood as the agreement (with written and unwritten parts) that makes possible the harmonious functioning of certain pluralistic societies, with a market system, compared to others. It is “a moral contract, with a commitment from those who are doing well, with the system and with those who are left behind; but also political, since it establishes concrete rules on the distribution of the costs of a crisis or the prosperity that capitalism brings “, explained Costas.
Entering fully into the topic of the day, the author of “Labyrinths of prosperity” referred to the three sources from which inequality drinks: a malfunction of the redistribution of wealth (through social spending and taxes ); of its distribution in the field of production (through wages, benefits); and predistribution, a term relating to the provision of resources for the training and development of talent and skills, prior to entering employment. “At the present time, if we want to tackle social inequality, it is necessary to pay special attention to distribution and predistribution,” said Costas.
Regarding the latter, the author emphasized the importance of understanding that “if something has providence distributed well in life, it is talent: all people, wherever they are born, come with talent.” The question is how a society knows or knows not how to develop the population’s talent pool and how, in a digitized world like the current one, we make sure to direct technological innovation towards the basic literacy of the entire population. “That should be the modern version of 20th century literacy,” Costas concluded.
All people, no matter where they are born, come with talent.
Investing in education, integration and equal opportunities as a tool to fight child poverty
The dialogue with Antón Costas gave way to a range of knowledge and experiences, moderated by Gonzalo Fanjul, Director of Policy Analysis at ISGlobal and coordinator of the Community of Inequality and New Economic Model of El Día Después.
Teresa Laespada, Deputy for Employment, Social Inclusion and Equality of Bizkaia and professor at the University of Deusto, reflected on how, until recently, public policies focused on redistribution as a fundamental element of a social democratic policy. Something that in recent times has evolved towards a greater boost in investment in distribution and predistribution. “If we want technology and digitization to be the basis for social integration, it has to be one more language in the educational world of children. The educational and competence part, formal and informal, is the best element that we can give them so that, when they are adults, they can enter the labor market with guarantees ”, she pointed out.
Poverty leaves marks of all kinds: cognitive, biological, social.
From his side, Pau Marí-Klose, deputy in Congress and president of the Foreign Affairs Committee, emphasized the idea of poverty as the result of political decisions. Marí-Klose paused to recall the many problems associated with child poverty. “Poverty leaves marks of all kinds: cognitive, biological, social. And we have tools to correct them or at least reduce them in their most extreme manifestations”, he said. Thus, a powerful poverty correction policy involves “ensuring conditions of equal opportunities to achieve educational credentials that allow access to work and compete in the labor market on equal terms.”
Catalina Perazzo, director of social and political advocacy at Save the Children drew an accurate portrait of inequality in Spain, where there are 2.3 million children living in poverty, which puts us at the bottom of the EU. It is, she explained, a systemic element that is given by factors such as the low levels of investment in childhood and the little effectiveness of it, through very low-cost child-raising aid. In her opinion, there are two reforms that are particularly necessary in our country: that of the tax system, for which it is important to talk about the fiscal challenge, which must have an intergenerational equity approach; and the reform of social protection.
Ainara Zubillaga, director of education and training of the COTEC Foundation gave a current image of the training panorama in Spain, with a percentage of the population with university studies similar or even higher than in other countries, but with a very high number of workers with basic levels of formation. “In Spain we have a phenomenon of learning poverty,” she pointed out. It is a problem that affects post-compulsory education and the last sections of compulsory education, with a problem of design and policies to address diversity in these sections. In addition, Zubillaga referred to the challenges posed by innovation in this field and explained that “at COTEC we are aware of the need to address innovation in an inclusive way because sometimes innovation creates new gaps. In fact, we are supporting initiatives of solutions that fight against innovation inequality. “
At COTEC we are aware of the need to address innovation in an inclusive way because sometimes innovation creates new gaps.
Like the rest of the participants, Ernesto Gasco, the government’s High Commissioner for child poverty, confirmed the structural and non-conjunctural nature of poverty in Spain. For this reason, he stressed, “policies or social benefits for the weakest must have State guarantees”. Predistribution is essential, therefore, because “prevention is less costly socially and economically than curing”. Gasco summarized in his speech some of the recently approved policies, such as the 700 million euros that are going to be allocated for the first time to nursery schools from 0 to 3 years of age so that it is possible to access them on equal terms, or the inclusive nature of the Education Law. He also mentioned the need to continue working on improvements in the distribution of social benefits and recalled the European Social Guarantee by which, for the first time in Europe, the fight against child poverty is considered an objective of the European Union, which requires countries like Spain to allocate 5% of European funds to this fight.
The round of interventions was closed by Begonya Gasch, general director of the El Llindar Foundation (second chance schools) and Cheikhou Omar Balde, participant in this initiative. Begonya stressed the importance of understanding that it is not boys and girls that fail, but the educational system, which acts as a centrifuge. Hence the logic of the second chance, which arises when the first has not worked. Experiences like El Llindar are very necessary, but it is difficult for them to remain stable. Gasch pointed out that “we have democratic institutions and policies that are a bit ill. We need individual, social and policy commitment that allows us to do things differently. (…) It is necessary to move from responsibility to the ethics of consequences. Someone decides and others pay the consequence”, she pointed out.
It is not the boys and girls that fail, but the educational system, which acts as a centrifuge
From his own experience, Cheikhou Omar Balde, stressed that “when we get here, the first thing we need is an opportunity“. From his point of view, experiences such as El Llindar offer differential features such as the coexistence of young people from different origins and the accompaniment beyond the educational content, with social housing and tailor-made integration routes.
Investing in childhood is investing in our future
As a summary and closing of the conversation, Antón Costas took the floor again, who presented some of the fundamental ideas extracted from the debate:
- The moral requirement to eradicate child poverty.
“Eradicating child poverty is not only a moral requirement of a decent society, it is something that we owe to children even in terms of classical liberalism, which was the one that raised the flag of equal opportunities. It is a moral requirement because of solidarity and reciprocity”.
- The lack of social understanding about the problem of child poverty.
“There are many well-intentioned people who believe that there is no child poverty in Spain. Here is missing that underlying social contract that makes policies possible. In the same way that a farmer has to plow and fertilize the land before sowing, we need to fertilize the understanding of child poverty in Spain, or the policies afterwards will not end up germinating”.
- Language as a tool for transformation.
“Let’s change the language. Let’s not talk about spending but about investing, that is, doing something to have future returns. Investing in childhood is investing in the future of our society and our economy”.