Dr. Isabel Ortiz of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue makes a point during her CIGI Signature Lecture, titled The Inequality Gap: A Social Protection Floor for an Inclusive Crisis Recovery (Lisa Malleck/CIGI).
Dr. Isabel Ortiz of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue makes a point during her CIGI Signature Lecture, titled The Inequality Gap: A Social Protection Floor for an Inclusive Crisis Recovery (Lisa Malleck/CIGI).

The world’s most vulnerable need a new deal – or rather, a new New Deal – and they need it soon.

That was the message from Dr. Isabel Ortiz, director of the Global Social Justice Program at Joseph Stiglitz's Initiative for Policy Dialogue, in a CIGI Signature Lecture that marked the renowned poverty-reduction expert’s first visit to Canada.

Ortiz began by presenting stark figures on global income inequality, as evidenced by Eurostat, United Nations and World Bank data: the wealthiest 20 percent of the world’s population account for at least 70 percent of global income, while the poorest 20 percent are left with two to three percent. Using a different metric, Ortiz said, the figures could be as dramatic as 80 percent for the former and one percent for the latter.

The former associate director of policy and strategy at UNICEF said asymmetries in the global distribution of income over the past two decades were especially troubling, and that the global financial crisis had only exacerbated the situation. Ortiz noted that, at the current rate, it would take “800 years for the bottom 20 percent (of the population) to have 10 percent of world income.”

With her lecture being the opening event of the "Toward a Global Social Protection Floor” symposium at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Ortiz stressed that providing “basic social security guarantees” is a human right and not merely a global feel-good initiative.

“This is about having sufficient standards and policies that will bring people out of poverty,” Ortiz said.

While most countries have some form of social protection measures in place, Ortiz said that by population, 80 percent of the world does not have adequate “coverage” in this regard.

In noting that affordability is often used as the reason for not implementing a social protection floor in the world’s poorest countries, Ortiz pointed to the example of the 1920s in the U.S., where only the wealthy were active consumers.  But the Roosevelt administration’s “New Deal,” implemented in 1933, created a demand for products – among those it lifted out of poverty – that would’ve been unthinkable in the Depression years that preceded it.

Contrasting this to today’s environment of austerity and policy intransigence at the global level, Ortiz said a comparable “policy push” to that of the New Deal is required.

“For that, the world will have to consider a new set of policies on inequality and take it seriously,” Ortiz said.

She fielded questions on a range of related topics, including: migration; the ratio of government spending on health versus the military; and cost-benefit studies on social protection floors.

Ortiz concluded by reiterating that social protection floors are about raising global standards and establishing minimum social security guarantees for all: “The 21st century was supposed to a century of progress and not a century of crisis and inequality.”

For more information about the Toward a Global Social Protection Floor symposium, visit: towardgspf.com.

HAVE YOUR SAY: If you attended last night’s lecture, caught the webcast or watched the archived video, we would love to hear your thoughts on Dr. Ortiz’s presentation. Start a dialogue by adding your comments below.

“This is about having sufficient standards and policies that will bring people out of poverty.” Dr. Isabel Ortiz, Initiative for Policy Dialogue
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