From the Myth of Level Playing Fields to the Reality of a Finite Planet; Comment on “A Global Social Support System: What the International Community Could Learn From the United States’ National Basketball Association’s Scheme for Redistribution of New Talent”

Document Type: Commentary

Author

School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Preventive Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada

Abstract

Despite the mythology that the global economy with its trade rules creates a ‘level playing field,’ international trade has never involved ‘level players.’ The inequalities in outcomes generated by the more powerful winning more frequently has led to innovative ideas for ex post redistribution to make the matches between the players both fairer, and in the analogy to basketball used by the authors, more interesting and even more competitive. The proposal for a Global Social Protection Fund, financed by a small tax on the winners to enhance social protection spending for the losers, presumably increasing the latter’s capabilities to compete more effectively in the global market game, is one such idea. It has much to commend it. Several problems, however, stand in its way, apart from those inherent within nations themselves and to which the authors give some attention. First, much global trade is now intra-firm rather than international, making calculations of which nations win or lose exceedingly difficult. Second, tax havens persist without the transparency and global regulatory oversights that would allow a better rendering of where winnings are stashed. Third, pre-distribution inequalities (those arising from market activities before government tax and transfer measures apply) are still increasing as labour’s power to wrestle global capital into some ameliorative social contract diminishes. Fourth, there are finite limits to a planet on the cusp of multiple environmental crises. These problems do not diminish the necessity of alternative policy playbooks such as the proposed Fund, but point to the need to embrace the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a single set, such that economic growth for the bottom half of humanity includes deep structural reforms to both pre-distribution and redistribution, if the targets for environmental survival are to be met.

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