A GERMAN study on social injustice in industrially developed countries has ranked Ireland among the very worst. There is no point in being surprised. That situation has come about through deliberate political choices and consistent personal selfishness. As the Celtic Tiger roared, the public was asked repeatedly to choose between the economic models of Boston or Berlin. It chose the former, with low taxes and limited public services. The result was entirely predictable, involving a concentration of wealth at the highest levels and greater social inequality.
The Bertelsmann Foundation in Germany regards poverty as the most important criteria for social justice. Poverty, in this case, is regarded as having less than half of the average net income in that society. Only Chile, Mexico, Greece and Turkey are more socially unjust, according to the survey, with Ireland coming in at 27th place out of 31 countries. In the United States, where the taxation regime is equally skewed, poverty levels had a similar drastic effect on its social justice ranking.
Social justice is not just a matter of making welfare payments available. It also involves the measures a State employs to include as many citizens as possible, rather than compensating those who are excluded. As a consequence, the Nordic countries perform best in the overall list. The avoidance of poverty is seen as a basic social justice measurement but, even when the special weighting for poverty is removed, Ireland performs badly because of inadequate early childhood education access and generational inequality.
As the survey commentary makes clear, poverty in rich countries is not caused by fate. It can be dealt with successfully provided the political will exists. In the same way, social participation does not depend on economic strength but can be implemented among disadvantaged groups through priority-setting and targeted government supports. This is not rocket science. Many official reports that made these points have been gathering dust for years.
Economic meltdown, high unemployment and cuts in government spending have raised questions about the kind of society that should be built on the rubble of the past. Politics is in a state of flux and the electorate is looking for new approaches. A general election will be held within a matter of months and, even allowing for the constraints imposed by the EU/IMF bailout package, it should be possible for political parties to offer proposals for the creation of a more socially just society.