Global Ethics Corner: Neo-liberalism and Welfare

October 29, 2010

Do markets work for everyone?

Do markets promote the greatest good for the greatest number? In advancing the general welfare, what is the role of government and of social collectives like labor unions?

Supporters of neo-liberal economics argue that free markets are the key to prosperity and long-term economic growth, which ultimately benefit all. Therefore, markets should be strengthened and government involvement minimized. Markets will reach a balance, and the accumulated wealth eventually and inevitably turns into jobs.

Critics argue that neo-liberal economics increases inequalities and leaves some behind. Social ills are aggravated by neo-liberal reforms like deregulation, privatization of public services, and reduction of social expenditures. Social protections are eroded and individual's vulnerability is increased by higher fees for social programs in health, education, income support, and housing.

As evidence that neo-liberal policies do not work, critics cite the widening socioeconomic gap in the United States since the Reagan era.

In Latin America and Africa, Canadian politician Stephen Lewis argues that neo-liberal structural adjustment programs, imposed by the World Bank and the IMF, shredded social sectors, and resulted in user fees for health and education. Consequently, Lewis writes, "today many children who should be in school, and desperately want to be in school, cannot be in school because they cannot afford the fees."

What do you think? Should long term economic growth, promised by a free market, be prioritized over concerns about inequality? How do you balance a society's need both to create wealth and insure welfare?

By Omer Zarpli

For more information see:

Stephen Lewis, Abolish School Fees in Africa! March 28, 2006. (YouTube clip from Carnegie Council talk, Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa)

Photo Credits in order of Appearance

Trey Ratcliff
Ted Mathys, The Advocacy Project
Steve Rhodes
Incendiary mind
Dan DeLuca
John Flanigan


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