Over the next weeks starting today, Social Europe Journal will run an online debate on the concepts of ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ and what they mean in our societies. Together with two European think tanks, the German Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Swedish Arbetarrörelsens Tankesmedja, we will publish about 20 contributions by well-known as well as upcoming thinkers. Our debate is – by definition – an open discussion and we would like to invite you to take part in rethinking ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ in and around Europe.
In this introductory piece, we would like to raise some issues connected with the concept of ‘equality’. The notion of equality is not only highly contested in academic circles, but also in everyday life. What is the promise of equality in today’s liberal and social democratic thinking? And what are its key dimensions in the context of an interdependent, international and market-orientated society?
The market-liberal notion of equality is primarily based on individual performance and achievement: equality of opportunities and rights rather than outcome. This liberal understanding of equal rights has, however, often come to be interpreted as individual responsibility. The structural crisis of market liberalism today has not been followed by a crisis of the idea of equal rights. We have, however, at least experienced a renewed interest in debating the different dimensions of equality.
But boundaries within the discourse of equality are still rather narrow and tend to be marginal debates on a couple of percentage points up or down in a progressive tax system. Any universal alternative understanding of equality within a market-orientated system needs to critically reflect and assess the competitive necessities of markets while reconciling these with a normative vision of equality today.
The Nordic states, and especially Sweden, have long served as examples of societies, which are founded on a comprehensive idea of equality. These Nordic models still achieve a high degree of equality while promoting economic growth and efficiency at the same time. The architecture of these models too, however, has become more and more fragile.
The development of a comprehensive political programme of equality must be based on the analysis of the roots of increasing inequality in direct interplay with a conception of the role of the market. In this online debate, we aim at contributing to the analysis of equality but we also try to locate it within the wider framework of a new social and democratic political agenda, which was set out three years ago by the debate on a Good Society – also led by Social Europe Journal. To achieve this aim, we want to focus the debate on four dimensions of equality: the philosophical, economic, social and integration dimensions.
In our debate we want to dig deep and discuss the value of social policy in itself. We want to discuss the philosophy, or ethics, of equality that must be much more than just an intellectual exercise. Ethics and morals underpin our position on all issues. Equality therefore is, at its core, about us and how we live together. Hence, we ourselves are in effect the ‘reference unit’ of equality.
It is up to us to define what a Good Society looks like and we would like to take the next step with this debate. Please feel encouraged to make your voice heard too and engage in our discussions!