Friday, February 12, 2010

Tax helps soothe the sex wars

(Apologies for the headline - we wanted to get our two favourite three-letter words ending in -x in the same line.)

The much respected Social Watch network has just published the findings of its 2009 Gender Equity Index, which you will find here.

The latest results show a disturbing picture of statis or regression. Many countries have either regressed or show no improvement. Those that have regressed include the USA, Denmark and the majority of Eastern European countries. Those that show no improvement include Germany, Japan, and China.

Some countries continue to improve on their already impressive progress towards gender equity, with Sweden, Finland, Norway and Rwanda (yes, Rwanda) heading the pack. But also look at countries like Vietnam, Uganda, Iran, Ethiopia and Algeria, each of which have been assessed as making significant progress.

Many factors play a role in shaping social equity. Tax is one of them. Countries with progressive tax regimes and a strong commitment to investing in social capital are generally higher up the equity index and have continued making progress towards greater gender equity. Check out the Scandinavian countries, excluding Denmark which still ranks near the top of the index but has regressed in the past year.

Conversely, countries with regressive tax regimes -- viz those eastern European countries that adopted flat taxation and regressive sales tax regimes -- are, well, regressing.

And some countries, note where India and Nigeria sit on the global league table, are quite simply beyond the pale. India is particularly shocking given its claims to economic superpower status: the levels of inequality and poverty in that country compare badly with those in pre-revolutionary France, and it shouldn't surprise anyone to know that insurgents are rapidly extending their hold in rural areas.

Does gender equity, and inequality generally, matter? Well yes. Not only because it contributes to greater social well-being, as Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson have convincingly demonstrated. But also because communities simply cannot afford to squander the massive social capital potential of women. It comes as no surprise to see that the countries with the highest level of gender equity are amongst the most successful economies. And it is not coincidental that they also fall into the high-tax category.: after all, access to education, and putting equal rights into operation, require more than just fine words and signatures on international declarations.


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