Leaving no one behind is the cornerstone of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which exclusively focused on the socio-economic upliftment of poor and underdeveloped countries, the SDGs concentrate on both developed and underdeveloped countries.
With a vow to eliminate distinctions in socio-economic spheres the world leaders irrespective of rich and poor countries are committed to making a global partnership. Since 2015, a wide range of local and international plans and programs were chalked out. From the very outset, it was presumed that owing to unequal wealth distribution, it was an uphill task to reduce discrimination between the poor and prosperous nations and to ensure that all people enjoy health, justice, and prosperity which is one of the prime pillars of SDGs.
Undoubtedly, that was an optimistic albeit ambitious blueprint to transform the world in a span of fifteen years. Almost eight years have passed. Bluntly speaking, there has been no substantial improvement in seventeen goals with one or two exceptions. As per the latest SDG progress report, only three goals have achieved 27% of their target so far when more than half of the total time period has elapsed. Given the lacklustre graph of progress, only the utterly sanguine people can aspire that the countries will meet the rest of the targets in the stipulated time.
Challenges towards implementation of SDG goals come in many forms and fashions. The subsiding Covid-19 has ravaged the global economy in the past two years and the grim aftermath is still apparent in the economy. The pandemic severely crippled the economy and brought it to its knees. The world is yet to recover from the devastating shock. Despairingly the Russia-Ukraine crisis has grasped the centre stage and dwarfed the already ailing global economy by leveraging a mammoth shock. And the severe aftermath still persists.
However, among all these odds and obstacles that hinder SDG implementation, one conspicuous issue that surfaced above all things is the ever-increasing gap in wealth between developed and underdeveloped nations. While SDGs vowed to promote the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’, the recent scenario of wealth accumulation tells the opposite. Despite pledging to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich, a gulf of difference has been created.
The rich have become super-rich while the poor have witnessed bone-breaking poverty all over the world. Some contemporary reports on wealth accumulation among the poor and the rich sufficiently substantiate the stated facts by exposing an utterly bleak picture. It does not necessarily advocate the fact that there was no poverty and inequality before the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine crisis hit. What is indicated is that despite sporadic global efforts to minimize inequality and ensure opportunities for all, global systems and leaders have failed to make any worthy change rather the situation has degraded to a significant degree and dimensions. Wealth has been centralized in the hands of ultra-rich people and poverty in many war-ravaged countries has skyrocketed.
Let us take a recent study by Oxfam published in 2023 on wealth accumulation and the wealth gap. As the study reveals, the 1% of ultra-rich people have bagged twice as much assets as the rest of the world combined since 2020. The net amount in the figure that the world’s richest people have gained in the past three years is a staggering $1.5 trillion. The study showcased the disparity of wealth increase during the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic reached its peak. In addition, the same study reveals that the ultra-rich have captured half of all new wealth created in the past decade.
It was much anticipated that as the devastating wave of Covid-19 dies down, the crippling global economy will recover soon. In fact, the global economic condition has been exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine crisis. And without much surprise, people with low income are hit hard by all these grim shocks like the pandemic and the Russian war which ultimately added fresh impetus to the widening of the wealth gap between the wealthy and the poor.
Approximately 800 million people cannot afford basic food and the number is still spiralling quite alarmingly. A UN report presents that human development fell in 9 out of 10 countries in the last year. However, the richest 1% of people are profiting from the rising prices of food, oil, energy and other essential commodities and thereby creating assets even amid a downturn in the economy.
Hence, the ever-increasing income gap between a few ultra-rich and the millions of undernourished people across the globe is a matter of supreme concern for policymakers and world leaders in regard to realising SDG goals. If we genuinely aspire to minimise the gap and uplift the living standards of the people lagging behind, global leaders must act collectively and promptly.
One prospective remedy to the polarisation of assets to the super-rich is to reform the global taxation system based on the principle that the rich pay more. In many countries, taxation is not properly and justly imposed. Besides, many rich individuals adopt shrewd methods to avoid full or half tax. To compensate, the governments impose taxes on working-class people or individuals with moderate income who can barely meet the both ends.
In fact, the burden of the rich is carried by the lower class or working people. This issue must be addressed collectively and globally. The global motto should be ‘the more you earn, the more tax you pay’. Taxes must be imposed on personal income as well as capital gains. This might sound like a trivial strategy. But if accurately applied this can be the most effective strategy to minimise the wealth gap.
For example, one study shows that an annual tax of up to 5% on multimillionaires of the world can raise $ 1.7 trillion which can sufficiently lift 2 billion people out of poverty and end global hunger and malnutrition. Even Kautilya in his ancient masterpiece, ‘Arthashastra’ proposed a balanced taxation that strongly emphasises equity and justice- the rich will pay higher taxes compared to the not-so-fortunate.
In addition, he advocated for special provisions and suitable remissions for the ill, students, and working-class people which is equally applicable in our modern economic system. The time has come to revisit and revamp the global taxing system when inequality has hit record highs. Under such a global policy crisis, taxing the richest is a must-not an option. Redistributing wealth through taxation is the most effective tried and tested strategy to eradicate inequality.
In a bid to realise this, the governments must come to a unanimous decision and bolster the global partnership to reform the taxation system in their respective countries and abolish decades-long tax privileges and loopholes that only benefit the wealthiest. This can claw back the elite power and eliminate inequality paving the way for a more equal and sustainable world free from poverty and hunger.
The writer is serving as Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) at Raninagar in Naogaon