1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

Affluence, Poverty and the Idea of a Post-Scarcity Society



In this essay, Anthony Giddens provides a powerful reminder that societies are changed by personal decisions about how we want to live. Particularly in our times, the "end of nature" and the attenuation of tradition, associated with accelerated modernization on a global scale, increase the need for conscious reflection on many aspects of life formerly considered to be givens. Thus in developed and developing countries alike, new questions of personal choice and ethics form the basis for a kind of "life politics" that supplements - but does not replace - the longer established practice of "emancipatory politics", concerned above all with issues of social justice.

The paper considers how "life politics" can form the basis for new strategies to reduce inequality and alleviate poverty. While existing prescriptions tend to be based upon the direct transfer of wealth or income from the more affluent to poorer groups (the first losing what the second gains), it is also possible to implement strategies in which everyone gains through improving some element of the quality of life. In such a "post-scarcity" setting, trade-offs might be established between different groups to redistribute access to paid work, to protect the environment or to improve health.

At the same time, "few things can be more significant worldwide than the possibility of a new social contract between women and men, since sexual divisions affect so many other forms of stratification in societies of all types". This element of "life politics" holds the key to many positive-sum changes in human relations.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 May 1995
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD