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The Case for Consumption Equality

Demographic, economic, and technological trends are making the world increasingly “flat” with respect to consumption. By supporting this shift, government and private-sector leaders can help to create a more cohesive, sustainable, and inclusive future.

NEW YORK – Discussions about economic development often focus on how to increase income equality. More recently, however, thoughtful observers have begun to regard consumption equality – the equal use of goods and services – as a more robust indicator of parity in human wellbeing. After all, it more accurately captures inequality as people experience it when they consume, and consumption can be affected by borrowing and saving, as well as by social safety-net programs.

But consumption equality is a double-edged sword. Although increased consumption by citizens of less-developed countries will improve the lives of millions, it will likely have negative consequences for the planet’s already stressed environment. Furthermore, reducing the high levels of individual consumption in richer countries may result in short-term economic pain until new long-term sustainable production and consumption practices are in place.

One recent study of the interaction between the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals found trade-offs between SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production – and ten of the other goals. The stewards of the factors of production – mainly businesses and governments – must therefore carefully manage these trade-offs in pursuing the SDGs.

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