Peter Mandelson previously said that he was ‘intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich’. While he has since developed some trepidation, the original sentiment continues to guide government policy in the UK and Brazil with ‘wealth creation’ bounding off politicians’ lips. While superficially commendable, wealth creation is code for wealth capture: the adoption of policies that liberate wealthy classes to capture an increasing share of public assets. In the UK, council housing is forcibly sold, public services contracted out to private providers, and asset stripping treated as respectable enterprise. In Brazil, labour is systematically casualised, wealth inequality soars while fortunes – often hidden in plain sight – remain beyond the taxman’s reach, and the goalposts for retirement are stretched into the next century.
Lost in the morass of celebratory rhetoric about wealth creation (or capture) is the quid pro quo. In both countries, the past decade has been marked by a steady rise in child poverty, insecure work, and household debt with vulnerable groups faring worse of all. Indeed, with Machiavellian irony, public ire is pointed toward other vulnerable groups and the few public services that remain. Nor does it end there: we also observe a repositioning of state welfare responsibilities. No longer a duty of the state toward everyone, welfare is now conditional upon appropriate behaviour: the state provides x insofar as the citizen does y. Interlaced with the supposed horrors of deficits and welfare dependence, a contractual relationship swaps need for merit, leaving the undeserving to fend for themselves.
In August 2017, a group of Brazilian and British scholars will meet in Belo Horizonte to examine the role of wealth creation in exacerbating domestic and international poverty. Our investigation will engage both welfare reform (in the UK and Brazil) and economic development (globally). The coordinators of the workshop hypothesise that disparities in income and in consumption are not by-products but building blocks of the contemporary economic order. To be blunt, for a few people to get filthy rich, many more must get filthy poor.
We invite early career researchers (7-years from defence) and late-stage PhDs with interest in either / both welfare and development to join us in Belo Horizonte. You will participate in four days of academic activities among a group of 24-30 ECRs and 4 senior experts in these fields of research. In addition to engaging in academic debate on the topic during the workshop, you will join an evolving network of scholars who are building a mid-length research programme around these themes. Indeed, in the post-workshop period, you are required to produce a chapter for one of two anthologies (the English version will be published with Palgrave MacMillan and the Portuguese version with a yet-to-be confirmed university press). In addition, you will be asked to join a team grant application to be submitted to the ESRC. To facilitate participation, we will pay travel and accommodation costs for the selected participants.
Our workshop on welfare and development will produce concrete outputs of value for both jurisdictions and beyond. Moreover, we expect participants to leave the workshop capable and eager to build domestic and international partnerships as well as equipped to pursue additional funding opportunities.
Please contact me directly if you have any questions or would like to participate in the workshop.