Global Policy Forum

Social and Economic Policy


When founding the United Nations in 1945, member states agreed to work together to promote "economic and social advancement of all peoples." Social and Economic Policy at the UN explores the role and contribution of the UN and its related family of institutions to global policy making on a wide range of social and economic issues.

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Sixty years later, poverty and Income Inequality are on the rise, many people endure terrible working conditions, and the world population faces an alarming environmental crisis.  The section on Poverty and Development covers various political, social and economic issues following world leaders' and multilateral institutions' battle to eradicate poverty and promote development. Many NGOs call for reform of the global economic systems, including Debt Relief, International Aid, and Global Taxes through strategies such as Financing for Development.

The World Economic Crisis began in 2007 in the wake of financial and real estate speculation in the United States, but has rapidly spread financial instability worldwide. Many see the crisis as an opportunity for renewed regulation and democratic re-structuring of the global economy. But the depth of the crisis, the lack of strong global institutions, and additional overlapping crises in the Environment, Natural Resources and Global Trade complicate solutions. As unemployment rates soar, millions more people will be plunged into poverty as a result of the global economic and financial crisis engulfing the world. 

While the UN and its related institutions do much to promote development, other powerful institutions and actors dominate the global economic system.  Bretton Woods and Other Governance Fora, provides analysis on the tremendous power that The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization wield over global social and economic policy. These actors generally represent the interests of the rich while excluding the voices of the poor.

Picture Credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

Transnational Corporations (TNCs) are also gaining increasing influence, with some of the biggest TNCs enjoying larger annual income than many low- and medium-income countries. Capitalist economic theory holds that a completely liberalized global market is the most efficient way to foster growth, yet, in practice, cutting trade barriers and opening markets do not necessarily generate development.  As a result, International Trade is inherently unequal.  To address Global Inequality, governments call for international regulation of corporate activity to ensure basic Labor Rights, human rights and environmental standards, in addition to a stronger role for the UN in social and economic policy.

World leaders are failing to meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals, which seek to reduce the percentage of hungry people by half by the year 2015.  World Hunger analyses how speculation on food prices, combined with our inequitable globalized system of agricultural production have contributed to the food crisis and soaring food prices of 2008.  Climate Change brings added pressure to achieving food security, therefore the agricultural system requires a holistic approach with greater emphasis on socially and environmentally sustainable solutions.

Unsustainable environmental practices pose increasing threats to the Earth's climate, water, forests, biodiversity, food and energy supply, disproportionately affecting developing countries. Over 150 governments have ratified the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, but some major greenhouse gas emitters like the United States have not, thereby rapidly accelerating the global climate crisis. In a globalizing world, problems and solutions reach across national borders, resulting in a growing need for international collective action. This has raised the importance of the concept of Global Public Goods in international policy making.

Links and Resources on Social and Economic Policy can be found here. The section on Tables and Charts on Social and Economic Policy provides data on global social and economic policy issues.


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