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Addressing Inequality: The First Step Beyond COVID-19 and Towards Sustainability


  • Nicholas A. Ashford

    (Technology and Law Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA)

  • Ralph P. Hall

    (School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA)

  • Johan Arango-Quiroga

    (Sustainability Program, Harvard University, Extension School, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA)

  • Kyriakos A. Metaxas

    (Sloan School of Management, Sloan MBA Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA)

  • Amy L. Showalter

    (School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA)


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted billions of lives across the world and has revealed and worsened the social and economic inequalities that have emerged over the past several decades. As governments consider public health and economic strategies to respond to the crisis, it is critical they also address the weaknesses of their economic and social systems that inhibited their ability to respond comprehensively to the pandemic. These same weaknesses have also undermined efforts to advance equality and sustainability. This paper explores over 30 interventions across the following nine categories of change that hold the potential to address inequality, provide all citizens with access to essential goods and services, and advance progress towards sustainability: (1) Income and wealth transfers to facilitate an equitable increase in purchasing power/disposable income; (2) broadening worker and citizen ownership of the means of production and supply of services, allowing corporate profit-taking to be more equitably distributed; (3) changes in the supply of essential goods and services for more citizens; (4) changes in the demand for more sustainable goods and services desired by people; (5) stabilizing and securing employment and the workforce; (6) reducing the disproportionate power of corporations and the very wealthy on the market and political system through the expansion and enforcement of antitrust law such that the dominance of a few firms in critical sectors no longer prevails; (7) government provision of essential goods and services such as education, healthcare, housing, food, and mobility; (8) a reallocation of government spending between military operations and domestic social needs; and (9) suspending or restructuring debt from emerging and developing countries. Any interventions that focus on growing the economy must also be accompanied by those that offset the resulting compromises to health, safety, and the environment from increasing unsustainable consumption. This paper compares and identifies the interventions that should be considered as an important foundational first step in moving beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and towards sustainability. In this regard, it provides a comprehensive set of strategies that could advance progress towards a component of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 to reduce inequality within countries. However, the candidate interventions are also contrasted with all 17 SDGs to reveal potential problem areas/tradeoffs that may need careful attention.

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  • Nicholas A. Ashford & Ralph P. Hall & Johan Arango-Quiroga & Kyriakos A. Metaxas & Amy L. Showalter, 2020. "Addressing Inequality: The First Step Beyond COVID-19 and Towards Sustainability," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 12(13), pages 1-43, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:12:y:2020:i:13:p:5404-:d:380198

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