Inequality has become an intractable feature of rich industrialized democracies, despite consensus that more social and economic equality is desirable. This resilience is due to two key phenomena: legacies from the past, in particular changes in the political economy of rich democracies since the 1970s, and elite discourses around inequality. Julia Lynch examines the political dynamics underlying the “new normal” of high and rising inequality since 1980 by tracing the largely unsuccessful attempts of west European governments to reduce socioeconomic inequalities in health. In England, France, and Finland, governments stated their intention to reduce inequalities in health, yet they were largely unable or unwilling to do what it would take to achieve this goal. When center-left politicians take up the issue of socioeconomic inequalities in health, they do so in response to perceived taboos against redistribution, public spending, and market regulation. However, reframing inequality as a matter of health is at best a partial solution. Inequality persists because of the way political leaders choose to talk about it and not only because of economic necessity or demands from the electorate. Lynch discusses how these phenomena have shaped governments' efforts to control health inequalities before and during the COVID era.
Julia Lynch is Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the politics of inequality and social policy in the rich democracies, particularly the countries of western Europe. She has a special interest in comparative health policy and the politics of aging. She currently serves as editor of the journal Socio-Economic Review and as an expert advisor on health equity to the World Health Organization's Regional Office for Europe
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