Beyond Economic Inequality - a Socio-Ecological Perspective

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Henrike SCHAUM, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Department of Socioeconomics, Austria
Hendrik THEINE, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Institute for Ecological Economics, Austria
We live in times of multiple crisis characterised in particular by social and environmental problems. Within the social dimension, we find especially rising economic and social inequalities unfolding since the beginning of the 1980ies. In terms of environmental challenges, we observe that environmental pressures are putting our planet more and more at risk and resulting in ecosystem changes. Although much has been said addressing both crisis-phenomena separately, we argue that important aspects are not discussed with the attention that they deserve: the interaction between income distribution, different patterns of consumption and the resulting consequences for the environment.

Accordingly, our paper is a first attempted to take an integrated perspective on the social, ecological and economic dimensions of income distribution and consumption. Our central argument is as follows: the unequal distribution of income within a society is not only posing serious challenges for the economy but also adds to the steady erosion of a society’s natural resources as inequality fuels luxurious and status consumption. This type of consumption, in turn, can be characterized as relatively more damaging for the environment.

To tackle the issue form an integrated perspective, we will review the existing theoretical and empirical literature on income inequality, status consumption as well as environmental issues of specific consumption patterns. In a next step, we explore household expenditures and the evolution of income inequality in Germany over time to understand the inequality-consumption-nexus and shed light on the hypothesis that consumption changes in times of rising inequality. This is then linked to data on CO2 emission intensities for different household consumption patterns. We end by our paper with a discussion of our findings by placing them in the discourses around social and economic inequality as well as climate justice.