I am pleased to report that the Evatt Foundation was active throughout the past year in pursuit of the highest ideals of the labour movement. This year, and over the past three years, Evatt’s main thrust has been toward raising consciousness of growing economic inequality.
It will be recalled that Evatt’s focus on economic inequality arose from discussion at the 2013 AGM. The original idea was to draw some boundaries around what we anticipated would be the direction of the then freshly elected Abbott LNP government. In this, Evatt anticipated rising international concern over the issue, and we soon found ourselves in company with major world figures such as President Obama and Pope Francis, among many others, including surprising allies such as the International Monetary Fund and the OECD. For ease of reference, I've attached a potted history of the rising interest in—and some of the more manifest effects of—increasing economic inequality in Australia and the world since Evatt's 2013 AGM.
As everybody knows, the groundswell of concern gathered strength from and came to be embodied by the publication of the English language edition of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century in March 2014. As a simple index of the rising consciousness, it’s hard to go past the fact that this 700-page book of economics on the subject became an international bestseller. In a market that can only usually be relied upon to sell 300 to 500 copies, to date over 2.5 million copies of Capital in the Twenty-First Century have been sold worldwide. Given that the work is yet to go into paperback, the leading contemporary publication on economic inequality seems destined to become the biggest selling economics book in history.
In the wake of our 2013 AGM, and following an executive planning meeting in February 2014, Evatt took a lead in analysing and promoting Piketty’s work in Australia. Here, however, it should be remembered that concern over inequality was distinctly mute by comparison with the United States, Britain, Europe, the rest of the rich world, and many other places around the globe. Unlike in the US, Britain and France, Piketty’s book has never appeared on Australia's bestseller lists. Rather, the key event that sparked concern in the national context was the Abbott government’s first budget in May 2014, the Hockey Budget, which is generally regarded as the most unfair budget to have been brought down in living memory.
Throughout 2014, Evatt aimed to join the international concern over inequality exemplified by Piketty’s work with the national concern ignited by the Hockey Budget. During 2014, Evatt published over 60 articles on inequality on its website, and a significant number of articles elsewhere, including a major review article on Capital in the Twenty-First Century in the Journal of Australian Political Economy. We continued to publish work on inequality in 2015, although we turned our efforts more to making presentations on the issue. Evatt staged a Fringe event at the ALP’s National Conference in Melbourne in July 2015 on ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ that attracted standing-room-only attendance. Well attended presentations were also made at Politics in the Pub and the Balmain Institute.
I can now report that the thrust continued over the past year. In 2016, we published a good deal more work on the Evat