Human Economy

"A Human Economy, built for the many - not the few, can bring an end to inequality and eradicate poverty for good."
Babeth Ngoc Han Lefur
Oxfam in Vietnam

Globally, the way we run our economies needs to change. The over-reliance on GDP growth has paved way to rigged policies that benefit the richest individuals and corporations, instead of measures that ensure sustainable development and the people’s welfare. This economy model is exacerbating inequality, perpetuating poverty and trapping many millions in poorly paid and precarious work.

In Vietnam, the last twenty years have seen significant economic progress for ordinary citizens, especially with a strong record of poverty reduction. However, the current economy model is struggling to ensure that everyone benefits equally from the development process. Inequality persists on several important dimensions such as voice, access to education and healthcare. Marginalised people are often women, poor people, ethnic minority groups, or people living in remote areas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, fed off and increased existing inequalities in almost every country at once, and Vietnam is no exception. Despite being one of the most successful countries in containing the pandemic, Vietnam risks falling into the 20 countries with the fastest-growing poverty rates due to its impacts. The pandemic has also revealed the alarming number of informal workers unprotected by social security, and the huge burden of unpaid care work undertaken by women in the country.

Inequality Matters spells out dimensions of inequality that laden the people’s lives when the economy focuses on GDP growth. Discussions by experts from Harvard University, the Mekong Development Research Institute (MDRI), and the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences pose the question of whether Vietnam’s development achievements can compensate for the harm that the environment and society suffer.

Oxfam urges governments and policymakers to work together towards building a “Human Economy” that is people-centred instead of a “for-profit economy” that is disrupting social cohesion in many countries. A Human Economy, built for the many - not the few, can bring an end to inequality and eradicate poverty for good. A Human Economy is to save the environment for the next generations.

Towards a Human Economy in Vietnam

Max Lawson - Head of Inequality Policy, Oxfam International

Economies across the world have valued GDP growth more than other aspects of national development. But in 2020, nearly half of humanity is living below the poverty line, trying to survive on five dollars fifty a day. Economic growth alone, especially where it is not inclusive, will not beat poverty.

A Human Economy would measure what matters. A Human Economy will put people and the planet before profit. It will build successful economies and societies where people are at the centre of economic thinking; where industry and the market are made to benefit the majority, not simply a rich few; and where planetary and environmental boundaries are not transgressed while social foundations are met. Read more

GDP Growth - A convenient beacon that can hurt

Nguyen Tue Anh - Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow Center for International Development, Harvard University

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, Vietnam remains its positive GDP growth in 2020.1 Besides, thanks to economic successes, poverty headcount reduces while income per capita increases.

However, developing countries like Vietnam are facing the classic conundrum: growth vs. sustainability and equality. Whilst it has been enjoying the triumph of the world’s fastest GDP growth in the last years, the repercussions on our environmental and social equality have not gone unnoticed.

It’s hard to dismiss developmental and material gains in Vietnam due to economic growth; the critical question is whether the gains we have celebrated outweigh the costs to the environment and society in years past and to come. And to a large extent, the answer is “no” for Vietnam. Read more

Beyond GPD - The importance of unpaid care work

Oxfam has calculated that women’s unpaid care work alone is adding value to the economy to the tune of at least $10.8 trillion a year, a figure three times larger than the tech industry.

Feminist economics and gender equality are fundamental to a human economy, and a core part of this new, fairer, human economy is to fully address the role of unpaid and underpaid care work. Only by fundamentally changing the way that this work is done and how it is valued can we build a more equal world. Read more

Beyond GDP - The importance of multidimensional well-being measures

Phung Duc Tung - The Director of Mekong Development Research Institute (MDRI)

Differences in quality of education received by students will lead to unequal opportunities and widening gaps in income and living standards of future generations. The absolute increase in household out-of-pocket health spending continues to challenge about 10% of the population that do not have health insurance. This means that the goals of narrowing down the rich-poor gap and leaving no one behind would be increasingly hard to attain.

More than ever, in addition to economic growth, Vietnam needs to promote the use of indicators of poverty and multidimensional inequality, especially education and health dimensions; sustainable development metrics should be the basis for making economic development policies in order to create a harmonious and sustainable economy that serves the people. Read more

Beyond GDP - The importance of environmental sustainability

Nguyen Ngoc Huy - Senior Climate Change Advisor, Oxfam in Vietnam

The Mekong River Delta is prone to salt water intrusion over the years, which is driven by the adverse impact of climate change and the operation of upstream reservoirs. Therefore, swift change to the new context is needed.

Globally, hydroelectric plants have been disassembled to give a new lease to the living environment and ensure the balance of ecosystem, protect biodiversity and the environment. The Mekong Delta in particular and countries where the Mekong River runs through should follow suit by pursuing renewable energy such as solar, wind and tidal power generated by households, businesses, and electric power companies. Read more

Vietnam: Building a Human Economy in 2021-2030 period, with a vision towards 2045

Nguyen Thang - Director of Centre for Analysis and Forecasting, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences

The acceleration of aging population, urbanisation, middle-class transformation in emerging economies, climate change, environmental pollution, non-traditional security, etc. are among the prominent and emerging trends that have multidimensional effects on the contemporary world. Towards 2030 or even further to 2045, increasing wealth inequality potentially threatens social cohesion in particular and the development of Vietnam in general.

Oxfam’s concept of “Human Economy” shares similarities with the Vietnam Sustainable Development Strategy for 2011-2020, which views people as the centre of sustainable development. Read more


Inequality Matters 3

Human Economy Photobook 


Human Economy Exhibition