SDG 8 – How Can We Build a Better Economy For All?

How Can We Build a Better Economy For All? It’s a question that should be on everyone’s lips.

The goal for SDG 8 is decent work and economic growth for everyone. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? We all want SDG 8 to succeed. What government wouldn’t aspire to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth for all. But is this possible today with so many competing factors?

In our latest SDG Mini-Series video, we looked into SDG 8, at how to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth. We broke down each of the components of the SDG, analysing its strengths, weaknesses, and how it fits into the wider Sustainable Development Goals.

The COVID pandemic has had a disastrous impact on the global economy. Nations across the world from South Africa to Venezuela have seen significant impacts on their economies. Despite this, optimism about the global economy remains as a sense of normality returns to everyday life for many nations across the world. How will SDG 8 support national economies to ‘build back better?’

What Issue Does SDG 8 Solve?

In 2019, the global unemployment rate stood at 5 per cent. The highest figures (11 %) were in Northern Africa and Western Asia. In all regions, the rate was considerably higher amongst young workers. In 2019, 22 percent of the world’s young people were not in employment, education or training. This figure has hardly changed since 2005.

Globally, of those who were in employment, 61 per cent of workers were in informal employment in 2016. The need to rely on informal employment was more prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia, where over 85% of workers were in such employment. 

These sustainable development goals are not only focused on developing nations. Many ‘developed’ modern industrial economies also have significant issues that require immediate action. These include issues such as poverty, inequality, and many more.

So how will SDG 8 achieve its goal? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths of SDG 8

There are a lot of targets and indicators for SDG 8, so it’s impossible to detail and analyse them all in this blog. However, a few of the targets are key to its overall success. Below, we briefly consider two of the important sub-targets.

Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors.

The key element of this goal is diversification. Having an economy that produces, and relies on multiple sectors, will make it more resilient to shocks and market fluctuations. If an economy is too dependent on a single commodity, such as oil, then any variation in global oil prices will cause huge destabilisation. See Venezuela as an example of how this plays out. 

Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage access to financial services.

The focus on fostering innovation and entrepreneurship as a method to support economic growth and development is important. In many less-developed economies, there is still a top-down approach where individuals are perpetually dependent on cash loans and grants provided by large aid or government organisations.

Weaknesses of SDG 8 

The topic that the SDG 8 is trying to cover is so huge and complicated that no set of policies or actions for sustainable change is likely to be without unintended consequences. SDG 8 has several issues worth mentioning. 

  • Weak and unclear targets
  • Is SDG 8 sustainable?
  • Weaknesses of centrally planned actions

Unclear Targets

Sadly, some targets are very unlikely to be achieved by 2030, if ever.

By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men.

Full employment is the holy grail for any economy. This is a state where the fewest number of people are left out of the economy so that everyone is productive and contributing. Has this ever happened for any economy in history other than the world wars when societies were totally mobilised through conscription. Total employment may not be an economic reality. And, this is approaching the topic from a western perspective where employment figures are significantly higher than in other regions.

For example, the UK is a highly productive and advanced nation by global standards and has barely dropped below 4% unemployment since 1970. Can we realistically expect all nations to develop and achieve this goal in a few short years?

Sustainability of SDG 8

It’s debatable whether some of the targets can be achieved without significant environmental consequences. The entire point of sustainable development is the ability to simultaneously meet the needs of the economy, and the environment. 

By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.

How do most tourists travel? If you want to travel across the world, the only rapid method of transport is by plane. Given that aviation contributes to nearly 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and no alternative is likely to emerge in the next 10 years, how will can SDG 8 achieve sustainability and mass tourism at the same time?

Centrally Planned Issues and a Workable Conclusion? 

Economies are complicated. There is no guarantee that by stating or financing these actions, we will arrive at the desired outcome. There are different philosophies when it comes to achieving sustainable economic growth.

The left-wing argument is to have larger centrally planned policies to support those that most need it. The belief is that this will enable a more equal share of resources.

A more right-wing argument would state that maximization of the free market and individual freedom to pursue entrepreneurship will generate growth.

In many ways, it could be argued that the SDGs fall firmly on the left-wing side of this argument, relying on plans and policies to support the drive for economic growth and decent work. No-one knows if this approach will work. Perhaps a healthy balance of private and public initiatives is required to achieve the goal of a strong and sustainable economy that works for the good of as many people as possible.

If SDG 8 can foster this public-private cooperation and enable greater access to economic opportunities to many of the world’s poorest, it will be considered a stunning success. Only time will tell if this is achieved.