ERF 20th Annual Conference: Economic Development and Social Justice

This year’s Annual Conference is very special; it marks the 20th anniversary of the Economic Research Forum (ERF). This is a cause for celebration, not only because ERF has become a unique independent regional institution, but also because it has earned a reputation for excellence. And it has become a home for aspiring researchers. The Annual Conference this year will be devoted to the theme of Social Justice and Economic Development. This is a timely topic in light of the significant political transformation in the region. The plenary sessions will feature renowned economists and opinion makers. It will be held in Cairo, March 22-24, 2014 and it is expected to host more than 200 participants. I. Plenary Sessions According to many, social justice is considered one of the main reasons behind the popular uprisings that took place in several Arab countries. Although some of these countries were performing well in terms of economic growth, the majority of citizens were not seeing an improvement in their living conditions. On the contrary, they saw an increasing concentration of wealth, fewer opportunities and rising corruption. Exclusion, unequal treatment before the law and limited freedoms exacerbated these problems and fueled a strong sense of social injustice. The annual conference will address these questions focusing on what social justice might means, how different societies were able to bring it about, and what are the lessons from these experiences to the region. Plenary Session 1: Alternative Perspectives on Social Justice This session will examine how our understanding of social justice has evolved over time, providing alternative perspectives and citing historical examples. The speakers will address such questions as: is social justice about a process or final outcomes? And What may constitute social justice? Is it about a fair (re)distribution of resources, equal access to opportunities and rights, a fair system of laws and due process, the ability to benefit from opportunities and exercise rights, or is it merely about protecting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups through such policies as minimum wages, salary caps, subsidies and social safety nets? Finally, what were the primary reasons why some societies were/are able to attain greater social justice than others? Plenary Session 2: Models of Social Justice This session will examine contemporary experiences around the world with respect to the extent to which countries and regions were able to achieve social justice and how this goal was achieved. The speakers will cover the experiences of Europe, Latin America and Africa. In each case, they will address such questions as: what was considered a socially just outcome? What instruments/policies were used to attain that objective? And what lessons can be drawn for other countries? The discussion will go beyond economic justice and economic reasoning to integrate insights from political science and sociology. Plenary Session 3: Lessons for the Arab Countries in Transition This session will draw on accumulated knowledge and experience to offer tailored advice to Arab countries in transition in their quest for greater social justice. The speakers will address such questions as: How socially unjust were/are Arab societies? What brought this about historically? And how these countries may change course in response to the popular demand for greater social justice? The discussion will involve an assessment of past policies and the feasibility (or likelihood) of proposed reforms.
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