Nationality - Canadian
Lives in - London, UK
As well as reading her profile, Hillary welcomes you to connect with her directly.
Hillary has worked as a campaigner on a range of issues, all challenging inequalities. Most recently she has been working for Oxfam GB, in the Inequality campaign team, where she has been involved in a pan-European tax justice campaign.
Hillary read for an undergraduate degree in philosophy at McGill University, Canada, and then undertook an M.Litt in philosophy at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. At McGill, Hillary focused on political philosophy, ethics, and the history of economics. She was briefly mentored by G. A. Cohen, who left a lasting impression on her, as did his arguments around egalitarianism. In pursuing her thesis she read Smith, Ricardo, Marx’s Capital, J.S Mill, Friedman, Sen, Rawls, Schumpeter, Keynes, as well as numerous works on the measurement of happiness and well-being..
At St. Andrews, Hillary concentrated her energies on campaigning for the University to adopt an ethical investment policy. Marxist economics had failed to fully convince her: but the Marxist call for a practical and active philosophy resonated. She had been a grassroots activist in Montreal, and was steeped in a student protest culture, but her experience at St. Andrews marked the first time she’d been part of a strategic and successful civil society campaign, working at an institutional level. The experience of directly taking on and redesigning a structure that had encouraged system injustice was life-changing and, instead of becoming an academic, she moved into campaigning.
Since then Hillary has focussed on campaign work. This has included work on urban green space (poorer communities have significantly less access to the health benefits of green space, which are substantial); climate justice campaigns; and the global sexual and reproductive rights campaign with Amnesty International. As a result of her work for Oxfam GB, Hillary was seconded to the new international Fight Inequality Alliance coalition in January 2017, and helped them to launch their first week of action. She looks forward to being part of the extraordinary programme of work the Atlantic Fellows will create.
Hillary is aware that bios can be sterile things, and welcomes you to connect with her for a real conversation if you’re interested in the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity.
Inequality. So what?
Famine, pestilence and poverty have stalked us for centuries, millennia. For most of human existence these were unavoidable for the great majority of people, simply because we did not have the resources to address them. But for the first time in our history that has changed. At this stage we are vastly, almost incomprehensibly, wealthy. We’ve had more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet for decades. The sheer quantity of goods produced annually is staggering – we’ve become exceptionally effective at production. (thank you capitalism).
The above also means that, for the first time, poverty, hunger, disease, early death, all have one name: inequality. In a world of vast plenty much of human suffering is entirely about distribution.
My specific area of interest is around entitlement to resources through waged work. Given the automation of jobs, the capture of newly generated wealth by the rich, and the interest accrued on existing wealth, I am not convinced that work will remain a viable method of distribution. I’m also deeply concerned about relentless economic growth in the face of planetary boundaries and climate change, and I believe that the political imperative of job creation has, perhaps, become a driver of unsustainable economic growth. I’m interested in exploring alternatives to waged work, such as Universal Basic Income.
On a personal level
I’ve been thinking about inequalities all my adult life. My childhood was one of poverty in a wealthy country, which means I now look at the world through that bifocal lens. At 16 I was homeless, without family. A friend supported me. Then I slept on the roof of my elementary school (being female on the streets isn’t ideal). After that it was an emergency hostel for young people, then group homes. Some had bars on the windows, so we couldn’t run away. Room searches were regular, strip searches were threatened. Supervision was constant, freedom earned on a point system for good behaviour. One home fed us Kraft Dinner for months because the director was pocketing the food money.
It meant that by 16 I had learned that the middle-class people who owned property near group homes wanted to close the homes down: living beside troubled kids isn’t pleasant. Sometimes it affected their property values. I noticed that I was often the only white kid in the home, and I learned why. I also knew that I was exceptionally lucky to live in a country rich enough to offer State funded care, and I was aware that our minders were overworked. I thought a great deal about resources, rights, and social mobility. About the impacts of these on not only the individual, but also on society. This personal experience doesn’t give me any mysterious depth of insight, or somehow validate my opinions. What it has done is provide me with a fierce interest in systemic inequalities, a commitment to understanding them, and a drive to articulate what harms they generate, not just for the losers in the distribution game, but also for the winners, and for society more broadly.
The Fellowship is a life changing opportunity for me. I am profoundly honoured to have been invited to join this international community of people at the forefront of tackling inequalities, and I have every intention of learning as much as I can from my colleagues and working with them in the future. We stand on the brink of climate disaster and extreme inequality, nationalism and globalism are locked in struggle, and a new social contract is being formed. It is my great hope that this community will be one of the crucibles for new, bold, and strategic thinking on inequalities, and that this will be valuable in helping to build a positive way forward in the emerging economic structure. I remember student activists screaming “no justice, no peace”. It is likely the truth, and it is a truth that must spur even the wealthy to agree to an economics which works for everyone.
My next steps will be to bring what I have learned from the MSc and the fellowship back into international campaigning work. Civil society campaigns, in terms of their ability to mobilise the media and connect with the public, can truly shift the terms of the debate and help bring new ideas and policy solutions to the forefront of public discussions.