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The income of the world’s poor is going up, but they’re $1 trillion poorer. What’s going on?

Duncan Green's picture

Oxfam number cruncher Deborah Hardoon tries to get her head round something weird – according to the stats, the poorest half of the world is getting poorer even though the incomes of these people are rising.

It has become something of a tradition that in January every year we take a look at the Forbes list of billionaires and the Credit Suisse Global Wealth databook and calculate how many billionaires it takes to have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the planet. Since we started doing these calculations, we have watched the wealth of the top grow at the same time as the wealth of the bottom 50% has fallen. The data tells us that the bottom 50% have approximately $1 trillion (that’s $1,000 billion) less wealth than they did 5 years ago, whilst the richest 62 have about $0.5 trillion more.

The extremely wealthy are able to accumulate more wealth in a day than a whole factory full of workers could earn in a year. On 21stApril, in a 24 hour period, Carlos Slim made more than $400 million. Thomas Piketty famously points out that the rate of return on capital is higher than the general growth rate, such that capital owners are at a distinct economic advantage.

Meanwhile those 3.6 billion people in the bottom 50% include people in debt, people with nothing and people with a net wealth of up to about $5,000. People with little, no, or negative wealth, especially in developing countries with poor social insurance mechanisms (four out of five people in the bottom 50% live in Africa or Asia – including China and India), will not only find it hard to respond to financial shocks – like a poor harvest or a medical bill, but will also find it much harder to invest in their families’ future. Having little wealth may be concerning, but having less and less wealth year to year is even more worrying.

Kuznets Waves and the Great Epistemological Challenge to Inequality Analysis

Francisco Ferreira's picture
A couple weeks ago I was fortunate to serve as a discussant at one (of the many) launch events for Branko Milanovic’s latest book: Global Inequality: A new approach for the age of globalization. The book is hugely thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. Along with many people in the audience, we had a great conversation. Over lunch afterwards, Branko urged me to put my thoughts into a blog – so here they are!

Innovative Africa for a better tomorrow

Teodoro De Jesus Xavier Poulson's picture
Despite a decade of strong growth, Sub-Saharan Africa still faces a number of social and economic challenges. These range from access to education, off-the-grid electricity, clean water, job creation and public infrastructure. While there is no silver bullet, one word is inspiring millions – innovation.
 

The knowledge capital imperative

Eric A. Hanushek's picture
Without quality education, there is little hope for countries to obtain the requisite long run growth.

Ed: This guest post is by Professor Eric A. Hanushek, a Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. Join us online on January 28, 2016 to listen to Prof. Hanushek as he discusses his latest book “The Knowledge Capital of Nations”.
 
In September 2015, the United Nations adopted an aggressive development agenda that included 17 separate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to guide investment and development over the next 15 years. Two of these assume particular importance because they will determine whether or not the other 15 can be achieved. 

Creating Quality Jobs for Cote d’Ivoire’s Future Generations

Jacques Morisset's picture
Although most Ivorians are employed, they struggle to find jobs that provide decent sustainable incomes. An average worker earns 120,000 FCFA or $200 per month, which is lower than the average in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Firmin gets by doing small odd jobs. One day he is a street vendor, the next day a carpenter, and on other days he’s a gardener. He arrived in Abidjan two years ago with high hopes of joining the National Police Academy. His story resembles that of thousands of Ivorians who join the domestic workforce each year. Today, there are about 14 million people of age to work in the country, and by 2025, there will be approximately 22 million - all of whom seek a secure well-paying job. 

Ethiopia’s growth miracle: What will it take to sustain it?

Lars Christian Moller's picture



If you are curious to know which country has achieved double digit growth in the last 12 years, making it the fourth fastest-growing in the world, the answer is Ethiopia. And what is more striking is that if Ethiopia sustains its current pace of growth, it will become a middle income country by 2025.

Sustaining structural reforms in Africa in good and tough times

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture



The recently-published
Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by the International Monetary Fund underscores the enduring view of  international financial institutions that the depth, pace and perfecting of structural reforms needs to continue, not only for competitiveness and growth but also for resilience should external headwinds emerge. The report also presents an important opportunity to further develop this agenda, by the additional treatment of the underlying causes, particularly non-price based ones, and thereby generate a more actionable view of the growth, competitiveness and equality trends so incisively presented in the report.

The things we do: Why work does not depend on demand

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Bureaucracy - MagritteWhen was the last time you finished a job in less time than was allocated to it?  Have you ever moved from a smaller to a larger home and discovered that your big, new home is somehow filled with stuff after a while? How about car parks or real estate developments that start out small, enlarge, and end up just as packed as before?

It’s human nature to fill the time and space available to us. This phenomenon, known as Parkinson’s Law, states that, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” 

Other variations of the principle includeThe more money you earn the more money you spend,” or “The bigger the available space, the more junk it can hold.”

This principle comes from the opening line of a humorous essay by Professor Cyril Northcote Parkinson published in The Economist in 1955.  

The essay explains the results of a study he conducted of the British Civil Service. The British Civil Service grew between 1914-1928, with a noticeable rise in administrative positions and a concurrent decline in ‘fighting’ positions. In 1914 there were 2,000 Admiralty officials with this number growing to 3,569 in 1928, creating “a magnificent Navy on land.” The interesting part of this shift, however, is that this growth was unrelated to any possible increase in their work.  The British Navy during that period had diminished by a third in men and two-thirds in ships. From 1922 onwards it was limited by the Washington Naval Agreement, signed among the major nations that had won World War I, which limited naval construction to prevent an arms race. Thus, the number of people employed in the bureaucracy increased even as the British Empire collapsed — an event that decreased the amount of work available.

Agenda for lifting growth: macro, structural, or macro-structural?

Zia Qureshi's picture
Global growth has repeatedly disappointed in the past few years. Successive forecasts of an acceleration of global growth have failed to materialize, with outcomes consistently falling short of projections. In what has become a familiar pattern of late, forecasts for global growth were lowered again in the latest editions of the World Economic Outlook, the OECD Economic Outlook, and the Global Economic Prospects recently released by the IMF, the OECD, and the World Bank, respectively.

How significant could Africa’s demographic dividend be for growth and poverty reduction?

S. Amer Ahmed's picture
Total dependency ratio, 1950-2030
Total dependency ratio, 1950-2030 *


Africa’s population grew at an average annual rate of 2.6 percent between 1950 and 2014, much faster than the global average of 1.7 percent as estimated from UN population projection data. During this time, the region experienced a demographic transition, moving from a period of high mortality and fertility rates to one of lower mortality, yet still high fertility rates. Other regions, most notably East Asia, took advantage of their transitions to accelerate growth, and reap a so-called ‘demographic dividend’. Africa is now being presented a similar opportunity.


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