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Income Inequality

Stalled productivity, stagnant economy: Chronic stress amid impaired growth

Christopher Colford's picture

Call it “secular stagnation,” or the disappointing “New Mediocre,” or the baffling “New Normal” – or even the back-from-the-brink “contained depression.” Whatever label you put on today’s chronic economic doldrums, it’s clear that a slow-growth stall is afflicting many nation’s economies – and, seven years into a lackluster recovery from the global financial crisis, some fragile economies seem to be lapsing into another slump.

As policymakers struggle to find a plausible prescription for jump-starting growth, a tug-of-war is under way between techno-utopians and techno-dystopians. It’s a struggle between optimists who foresee a world of abundance thanks to innovations like robot-driven industries, and pessimists who anticipate a cash-deprived world where displaced ex-workers have few or no means of earning an income.

To add a bracing dose of academic rigor to the tech-focused tug-of-war, along comes a data-focused realist who adds a welcome if sobering historical perspective to the debate. Robert J. Gordon, a macroeconomist and economic historian at Northwestern University, takes a longue durée perspective of technology’s impact on growth, wealth and incomes.

Gordon’s blunt-spoken viewpoint has caused a sensation since his newest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” was launched at this winter’s meetings of the American Economic Association. His analysis injects a new urgency into policymakers’ debates about how (or even whether) today’s growth rate can be strengthened.

When Gordon speaks at the World Bank on Thursday, March 31 – at 11 a.m. in J B1-080, as part of the Macrofiscal Seminar Series – economy-watchers can look forward to hearing some ideas that challenge the orthodoxies of recent macroeconomic thinking. His topic – “Secular Stagnation on the Supply Side: Slow Growth in U. S. Productivity and Potential Output” – seems likely to spark some new thinking among techno-utopians and techo-dystopians alike.

To watch Gordon’s speech live via Webex – at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 31 – click here. To dial in to listen to the audio, dial (in the United States and Canada) 1-650-479-3207, using the passcode 735 669 472. For those telephoning from outside the United States and Canada, the appropriate numbers can be found on this page.

On the road to middle class: A look back and a look ahead for Ghana

Vasco Molini's picture

 A look back and a look ahead for Ghana
 
I have vivid memories of my first trip to Ghana. It was in July 2006 and I was in the country to do a research on Ghanaian farmers. It was in Accra, where I watched my team, Italy, win the FIFA World Cup final against France. Other than being a lucky charm to me, I thought Accra was a nice and safe town but,I felt that it had the potential to grow.

When I came back seven years later, I was pleasantly surprised by the changes. The city was dotted with new buildings, new roads, and had a really buoyant atmosphere. Of course, Accra is not representative of the whole country, but according to a recent report that Pierella Paci and I presented in October, growth and poverty reduction have been widespread in the country. 
 
Now you may ask as to how Ghana was able to achieve this. In our report, Poverty Reduction in Ghana: Progress and Challenges, we show that sustained and inclusive growth in the last twenty years has allowed Ghana to more than halve its poverty rate, from 52.6% to 21.4% between 1991 and 2012.( Note: For comparing 1991 and 2012 poverty rates for both absolute and extreme poverty, the study used the 1999 poverty line. Official poverty rates use the new poverty line re-based in 2013.) The impact of rapid growth on poverty has been far stronger in Ghana than elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, until 2005 for every 1% increase in GDP in Ghana, the incidence of poverty fell by 2.5% — far above the Sub-Saharan average of 1.6%.

Media (R)evolutions: Internet penetration and income inequality

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Growing inequality is one of the defining challenges of our time. Seven out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater than it was 30 years ago, Oxfam reports. Inequality has also been on the radar of World Economic Forum topping its annual survey of global risks this year.  Christine LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has also recently warned that rising inequality is choking economic growth, and leaving “a wasteland of discarded potential”.

What role can the Internet play in helping to address inequality?  The Internet can be an enabler of equal opportunity and broad-based growth because, among other things, it can:

Unfortunately, over four billion people are not connected to the Internet; ninety percent of them live in the developing world. The following graph from Web Index shows, there is a very strong correlation between per capita income and access to the Internet, with the steepest increases in Internet penetration taking place as average income rises from $0 to $10,000 per year.

 Internet Penetration and Income Inequality

Why it’s time to put gender into the inequality discussion

Duncan Green's picture

Naila KabeerLSE’s Naila Kabeer introduces a new issue of Gender and Development, which she co-edited.

The development industry has focused mainly on the question of absolute poverty over the past decades of neo-liberal reform.  Given the levels of deprivation that continue to exist in poorer regions of the world, this focus is not entirely misplaced. But it only tells us part of the story. The growing concern about economic inequality adds an important missing piece.  We are better able to understand the persistence of absolute deprivation in the world when we compare the share of the world’s income and wealth that goes to its richest citizens with the share that goes to its poorest.

The story becomes more complex when we factor in questions about social inequality because this tells us that certain groups are systematically over-represented at the bottom of the income distribution and among the ranks of the absolute poor, while others are over-represented at the other end of the income distribution.  The current issue of Gender and Development reminds us that gender inequality is one of the most significant of these group-based inequalities – and also one of the most distinctive.

Unlike other groups facing social discrimination, men and women are probably equally represented among the world’s wealthiest households, but women’s presence tends to be predicated on their relationships to wealthy men. According to Forbes magazine, there are currently 1826 billionaires in the world of which 197 are women or 11% of the total. Only 29 of these women are ‘self-made’ billionaires. The rest inherited their wealth from fathers or husbands.

Attention to the distribution of individual earningsrather than household income gives us a better picture of how gender inequality plays out at the wealthier end of the spectrum. The gender pay gap among leading Hollywood movie stars is among the more publicized recent examples of this.

But the gender gap in earnings is larger at the poorer end of the economic spectrum and its consequences far more severe.

Where has the global movement against inequality got to, and what happens next?

Duncan Green's picture

Katy Wright, Oxfam's head of Global External AffairsKaty Wright, Oxfam’s Head of Global External Affairs, stands back and assesses its campaign on inequality.

The most frequent of the Frequently Asked Questions I’ve heard in response to Even it Up, Oxfam’s inequality campaign is “how equal do you think we should be?”

It’s an interesting response to the news that just 80 people now own the same wealth as half the world’s population put together, and the best answer was that given by Joe Stiglitz to a group of UN ambassadors: “I think we have a way to go before we worry about that.”

The Inequality BusSo how far do we have to go, exactly? The good news is that inequality is no longer just the concern of a small number of economists, trades unions and social justice campaigners. It’s now on the agenda for the international elite.

That partly reflects a growing realisation that inequality may be a problem for us all, not just those at the bottom. The Spirit Level  raised questions about the impact of inequality on societies, and the rise of Occupy pointed to a growing political concern.

More recently, research papers from the IMF have demonstrated extreme inequality is at odds with stable economic growth, and that redistribution is not bad for growth. Significantly, this shift in focus from the IMF has been driven by Christine Lagarde. To the outside world, the IMF now officially cares about inequality, as do Andy Haldane at the Bank of England, Donald Kaberuka (outgoing head of the African Development Bank), and Alicia Barcena of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, to name a few.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

Income inequality: poverty falling faster than ever but the 1% are racing ahead
The Guardian
How are the benefits of economic growth shared across society? Much of the current discussion assumes that income inequality is rising, painting a gloomy picture of the rich getting richer while the rest of the world lags further and further behind. But is it really all bad news?  The reality is complex, yet by looking at recent empirical data we can get a comprehensive picture of what is happening to the rich and the poor.  Let us start with the share of total income going to that much-maligned 1%. Reconstructed from income tax records, this measure gives us the advantage of more than a century of data from which to observe changes.

Global Journalism Education: A Missed Opportunity for Media Development?
Center for International Media Assistance
Media development organizations have worked for many years directly with media industries to train journalists. Little of their effort has been focused on shaping the training these journalists receive before they are immersed in the media industries, which in many countries are weak and are not fertile ground for building journalism skills nor for upholding journalism standards. But top journalism schools have now reached a quality that suggests media development organizations should begin to work more directly with the best schools. Such partnerships could substantially contribute to better professional training that many of these schools want to offer.
 

​Are we heading towards a jobless future?

Randeep Sudan's picture
From the wheel to the steam engine, from the car to ‘New Horizons’ — an inter-planetary space probe capable of transmitting high-resolution images of Pluto and its moons — from the abacus to exascale super-computers, we have come a long way in our tryst with technology. Innovations are driving rapid changes in technology today and we are living in a world of perpetual technological change.
 
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1965, Gordon Moore — co-founder of Intel Corporation — hypothesized that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double every 18 to 24 months. This came to be known as Moore’s Law, the ramifications of which are hard to ignore in almost any aspect of our everyday lives. Information has become more accessible to people at lower costs. Today’s work force is globalized and there are few domains that are still untouched by technology.
 
Yet the very ubiquitous and rapidly evolving nature of information and communication technologies (ICTs) gives rise to fears of displacing more workers and potentially widening the economic gap between the rich and poor. Technological evolution and artificial intelligence are fast redefining the conventional structure of our society.

Unleashing the power of women entrepreneurs around the world: The smartest investment to unlock global growth

Jin-Yong Cai's picture
Jacqueline Mavinga, entrepreneur, Democratic Republic of Congo.  © John McNally/World Bank Group


​Since childhood, Gircilene Gilca de Castro dreamed of owning her own business, but struggled to get it off the ground. Her fledgling food service company in Brazil had only two employees and one client when she realized she needed deeper knowledge about what it takes to grow a business. To take her business to that next level, she found the right education and mentoring opportunities and accessed new business and management tools.

Campaign Art: How (un)equal is East Africa?

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

The 85 richest individuals in the world own as much as 3.5 billion of the poorest people, according to Oxfam. It's a staggering statistic, but it has friends. 

The 2014 Global Wealth Databook by Credit Suisse reports the bottom 50% of the world's population own less than 1% of its wealth, the richest 10% hold 87%, and the top 1% alone possess 48.2%. 

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group also stated in the Global Monitoring Report that while the number of people living in extreme poverty is decreasing, the gap between the haves and the have nots is increasing. Today, the world's richest 10% earn 9.5 times more than the poorest 10% of the world. Twenty-five years ago, they earned 7 times more than their less fortunate peers.

Taking a closer look at East Africa, Ben Taylor (mtega), an Open Development Consultant with Twaweza, finds that the richest 1% in East Africa own as much wealth as the poorest 91%. The six wealthiest individuals in the region own as much as 50% of the region’s population or 66 million people.
 
How (un)equal is East Africa?

FT Weekend: Glimpses of Unattainable Opulence

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Why do we consume the media that we do, especially the ones we rely on all the time? Many media scholars argue that we consume media because of their usefulness to us and the gratifications they bring. This is known as the uses-and-gratification paradigm. Says Alan M. Rubin:
 

The assumptions of uses and gratifications underscore the role of audience initiative and activity. Behavior is largely goal directed and purposive. People typically choose to participate and select media or messages from an array of communication alternatives in response to their expectations and desires. These expectations and desires emanate from, and are constrained by, personal traits, social context, and interaction. [i]

If this is true, and I believe it is, then the media you regularly consume says a lot about you, particularly your expectations and desires.


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