While the world has seen a rapid reduction in extreme poverty in recent decades, the goal of ‘ending poverty’ by 2030 remains ambitious. The latest estimates show that 1 billion people (14.5% of the world’s population) lived below the $1.25 threshold in 2011. Projections until 2030 suggest that even under optimistic growth scenarios, the global poverty target may not be reached. The latest World Bank estimates show that if developing countries were to grow at the (rather unprecedentedly high) rates they achieved during the 2000’s the global poverty headcount could decline from 14.5% in 2011 to 4.9% in 2030 – short of ‘ending poverty’. These projections assume distribution-neutral growth – that every individual’s income within each country grows at the same rate, essentially keeping inequality unchanged. As in the past, overall growth will be an important driver of future poverty reduction, but the inclusiveness of growth will also matter.
When I got that quote by the French philosopher tattooed on my arm, I wasn’t thinking about world poverty. I wasn’t thinking about the environment or peace or conflict or starvation or social justice. In fact, aside from puzzling over which recycling bin my coffee cup goes in, I didn’t think about much outside of my own world. Like so many others, I have plenty of my own problems to worry about, let alone ending world poverty. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives. That daily crush of details — getting to work on time or paying the bills — can swallow up years. But if everyone only focused on what’s happening in their own world, then nothing would ever get better.
In Even it Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality, Oxfam has delivered another powerful report making the case that tackling inequality is essential to create a more just world and to eliminate extreme poverty. I was asked to comment on this newly released report at an October 31 event held at the IMF, and was as impressed by the presentation as I was with the report.
Oxfam effectively uses research findings to advocate for policy changes to reduce global inequality. This statistics-laden report also wisely features compelling stories about real people, helping the reader to better understand how vast disparities in wealth adversely affect wellbeing. Oxfam has consistently argued to bring inequality to the fore of policy discussions, and not surprisingly, this report appears to have created a groundswell for their global #Even It Up campaign. While there were instances where I found myself questioning the quality of some references supporting a few statements and estimates, my overall reaction was that the ‘big picture’ claims of the report were well substantiated. In my comments, I suggest that if this report is a call to action, a useful next step for Oxfam or a partner in this work, will be to bring more clarity to what it means to eliminate extreme inequality. Establishing a goal or a measure to monitor progress will help to create better policies, and ensure better collaboration across governments and institutions.
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.
The data and processes needed to measure global poverty and gauge improvements in the prosperity of the bottom 40% of people in each country present complex challenges and provoke considerable debate amongst poverty experts.
From the comparability of household surveys and their use in policy design to the utility of purchasing power parity data as a unifying standard for measuring the poor, the devil in global poverty analysis is in the details. It’s also vital to understand the World Bank’s recently adopted twin goals in a broader context, to see how they fit into a broader array of monitorable indicators that each come with their own specific features and insights. We must also listen to client governments and outside partners when they prefer to go beyond income to look at multidimensional social welfare functions.
The World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu had some answers in a live-streamed conversation, Building Shared Prosperity in an Unequal World, with Chinese media entrepreneur Yang Lan in the lead-up to the institution’s Annual Meetings on Wednesday morning.
In April 2013, the World Bank Group endorsed two ambitious goals: (1) to end extreme poverty by 2030, and; (2) to promote “shared prosperity” by boosting the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of the population in every country. The introduction of the second goal marked a shift in the World Bank Group’s poverty reduction mission. Some might consider the goal #2 to constitute a refinement of a longer-standing -- albeit implicit -- emphasis on growth, widely considered a necessary condition for poverty reduction.
Is goal #1, ending extreme poverty by 2030, paramount and is goal #2 subsidiary to that first objective? On the other hand, if these two goals are prioritized equally, what might this mean for the extreme poor? What are the trade-offs between boosting the incomes of the bottom 40 percent in every developing country and ending extreme poverty globally?
There is a lot of public discussion about Thomas Piketty’s book on capital and its implications for inequality. His work strikes a chord with many of us because it outlines a future where basically your own or inherited wealth matters and where wage income and apparently your human capital does not matter that much for your income generation. So how do we escape such a one-sided and unequal world? Well, maybe one way is to understand better the interaction between growth, changes in the income distribution, and their implications for shared prosperity.
Last week the President of the World Bank Group launched at the Spring Meetings the report "Prosperity for All." One of the interesting areas the note reported on was the interrelationship between growth, movements in the income distribution and poverty reduction.
There are various ways of showing the impact of growth on people’s income and its interrelationship with a country’s income distribution. In comparing distributions over time, one of the more useful graphs is a Pen’s Parade (figure 1a), named after another Dutch economist as so many inequality or poverty measures are (other examples are the Theil index and Thorbecke for the Foster-Greer-Thorbecke Poverty Measure).
Laura Tuck, Vice President for the World Bank's Europe and Central Asia region, discusses her trip to Poland, its economy, progress in boosting shared prosperity, and the World Bank's partnership with the country.