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Spring Meetings 2014

Drifting Toward Plutocracy: Inexorable Concentration of Capital Undermines the Drive for 'Shared Prosperity'

Christopher Colford's picture

Like seismic waves rippling outward after a tectonic shift, reverberations are roiling the economic-policy landscape after the U.S. launch of the groundbreaking new analysis by Thomas Piketty, the scholar from the Paris School of Economics whose landmark tome – “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” – has newly jolted the economics profession.

Any Washingtonian or World Bank Group staffer who somehow missed the news of Piketty’s celebrated series of speeches and seminars last week – in Washington, New York and Boston – received an unmistakable signal this week about what an important intellectual breakthrough Piketty has achieved. President Jim Yong Kim on Tuesday cited Piketty while putting the issue of economic inequality at the top of his list of priorities during his review of the Spring Meetings of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Noting that he was already about halfway through reading Piketty’s “Capital,” President Kim sent a clear message that the skewed global distribution of wealth, as analyzed by Piketty and emphasized by many officials at the Bank and Fund's semiannual conference, should be top-of-mind for policy-watchers at the Bank and beyond – indeed, at every institution that hopes to promote shared prosperity.

Piketty’s scholarship is now receiving widespread acclaim as a landmark in economic analysis, and is being recognized both for its “exhaustive fact-based research” and its sweeping historical perspective. More of a patient dissection of hard data than a political roadmap, Piketty’s book has quickly become the subject of multiple praiseworthy reviews, notably in the New York Times and the Financial Times. One usually level-headed Bloomberg View analyst, recoiling from the “rapturous reception” accorded to the book, may have gone slightly overboard this week in asserting that Piketty's insights had been greeted by American liberals with “erotic intensity.”

Predictably, Piketty's book has also quickly become the target – “Piketty Revives [Karl] Marx,” blared a Wall Street Journal headline; “Marx Rises Again,” warned the New York Times’ lonely conservative scold – of the whack-a-mole ideological purists in laissez-faire Op-Ed columns, who forever seem tempted to equate modern-day liberalism with long-gone Leninism. Eager to publish denunciations of any idea, however modest, that might justify (heaven forfend) tax increases on stratospheric income-earners and the top-fraction-of-the-One Percent, the free-market fundamentalists on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board – unabashed cheerleaders for plutocracy – have opened up one of their trademark barrages via their Op-Ed columns (“This book is less a work of economic analysis than a bizarre ideological screed”; “The professor ought to read ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Darkness at Noon’ ”). The Journal's jihad clearly aims to demean or discredit anyone who might flirt with such Piketty-style notions as restoring greater progressivity to the tax code. (Egad: Progressive taxation? Next stop: Bolshevism.)

Years of Living Dangerously, Years of Opportunity

James Cameron's picture

Above, watch the trailer for "Years of Living Dangerously" and the panel discussion with Thomas Friedman during the 2014 Spring Meetings. Below, watch the premiere episode. 

Fueled by warmer temperatures and added moisture in the air, a storm system coils like a snake ready to strike. Rising seas stand poised to obliterate shoreline developments and cityscapes. The brown, dry soil of once-verdant farmland threatens food security for millions, all while the number of mouths to feed grows. Wildfires rage and burning peat lands belch black carbon and greenhouse gases into our thin shell of an atmosphere.
 
And that’s how climate change is affecting real people, right now, all over the globe. “Years of Living Dangerously” on SHOWTIME® features an exceptional cast of world-class journalists and celebrity reporters documenting the impact of climate change worldwide. Over nine episodes, we show that climate change is 100% a people story.
 
World leaders just affirmed the latest in a series of reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Prize-winning authority on climate science. These reports are uncompromising in their assessment that climate change is real, it’s us, it's now, it's getting worse, and we’re not prepared. The latest report makes clear we have the clean energy technologies to start slashing carbon pollution at very low cost, much lower than the cost of inaction – but the window to act is closing fast.
 

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and Thomas Friedman at the April 10 event. © Leigh Vogel/Connect for ClimateWorld Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and Thomas Friedman at the April 10 event. © Leigh Vogel/Connect for Climate
These are the years of living dangerously. But they are also years of hope. We are the first generation to know that climate change is a clear and present danger, and also the last generation that can stop it. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim often describes a vision of young children in the future, turning back to their fathers and asking, "Dad, what did you do when you knew?"

Toward Shared Prosperity, With an Urgent New Focus on Overcoming Inequality

Christopher Colford's picture

The challenge of promoting shared prosperity was one of the unifying themes throughout last week’s Spring Meetings at the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund – the whirlwind of diplomacy and scholarship that sweeps through Washington every April and October. A remarkable new factor, however, energized this spring's event: In a vivid evolution of the policy debate, the seminars, forums and news-media coverage seemed focused, to a greater degree than ever, not just on the economic question of the creation of overall economic growth but on what has traditionally been seen as a social question: the distribution of wealth.

And in the wake of the Spring Meetings, Washington this week got a bracing reminder of how difficult it may be to build truly shared prosperity – not because our economic institutions lack the ability to achieve it, but because our political institutions may fail to summon the willpower to demand it.

A scholar whose work has taken the economics profession by storm, Thomas Piketty, captivated policy-watchers this week with the Washington launch of his landmark new work, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Hailed as “the most important economics book of the year, and maybe of the decade” by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times – and praised by Martin Wolf of the Financial Times as “an extraordinarily important” work “of vast historical scope, grounded in exhaustive fact-based research”– “Capital” offers vital new insights into how wealth and power are distributed in modern economies. “Piketty has transformed our economic discourse,” asserts Krugman. “We’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to.”



Piketty’s account of “inexorably rising inequality,” according to New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter, challenges many of the economics profession’s “core beliefs about the organization of market economies” – including “the belief that inequality will eventually stabilize and subside on its own, a long-held tenet of free-market capitalism.” Instead, “the economic forces concentrating more and more wealth into the hands of the fortunate few are almost sure to prevail for a very long time.”

Education After the Spring Meetings: The Way Forward as a Global Practice

Simon Thacker's picture
adult literacy program for young Moroccan women

It’s the first class of an adult literacy program for young Moroccan women. Ghita comes to the front of the class, picks up a piece of chalk and carefully draws a line on the blackboard. It is the letter alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, one of the simplest to recognize and write: a single downward stroke.

The Longer World Waits to Address Climate Change, the Higher the Cost

Rachel Kyte's picture

Climate change ministerial, IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings 2014In September, the world’s top scientists said the human influence on climate was clear. Last month, they warned of increased risks of a rapidly warming planet to our economies, environment, food supply, and global security. Today, the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes what we need to do about it.

The report, focused on mitigation, says that global greenhouse gas emissions were rising faster in the last decade than in the previously three, despite reduction efforts.  Without additional mitigation efforts, we could see a temperature rise of 3.7 to 4.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times by the end of this century. The IPCC says we can still limit that increase to 2 degrees, but that will require substantial technological, economic, institutional, and behavioral change.

Let’s translate the numbers. For every degree rise, that equates to more risk, especially for the poor and most vulnerable.

Making the Case for Universal Health Coverage

Donna Barne's picture

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030 forum. © Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

With people around the world struggling to afford health care, countries as diverse as Myanmar, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Kenya, South Africa, and the Philippines are warming to the idea of universal health coverage. This growing momentum was the subject of a high-profile Spring Meetings event examining the case for universal health coverage and the steps to get there.

Some 70 governments have asked the United Nations for help to achieve universal health coverage, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He spoke at Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030, co-sponsored by the World Bank and World Health Organization and moderated by the WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

“We can celebrate the fact that virtually all mothers in Sweden survive childbirth,” Ban said. “But in South Sudan, one in seven pregnant women will not live to see their babies. Addressing this inequality is a matter of health and human rights … To secure health, we have to take preventive action. The concept of universal health coverage could be an important catalyst.”

Ban was part of a panel including World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim; Harvard University President Emeritus Lawrence H. Summers; Nigeria Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now the U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate.

In a Rapidly Changing World, Governments Need to Make Education a Priority

Donna Barne's picture
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, right, pose with education campaigners Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, who were caught up in the Pakistan gun attack on Malala Yousafzai and are in Washington to lobby for greater educational access. Photo: Roxana Bravo/World Bank

The world needs to step up efforts to educate large numbers of young people to meet the challenges of the 21st century. That was a key message at the Learning for All Symposium, Investing in a Brighter Future, at the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings.

The event, moderated by PBS News Anchor Judy Woodruff and webcast in three languages, linked what several participants described as an ongoing “learning crisis” with high unemployment among young people worldwide.

While a lot of progress has been made getting children into school, 57 million are still out of school. Studies have found that education gaps are impeding skills development, economic growth, and competitiveness around the world. In 2011 it was estimated that 73 million young people were unemployed globally. Youth employment rates are two to four times as high as those of adults in most countries.

If You Could Help End Extreme Poverty, Would You? We Can. Let's Take It On.

Ravi Kumar's picture
#TakeOn

 
Talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not. That’s the conventional belief.

Today, after listening to some amazing young people speak about their lives at Thursday’s End Poverty event at the World Bank, I’m convinced that opportunities are omnipresent.

These youth have one thing in common: They all want to take on poverty and want everyone else to join them. For the first time in history, we can end extreme poverty, and we can do it by 2030. It’s the right thing to do.

Confucius, a Chinese philosopher who lived in the fifth century B.C., said that when we are faced with what’s right, “to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” Today, four inspiring youth leaders were at the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C. to do what is right by helping to launch a global movement to end extreme poverty by 2030.

One of them, Chernor Bah, was born during a civil war in the slums of Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. Access to basic needs such as food was a privilege for him. His mom’s resilience helped him get education, he passionately told an energetic, youthful crowd. When he grew up he took it upon himself to mobilize young people to help increase access to education. Today he serves as the chairman of the Youth Advocacy Group for the Global Education First Initiative. Its goal is “to accelerate progress towards the Education for All goals and the education-related Millennium Development Goals.”

Stimulating the conversation on Syria: From art to action?

Catherine Bond's picture

If images spark conversation, can a conversation spur action? Or more specifically, can a discussion about art and Syria’s economy the more than 100 prompt finance ministers attending the World Bank’s annual Spring Meetings in Washington to dig deeper into their pockets and give more humanitarian aid to Syria?

Inequality Is Theme of Al Jazeera Interview

Donna Barne's picture

 Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

In a wide-ranging conversation, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and Al Jazeera’s Ali Velshi kept returning to a topic that has been rising in importance as it worsens in the world – inequality.

Velshi, the host of a nightly business news program on Al Jazeera America, asked is the middle class growing worldwide? Is it healthy? Does solving inequality require redistribution of wealth? How can the World Bank Group make headway on ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity when there are so many obstacles?


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