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Poverty

Aid Must Change in order to Tackle Inequality: The OECD Responds to Angus Deaton

Duncan Green's picture

Jon Lomoy OECD
Guest post from
Jon Lomøy, Director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD)

Official development assistance – or aid – is under fire. In The Great Escape, Angus Deaton argues that, “far from being a prescription for eliminating poverty, the aid illusion is actually an obstacle to improving the lives of the poor.”

Yet used properly, “smart aid” can be very effective in improving lives and confronting the very issue that Deaton’s book focuses on, and which US President Obama has called the “defining challenge of our time”: rising inequalities.

As a recent UNDP report shows, more than three-quarters of the global population lives in countries where household income inequality has increased since the 1990s. In fact, today many countries face the highest inequality levels since the end of World War II.

There is clearly moral ground for arguing that it is unjust for the bottom half of the world’s population to own only as much as the world’s richest 85 people. Above and beyond this, however, academics, think tanks, and international organizations such as the OECD have found that rising inequalities threaten political stability, erode social cohesion and curb economic growth.

It is not surprising, then, that reduction of socio-economic inequality has moved to the centre of global discussions on the post-2015 goals. The OECD, responsible for monitoring official development assistance (ODA) and other financial flows for development, is complementing these discussions by exploring ways to better use existing financial resources – and mobilise additional ones – to promote inclusive and sustainable development. This includes redefining what we mean by ODA, as well as looking at the ways it can best be used to complement other forms of finance.

A Mobile Innovation Lab to Help Marginalized Roma in Eastern Europe

Roberta V. Gatti's picture

The Roma Inclusion Mobile Innovation Lab (RIMIL) pilot initiative launched by the World Bank aims to create a forum to build capacity to improve integration of marginalized Roma in Eastern Europe through better access to productive employment. Roberta Gatti, Regional Roma Coordinator in the Europe and Central Asia region, reports from Madrid on the initiative.

The Tyranny of Aid Critics

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Charles Kindleberger (h/t Gerry Helleiner) asserted that all reviewers can be counted on to say three things about a book: “It isn’t new. It isn’t true. And I would have said it differently.”  Notwithstanding their internal contradictions, these statements summarize my thoughts on Bill Easterly’s latest book, The Tyranny of Experts.

It isn’t new. The main point of the book is that the rights of the poor have been systematically undermined, directly by governments, especially authoritarian ones; and indirectly by “experts”, who either prescribe technical solutions that ignore poor people’s ability to come up with their own solutions, or provide legitimacy to these autocratic regimes so that they continue to suppress the poor.  Bill illustrates this point with three historical examples—China between the world wars, Africa at independence, and Colombia in the 1950s—where a combination of western (in some cases, colonial) interests and local elites conspired to keep the large majority of poor people poor for a long time.  The analytical backdrop to these three case studies is the “debate”—a debate that never took place—between two Nobel-prize-winning economists: Gunnar Myrdal, who advocated government intervention to improve the lot of the poor; and Friedrich Hayek, who believed in protecting the individual rights of the poor as a means of their escaping poverty.

If I Were 22: Travel And See How People Live

Jim Yong Kim's picture

 Jim Yong Kim with Father Jack in PeruPhoto: Jim Yong Kim with Father Jack in Peru


When I turned 22, I was struggling a bit. I was just two months into my first year at Harvard Medical School, and I had gone from an undergraduate environment at Brown University where I was an activist with a diverse group of peers to a situation where I was memorizing anatomy out of a textbook each and every night. It seemed a real letdown.

Over the next months and years, I met fellow activists including Paul Farmer, with whom I co-founded Partners In Health, and that opened up new possibilities. A few years later, I entered a PhD program in anthropology. Both connected the lessons from medical school to real passions of mine.

When I was 22, one thing naturally led to another. Even so, I wish I knew then what I understand better now about preparing myself for the future. I have three suggestions that I wish someone had told me when I was younger.

Yemen: What Next after the Friends of Yemen Meeting

Wael Zakout's picture


I have just returned from London where I attended the seventh meeting of the Friends of Yemen (FoY) group. This group was created in 2010 to help support Yemen through a period of crisis. It is co-chaired by the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Yemen itself, with 36 other members, including the United States and Russia.
At the meeting, members discussed how the international community would support Yemen to complete its political transition toward federalism, implement the outcome of its national dialogue—and lay the foundations for a democratic modern civil state.

May 16, 2014: This Week in #SouthAsiaDev

Mary Ongwen's picture
We've rounded up 18 tweets, posts, links, and +1's on South Asia-related development news, innovation and social good that caught our eye this week. Countries included: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Illuminating the margins: can €7.3 billion help ‘invisible’ populations in Poland?

Rob Swinkels's picture
Zbigniew is a 46-year-old homless man in Miechów, PolandDuring a recent study on social inclusion in Poland, one of the main questions our team wanted to answer was: which population groups are socially excluded?
After posing this question to experts from the government and NGOs alike, as well as the local population in different municipalities, we found that there is a large diversity of excluded groups. But what was surprising was the “exclusion traps” some categories of people were caught in.

When It Comes to Tackling Inequality, Start Early

Ana Revenga's picture

It seems that everyone is talking about inequality these days, and I, for one, am happy to see this issue at the forefront in the development discussion.

We can look at inequality in a number of ways, which are not unrelated. One of the most visible types of inequality on the radar is inequality of outcomes — things like differences in academic achievements, career progression, earnings, etc. — which, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad. Rewarding an individual’s effort, innate talents and superior life choices can provide incentives for innovation and entrepreneurship, and can help drive growth.  

However, not all inequalities are “good.” When inequality perpetuates itself because those born poor consistently do not have access to the same opportunities as those born rich, what emerges is a deep structural inequality that is bad for poverty reduction, bad for economic growth, and bad for social cohesion. How pervasive are these deep inequalities? Much more than we would like. Indeed, when we examine what is happening in many countries around the world today, we find large and persistent, even growing, gaps in earnings between rich and poor. And we find that those who start out in poverty or are part of a disadvantaged group tend to remain there, with little opportunity to work their way out.

How do we explain this, and what can we do to tackle it? We need to take a step back and look at where this inequality originates, and that is where the concept of equality of opportunity comes in to play. This concept broadly refers to access to a basic set of services that are necessary, at the minimum, for a child to attain his or her human potential, regardless of the circumstances — such as gender, geographic region, ethnicity, and family background — into which he or she is born. Too often, access to such basic services like electricity, clean water, sanitation, health care and education is much lower among children born into circumstances that place them at a disadvantage. Children from disadvantaged groups thus set off on an unequal path from day one, which curbs their opportunities and potential into adulthood.

May 9, 2014: This Week in #SouthAsiaDev

Liana Pistell's picture
We've rounded up 30 tweets, posts, links, and +1's on South Asia-related development news, innovation, and social good that caught our eye this week. Countries included: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, NepalPakistan, and Sri Lanka. For regular #SouthAsiaDev updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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