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Increasingly, inequality within, not across, countries is rising

Jos Verbeek's picture

During the second-half of the last century countries were placed in one of two mutually exclusive camps: north or south, east or west, advanced or emerging, developed or developing. Simple though this categorization of countries had been, it reflected prevailing realities. In 1970, for instance, the global distribution of per capita income showed a clear divide between richer and poorer countries (See Figures 1 and 2). These between-country differences were equally applicable to other development conditions, notably health and education. However, as Hans Rosling emphasized during his last presentation at the World Bank, for the 21st century this binary distinction between countries is outdated. Boundaries between developed and developing regions are less clear today because of the extraordinary social and economic progress achieved in the large majority countries. Global economic activity is less geographically concentrated and increasingly dispersed across production networks that connect metropolitan areas around the world.

The yawning divide between big city and countryside Tanzania

Nadia Belhaj Hassine's picture

Achieving shared prosperity, one of the World Bank’s twin-goals, isn’t just a middle-income country’s preoccupation. It has a special resonance in Tanzania, a US$1,000 per capita economy in East Africa.

Tanzania has seen remarkable economic growth and strong resilience to external shocks over the last decade. GDP grew at an annualized rate of approximately 7 percent.  Yet, this achievement was overshadowed by the slow response of poverty to the growing economy. The poverty rate has remained stagnant at around 34 percent until 2007 and started a slow decline of  about one percentage point per year, attaining 28.2 percent in 2012. To date, around 12 million Tanzanians continue to live in poverty, unable to meet their basic consumption needs, and more than 70 percent of the population still lives on less than US$2 per day. Promoting the participation of the poor in the growth process and improving their living standards remains a daunting challenge.

Does More Income Mobility = Higher Social Welfare?

William Maloney's picture
 Curt Carnemark / World BankIncome mobility is usually considered a good thing. It implies higher social welfare as the ability of individuals to move up and down the income ladder mitigates the impacts of poor income distribution. But it is also true that when income jumps up and down unexpectedly, life becomes riskier and planning, difficult. This is why making a general link between the mobility we observe in the data and welfare is not straightforward.

A common approach used to show high mobility is a low correlation of present and past incomes is captured, for instance, by the Hart index (cov lnyt, lnyt-1). If we assume, as is often done, that an individual’s income is comprised of a transitory component (short-term blips up or down in a self-employed person’s income that we can smooth, or even measurement error), and a permanent component where each income shock is persistent (say, an income loss after an involuntary job change (an AR (1) process with autoregressive coefficient, ρ), then the Hart index can be broken into three parts.

Evening It Up: A New Oxfam Report on Inequality

Dean Mitchell Jolliffe's picture

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.

Inequality at the very very very top: What does the Forbes Billionaires database tell us?

Joao Pedro Azevedo's picture

Thinking about inequality is back in fashion! In its November 2013 outlook, the World Economic Forum called rising inequality the second biggest risk for 2014-15. The 2014 English translation of French economist Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” became an instant bestseller among academics and practitioners in both developed and developing countries. Discussions of inequality are popping up everywhere, and even seem to be setting the tone of many round tables and presentations in the World Bank Group’s upcoming Annual Meetings.

Inequality of opportunity: the new motherhood and apple pie?

Adam Wagstaff's picture

On the face of it, questioning the usefulness of “inequality of opportunity” seems about as wrongheaded as questioning the merits of family vacations, Thanksgiving or dessert trolleys. What’s not to like about it? Well, as we argue in a recent World Bank working paper, the idea is not quite as useful as it might at first glance appear, and is in fact rather dangerous. But turned upside down, it might yet be useful.

A simple idea – let’s see some numbers

The idea behind inequality of opportunity is simple yet powerful. Not all inequality is bad. The bad bit of inequality (‘inequality of opportunity’) is the part that emerges because of factors over which we have no control (our 'circumstances'). By contrast inequality that emerges because of our different choices and efforts (holding constant our circumstances) is fine, and to be encouraged.

Were the poor left behind by the health MDGs?

Adam Wagstaff's picture

Thanks to Thomas Piketty, we’ve heard a lot this year about rising inequality. And with just over a year to go before the MDG ‘window’ closes, we’ve also heard a lot about the ‘post-2015 agenda’. In a paper with Leander Buisman that just came out in the World Bank Research Observer, we bring these two themes together and ask: “Were the poor left behind by the health MDGs?” Influenced perhaps by all the talk of rising income inequality, there are certainly plenty of pessimistic folks out there who think that health inequalities, too, are on the rise; that the better off are likely to have seen much faster improvements in MDG indicators than the poor.

Jason Furman speaks on inclusive growth in the US

Vamsee Kanchi's picture

Jason Furman, appointed by President Barack Obama as the Chairman of the Council of Economic Affairs, spoke yesterday at the World Bank about inclusive growth in the US. Furman said that average income for the bottom 90% grew strongly across all OECD countries starting in the 1950s, but has flattened in the US since the ‘70s. Furthermore, Furman added that capital income contributes more to overall inequality towards the upper end of the American income distribution.

Furman also pointed out that starting in 2000, labor share in US income started falling, largely because of globalization.

Services, Inequality, and the Dutch Disease

LTD Editors's picture

A new World Bank policy research working paper by Bill Battaile, Richard Chisik, and Harun Onder shows how Dutch disease effects may arise solely from a shift in demand following a natural resource discovery. The natural resource wealth increases the demand for non-tradable luxury services due to non-homothetic preferences. Labor that could be used to develop other non-resource tradable sectors is pulled into these service sectors. As a result, manufactures and other tradable goods are more likely to be imported, and learning and productivity improvements accrue to the foreign exporters.

Poverty, Shared Prosperity, and Trade-Offs

Kathleen Beegle's picture

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?