More than ten years ago Ronald Inglehart, of the University of Michigan, and his team at the World Values Survey asked thousands of respondents around the world to rate their views, on a scale of 1 to 10, on whether they felt inequality in their countries should go up or down. The way they phrased the question was that 1 corresponded to full agreement with the statement that “incomes should be made more equal”, whereas 10 stood for “we need larger income differences as incentives for individual effort”.
Inequality is getting more attention in efforts to monitor development progress. Alongside established measures of poverty and human development there have been calls for monitoring inequality. How should this be done?
We focus here on just one aspect of inequality, though an important aspect, namely the inequality of consumption or income. This is about “inequality of results” not “inequality of opportunities,” which may be more important but is much harder to measure. And there are other dimensions of inequality that matter, such as inequality in access to health and education services. But this is the obvious place to start.
Last week, I participated in GE’s global conference, ‘Disrupt or Be Disrupted’. The theme of the event was simple. As barriers to entry fall in nearly every industry, no company is safe or immune from being disrupted in a fundamental way. It’s no longer uncommon that industry leaders lose their edge in months, and wither to irrelevance in record time. Unless corporates have the courage to embrace and empower their ‘creatives’ they don’t stand a chance in sustaining their competitive advantage.
India experienced sustained economic growth for more than two decades following the economic liberalization in 1991. While economic growth reduced poverty significantly, it was also associated with an increase in inequality. Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen (2011) argue that Indian economic reform has been “unprecedented success” in terms of economic growth, but an “extraordinary failure” when it comes to improvements in the living standard of general population and social indicators. The contrasting news reports on billion dollar house (Mukesh Ambani’s house at Mumbai) and farmers’ suicides have brought the issue of income inequality to the spotlight for many people. Does the increase in inequality in post-reform India reflect deep-seated inequality of opportunity or efficient incentive structure in a market oriented economy?
In an article on a Brookings website, Laurence Chandy and Homi Kharas chide the World Bank for three so-called “contradictions” in its global poverty numbers, including the Bank’s latest update. Let me look more closely at these “contradictions” in turn.
First, Chandy and Kharas chide the Bank’s team for assuming that North Korea has the same poverty rate as China. I wish Chandy and Kharas good luck in trying to measure poverty in a place like North Korea, with almost no credible data of any sort to work with. I could offer a guess that 80% of North Korea’s population is poor today—roughly the same as China before it embarked on its reform effort in 1978. This would add slightly less than 1 percentage point to our estimate of the “$1.25 a day” poverty rate for East Asia in 2008.
With Nong Zhu
Migrant workers have been contributing to one-sixth of China’s GDP growth since the mid 1980s. The impact of rural migrants’ contribution is best seen in cities during the Chinese New Year, when they return to reunite with their families, leaving behind a massive urban labor shortage. This happens every year despite urban families and restaurant owners offering high bonuses.
There is a consensus that migration has contributed to increased rural income, but views differ on its impact on rural inequality. My view is that rural households with higher incomes are not more likely than poorer households to participate in migration or benefit disproportionately from it. Adding to my recent blog in People Move, I would like to discuss the reasons behind this.
A quiet revolution is needed to help pull people out of poverty in many developing countries, since it will be well nigh impossible to replicate export-led success stories like we’ve seen in parts of Asia. Also, even though policies, politics, and corruption are knotty issues that often block progress, there is scope for tweaking institutions at the margins in ways that will improve the status of poor people. These were some of the takeaways I gleaned from the Development Economics lecture yesterday by Esther Duflo, MIT Economics Profession and co-founder of the JPAL Poverty Lab.
Duflo’s lecture was a refreshing mix of pragmatism and idealism. Clearly full of passion for her job and blessed with extraordinary energy, this young economist travels tirelessly to learn what’s happening at the coal face of development and she approaches her task with rigor as well as a sense of mission.
It's important to have an international forum where leading thinkers can exchange ideas about how to reduce poverty and how to promote growth in low income countries. I'm delighted that, since its inauguration 22 years ago, the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) has served this purpose by connecting leading thinkers, practitioners, and students. Now more than ever, we need active and constructive debate about job creation, reducing inequality, empowering women, and improving our approaches to human capital formation and training youth. TheDevelopment Economics Vice Presidency that I lead is enthusiastic in its continued support for this forum.
For people to benefit from development and escape poverty, they need to broaden their opportunities. That's why we chose 'Broadening Opportunities for Development' as our overall theme for this year's conference happening from May 30-June 1 in Paris.
For the last two years, there has been a mystery about the evidence supporting the past favorable assessments of the scope for reducing poverty using microfinance instruments such as the famous Grameen Bank (GB). The chances for many poor people to benefit from access to this form of credit rest, in part, on solving that mystery.
To understand the mystery we need to go back to an influential paper by Mark Pitt and Shahidur Khandker (PK), published in the 1998 volume of the Journal of Political Economy. PK documented research supported by the World Bank—research that came to provide the most cited scholarly evidence yet to support the view that microcredit helps reduce poverty.
Microcredit has been in the spotlight lately. This innovative banking program, pioneered by Professor Muhammad Yunus, has created the option for millions of poor people, especially women, to become self-employed entrepreneurs. By empowering women, microcredit has created opportunities to lift countless families out of abject poverty. Clearly, this has been a net gain for society. Yet current criticism of microcredit points to its failure to alleviate poverty, high indebtedness of borrowers, high interest rates, coercive loan-collection tactics, lack of transparency in public fund management, and uncertainty of succession in leadership.