Syndicate content

Income Inequality

Media (R)evolutions: Internet penetration and income inequality

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Growing inequality is one of the defining challenges of our time. Seven out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater than it was 30 years ago, Oxfam reports. Inequality has also been on the radar of World Economic Forum topping its annual survey of global risks this year.  Christine LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has also recently warned that rising inequality is choking economic growth, and leaving “a wasteland of discarded potential”.

What role can the Internet play in helping to address inequality?  The Internet can be an enabler of equal opportunity and broad-based growth because, among other things, it can:

Unfortunately, over four billion people are not connected to the Internet; ninety percent of them live in the developing world. The following graph from Web Index shows, there is a very strong correlation between per capita income and access to the Internet, with the steepest increases in Internet penetration taking place as average income rises from $0 to $10,000 per year.

 Internet Penetration and Income Inequality

Why it’s time to put gender into the inequality discussion

Duncan Green's picture

Naila KabeerLSE’s Naila Kabeer introduces a new issue of Gender and Development, which she co-edited.

The development industry has focused mainly on the question of absolute poverty over the past decades of neo-liberal reform.  Given the levels of deprivation that continue to exist in poorer regions of the world, this focus is not entirely misplaced. But it only tells us part of the story. The growing concern about economic inequality adds an important missing piece.  We are better able to understand the persistence of absolute deprivation in the world when we compare the share of the world’s income and wealth that goes to its richest citizens with the share that goes to its poorest.

The story becomes more complex when we factor in questions about social inequality because this tells us that certain groups are systematically over-represented at the bottom of the income distribution and among the ranks of the absolute poor, while others are over-represented at the other end of the income distribution.  The current issue of Gender and Development reminds us that gender inequality is one of the most significant of these group-based inequalities – and also one of the most distinctive.

Unlike other groups facing social discrimination, men and women are probably equally represented among the world’s wealthiest households, but women’s presence tends to be predicated on their relationships to wealthy men. According to Forbes magazine, there are currently 1826 billionaires in the world of which 197 are women or 11% of the total. Only 29 of these women are ‘self-made’ billionaires. The rest inherited their wealth from fathers or husbands.

Attention to the distribution of individual earningsrather than household income gives us a better picture of how gender inequality plays out at the wealthier end of the spectrum. The gender pay gap among leading Hollywood movie stars is among the more publicized recent examples of this.

But the gender gap in earnings is larger at the poorer end of the economic spectrum and its consequences far more severe.

Where has the global movement against inequality got to, and what happens next?

Duncan Green's picture

Katy Wright, Oxfam's head of Global External AffairsKaty Wright, Oxfam’s Head of Global External Affairs, stands back and assesses its campaign on inequality.

The most frequent of the Frequently Asked Questions I’ve heard in response to Even it Up, Oxfam’s inequality campaign is “how equal do you think we should be?”

It’s an interesting response to the news that just 80 people now own the same wealth as half the world’s population put together, and the best answer was that given by Joe Stiglitz to a group of UN ambassadors: “I think we have a way to go before we worry about that.”

The Inequality BusSo how far do we have to go, exactly? The good news is that inequality is no longer just the concern of a small number of economists, trades unions and social justice campaigners. It’s now on the agenda for the international elite.

That partly reflects a growing realisation that inequality may be a problem for us all, not just those at the bottom. The Spirit Level  raised questions about the impact of inequality on societies, and the rise of Occupy pointed to a growing political concern.

More recently, research papers from the IMF have demonstrated extreme inequality is at odds with stable economic growth, and that redistribution is not bad for growth. Significantly, this shift in focus from the IMF has been driven by Christine Lagarde. To the outside world, the IMF now officially cares about inequality, as do Andy Haldane at the Bank of England, Donald Kaberuka (outgoing head of the African Development Bank), and Alicia Barcena of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, to name a few.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Income inequality: poverty falling faster than ever but the 1% are racing ahead
The Guardian
How are the benefits of economic growth shared across society? Much of the current discussion assumes that income inequality is rising, painting a gloomy picture of the rich getting richer while the rest of the world lags further and further behind. But is it really all bad news?  The reality is complex, yet by looking at recent empirical data we can get a comprehensive picture of what is happening to the rich and the poor.  Let us start with the share of total income going to that much-maligned 1%. Reconstructed from income tax records, this measure gives us the advantage of more than a century of data from which to observe changes.

Global Journalism Education: A Missed Opportunity for Media Development?
Center for International Media Assistance
Media development organizations have worked for many years directly with media industries to train journalists. Little of their effort has been focused on shaping the training these journalists receive before they are immersed in the media industries, which in many countries are weak and are not fertile ground for building journalism skills nor for upholding journalism standards. But top journalism schools have now reached a quality that suggests media development organizations should begin to work more directly with the best schools. Such partnerships could substantially contribute to better professional training that many of these schools want to offer.

Campaign Art: How (un)equal is East Africa?

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

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.
How (un)equal is East Africa?

FT Weekend: Glimpses of Unattainable Opulence

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Why do we consume the media that we do, especially the ones we rely on all the time? Many media scholars argue that we consume media because of their usefulness to us and the gratifications they bring. This is known as the uses-and-gratification paradigm. Says Alan M. Rubin:

The assumptions of uses and gratifications underscore the role of audience initiative and activity. Behavior is largely goal directed and purposive. People typically choose to participate and select media or messages from an array of communication alternatives in response to their expectations and desires. These expectations and desires emanate from, and are constrained by, personal traits, social context, and interaction. [i]

If this is true, and I believe it is, then the media you regularly consume says a lot about you, particularly your expectations and desires.

The Link Between Income Inequality and Public Services is Stronger than I Realized (Thanks to Emma Seery for Putting Me Straight)

Duncan Green's picture

Oxfam has been banging on to good effect recently about extreme global inequality in income and wealth. Over many years, we have also been making the case for universal health and education. It turns out the link between the two is stronger than I’d realized, according to ‘Working for the Many: Public Services fight Inequality’, a new paper published today.

We normally discuss inequality before and after tax (eg it’s progressive taxation that really brings Europe’s inequality down). But recent work published by the OECD and World Bank has put a monetary value on the ‘virtual income’ provided by public services. This produces some startling findings on inequality.

Public services mitigate the impact of skewed income distribution, and redistribute by putting ‘virtual income’ into everyone’s pockets. For the poorest, those on meagre salaries, though, this ‘virtual income’ can be as much as – or even more than – their actual income. On average, in OECD countries, public services are worth the equivalent of a huge 76 per cent of the post-tax income of the poorest group, and just 14 per cent of the richest. It is in the context of huge disparities of income that we see the true equalizing power of public services.

‘Working for the Few’: Top New Report on the Links between Politics and Inequality

Duncan Green's picture

As the world’s self-appointed steering committee gathers in Davos, 2014 is already shaping up as a big year for inequality. The World Economic Forum’s ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014’ ranks widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the coming 12 to 18 months (Middle East and North Africa came top, since you ask).

So it’s great to see ‘Working for the Few’, a really excellent new Oxfam paper by Ricardo Fuentes and Nick Galasso, tackling an issue best summed up by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in the aftermath of the Great Depression, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’ i.e. the politics of inequality and redistribution.

The Brandeis quote is particularly relevant because this time really is different. After the 2008 global meltdown, we have not seen anything like the New Deal, in terms of redistribution or reform. The paper argues that this is because political capture by a small economic elite is much more complete this time around.

Is Inequality All About the Tails? The Palma, the Gini and Post-2015

Duncan Green's picture

Alex Cobham and Andy Sumner bring us up to date on the techie-but-important debate over how to measure inequality

It’s about six months since we triggered a good wonk-tastic discussion here on Duncan’s blog on how to measure inequality. We proposed a new indicator and called it ‘the Palma’ after Chilean economist Gabriel Palma, on whose work it was based. We suggested the Palma would complement, or perhaps even replace the (in our view) less useful Gini index. Here we bring things up to date with a look at inequality in the post-2015 debate, and present some further findings on the relative merits of Gini and Palma, based on our new paper.

First, post-2015 and all that.

Last week the Center for Global Development held an event in Washington DC to discuss the best income inequality measures for post-2015, with both a technical panel (video) comparing alternative measures, including the median, the Palma, the Commitment to Equity indicator and a multidimensional approach.

There was also a ‘user’ panel (video) with wonks from the IADB, IMF, Oxfam, UNICEF and the World Bank, discussing the policy need and the scope for implementation. While panelists and other participants did not agree on the idea of a post-2015 inequality goal or target (surprise, surprise), there was near unanimity on the importance of measuring income inequality, and doing so better than we do now.

Merit, Privilege or Slumdog Millionaires? Income Inequality and Social Mobility

Duncan Green's picture

In memory of Sebastian Levine, who liked to read these posts.

This post is written by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, Oxfam’s Head of Research (twitter @rivefuentes)

In Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Millionaire, the young character wins a large pot of money against all odds. The movie is a fantasy tale for all practical purposes. The hero knows the responses posed to him in a quiz show through a number of coincidences and lucky breaks. It was his only chance to become wealthy.

What type of societies give better, more just chances to everyone? What is the connection between opportunity and socio-economic disparities? There are, at the risk of being simplistic, two broad sources of inequality: inequality resulting from individual entrepreneurship and effort (I’ll call it merit inequality) and the inequality that reproduces privilege and elite capture (I’ll call it privilege inequality).

A simple way to discover whether inequality is actually a result of merit is to think how far effort and hard work can take us. I recently heard Kaushik Basu, the new Chief Economist at the World Bank, detail an anecdote about this during a meeting with civil society people in London.  When Basu visits his home city of Kolkata he goes for long walks and sometimes he wanders around a privileged district that stands in sharp contrast with the nearby slums. The close proximity of the two vastly different lifestyles ensures that slum dwellers also visit this district. Then Basu said, to the best of my recollection: “it is not fair to tell a kid in the slum that by working hard he will be able to achieve the wealth needed to live in that neighbourhood.”