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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?

Kim responded that no one in any country can afford to ignore rising inequality.  “There's a lot of really good data that suggests that the higher levels of inequality are actually a drag on economic growth.  So, even if all you care about is economic growth, then you've really got to be focused on inequality,” he said.

The World Bank Group is tracking the income growth of the bottom 40 percent of the population in developing countries. Many political leaders are beginning to understand that “even for their own political lives, (they) cannot afford to ignore that bottom 40 percent,” said Kim.

Investments in people, for things like education and health, are crucial, he added. People in developing countries are increasingly aware of how the rich live, and they are seeking better services and better lives. “We now know that, unless you invest in your people, you're not going to see the economic growth in the medium- and the long-term, maybe even the short-term," said Kim.

Moreover, extreme poverty is “a condition that we should not tolerate any more on this earth,” he said. Yet the goal of ending it by 2030 is a major challenge and will require nearly 50 million people a year – a million people every week for 16 years – to lift themselves from extreme poverty.

“We're focused on a prosperity that is shared by everyone. And we're very…focused on lifting the billion or so people living in extreme poverty out of that condition so that they can have those things that everybody in the world seems to want,” said Kim.

Conflict is a “huge driver” of poverty, he said. Infrastructure gaps in the developing world also limit economic growth. Eleven million people in Belgium have access to as much electricity as 1 billion people in Africa, he said. To tackle this issue, the World Bank Group plans to seek out new partners and use its financing to “crowd in” funding from other sources.

Velshi, sporting an “End Poverty” button on his lapel, asked Kim to explain how a simple slogan like “End Poverty” could be effective.

Kim, who has been crowdsourcing ideas for ending poverty from experts and members of the public since taking office, said building a social movement around a goal can help achieve it. Lifting people out of poverty is a “compelling and important” goal, he said. For its part, the World Bank Group plans to act more quickly, tap the latest innovations, and “get our best people” working on transformational solutions to help over a billion people lift themselves out of extreme poverty, he said.

Watch a replay of the event or read the transcript.

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