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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.”

Protecting the vulnerable during crisis and disaster: Part II Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program

Matt Hobson's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'managing risk for development,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2014.

Despite more than 19 episodes of severe food shortage in Ethiopia since 1895, it was the dramatic images of famines in 1972 and 1984 which came to the world’s attention and (wrongly) made Ethiopia synonymous with drought and famine. Despite consistent food shortages in Ethiopia for decades, it only became clear in the run-up to the 2002/3 drought that, while the humanitarian system appeared to be saving lives, it was proving to be ineffective in saving livelihoods and managing risks effectively. In essence, rural Ethiopians had faced chronic food insecurity for decades, but were receiving ‘treatment’ for transitory food insecurity. In part as a result of this misdiagnosis, rural Ethiopians were becoming increasingly less resilient to drought and were unable to manage risks effectively. This realization prompted the birth of the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP).

Longreads: China 2013 Survey, Low Carbon Competitiveness, Pakistan’s Overseas Workers, the Great Chinua Achebe

Donna Barne's picture

Find a good longread on development? Tweet it to @worldbank with the hashtag #longreads.

 

LongreadsChina’s prospects stirred interest as the BRICs met in South Africa and a new survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found China on course to become the world’s largest economy by 2016. The OECD study says China has “weathered the global economic and financial crisis of the past five years better than virtually any OECD country” and should be able to continue catching up and improving living standards over the next decade.  While the OECD study says China needs to shift to more environmentally friendly modes of consumption and production, a new Climate Institute/GE Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index finds that France, Japan, China, South Korea and the United Kingdom are “currently best positioned to prosper in the global low-carbon economy.”

Climate Institute/GE Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index
Climate Institute/GE Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index

Prospects Daily: Global stock markets rallied on Friday

Global Macroeconomics Team's picture

Financial MarketsGlobal stock markets rallied on Friday, with the benchmark MSCI world equity index hitting a 20-month high level of 552.16, as positive economic data from the two world’s largest economies boosted market sentiment. Along with robust U.S. labor and housing market reports, China’s better-than-expected fourth-quarter GDP growth (y/y), buoyant industrial production and retail sales figures added to signs that the global economic recovery is gaining traction.

Prospects Daily: Global equities decline after US budget talks stall and US consumer confidence falls

Global Macroeconomics Team's picture

The Prospects Daily will be on Winter recess and will resume on

Wednesday January 2nd, 2013.

Prospects Daily: US consumer confidence falls; inflation moderated in Chile, Peru and Mexico but rose slightly in Brazil

Global Macroeconomics Team's picture


Financial Markets…U.S. Treasuries slid for the first time in four days, with the benchmark note yields 3 basis points to 1.62%, as a government report showed U.S. employers added more than forecasted jobs in November. U.S government bonds have advanced 2.8% this year as of yesterday, after gaining 9.8% in 2011 and 5.9% in 2010.

Ready, Set, Hack!

Sanitation Hackathon Team's picture

After months of preparation, the Sanitation Hackathon weekend is upon us.

In dozens of countries around the world, IT and sanitation experts will join forces for an intensive brainstorming and programming marathon to develop innovative applications for some of the world’s sanitation challenges.

Prospects Daily: Year-to-date global corporate bond sales rose to $3.43 trillion

Global Macroeconomics Team's picture

Financial Markets…Year-to-date global corporate bond sales rose to $3.43 trillion, already surpassing 2011’s full year total of $3.29 trillion, as further stimulus from global central banks pushed yields to record lows. Funding costs for the riskiest to the most creditworthy corporates are plunging as the persistent low-yield environment spurred unprecedented investor demand.

New Pledges Expand GAFSP's Food Security Work in World's Poorest Countries

Rachel Kyte's picture

When you want to put money, ideas, innovation, and hard work together to increase food security, there’s nowhere better than the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program – GAFSP.

Don’t just believe me. Listen to the Rwandan farmers whose now-terraced hillsides are getting higher yields, producing better nutrition, and improving their livelihoods.

Similar stories can be told in Tajikistan, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, and elsewhere.

Japan and the Republic of Korea are among those convinced that GAFSP is a good investment in food security. Inspired by a challenge from the Unites States, Japan and South Korea just pledged an additional $60 million to GAFSP at a meeting in Tokyo held in conjunction with the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings.

The United States announced that it was prepared to contribute an additional $1 to GAFSP for every $2 contributed by other donors, up to a total of $475 million.

Why is GAFSP so successful?


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