This blog was first published on September 15, 2015 by Alexandre Marc, Chief Specialist for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence at the World Bank and author of the recently published book, “The Challenge of Stability and Security in West Africa. It is being re-posted this week to highlight the book’s launch event in Europe, at the Agence Française de Développement in Paris.
A few months ago, as I was walking through the streets of Bissau, the capital of Guinea Bissau, I reflected on what had happened to this country over the last 20 years. It had gone through a number of coups and a civil war; its economy had barely been diversified; electricity and water access was still a major issue. There was the city of Bissau on one side, where a semblance of services where provided, and the rest of the country on the other.
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.
Can we end extreme poverty in a world with extreme inequality? That question inspired a spirited debate in English and Spanish on Oct. 7, just ahead of the World Bank Group-IMF Annual Meetings in Lima, Peru, addressing corruption, taxation, discrimination against women, and the need to even the playing field for the younger generation.
Latin America’s experience with inequality was front and center at the live-streamed event, Inequality, Opportunity, and Prosperity, featuring World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, Ibero-American Secretary General Rebeca Grynspan, Oxfam International Chair Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight, and moderated by CNN Español news anchor Patricia Janiot.
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.
"This idea, according to which no one will accept to work hard for less than $10m per year... It's OK to pay someone 10, 20 times the average worker's salary but do you really need to pay them 100 or 200 times to their arses in gear?"
- Thomas Piketty, a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is the author of the best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), in which he argues that the rate of return on capital (wealth) in developed countries is persistently greater than economic growth. Other things being equal, he states, faster economic growth diminishes the importance of wealth in a society, while slower growth increases it. To counter the steady concentration of wealth, Piketty proposes a global tax on wealth. Piketty is also a professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), professor at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics.
Just read a new case study of women’s empowerment in Colombia, part of ODI’s Development Progress series (summary here, full paper here). What’s useful is the level of analysis – a focus on the national rather than global or a project case study enables them to consider the various drivers of change at work. Some excerpts:
Signs of Progress:
- "Colombia is home to the longest armed conflict in Latin America. In this context, women have mobilised effectively to influence emerging law on transitional justice mechanisms and to ensure that understanding the gendered experiences of conflict informs policy and law.
- Colombia has more women in relevant decision-making positions than ever before. In 2011, 32% of the cabinet were women, compared with 12% in 1998; in 2014, 19.9% of parliamentarians in the Lower House and 22% in the Senate were women, compared with 11.7% and 6.9% respectively in 1997.
- Girls’ enrolment in secondary and tertiary education outperforms boys’, while women’s participation in the labour market has also seen sustained progress. Women constituted 29.9% of the labour force in 1990; by 2012 this had risen to 42.7%." (Summary, page 1)
Exporting corruption: Progress report 2015: Assessing enforcement of OECD Anti-bribery Convention
Transparency International’s 2015 Progress Report is an independent assessment of the enforcement of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Anti-Bribery Convention. The Convention is a key instrument for curbing global corruption because the 41 signatory countries are responsible for approximately two-thirds of world exports and almost 90 per cent of total foreign direct investment outflows. This is the 11th annual report. It has been prepared by Transparency International’s International Secretariat working with our national chapters and experts in the 41 OECD Convention countries. This report shows that there is Active Enforcement in four countries, Moderate Enforcement in six countries, Limited Enforcement in nine countries, and Little or No Enforcement in 20 countries. (Two countries were not classified.)
The Science of Inequality- What the numbers tell us
Special issue of Science Magazine
This special issue uses these fresh waves of data to explore the origins, impact, and future of inequality around the world. Archaeological and ethnographic data are revealing how inequality got its start in our ancestors. New surveys of emerging economies offer more reliable estimates of people's incomes and how they change as countries develop. And in the past decade in developed capitalist nations, intensive effort and interdisciplinary collaborations have produced large data sets, including the compilation of a century of income data and two centuries of wealth data into the World Top Incomes Database. It is only a slight exaggeration to liken the potential usefulness of this and other big data sets to the enormous benefits of the Human Genome Project. Researchers now have larger sample sizes and more parameters to work with, and they are also better able to detect patterns in the flood of data.
In 1965, Gordon Moore — co-founder of Intel Corporation — hypothesized that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double every 18 to 24 months. This came to be known as Moore’s Law, the ramifications of which are hard to ignore in almost any aspect of our everyday lives. Information has become more accessible to people at lower costs. Today’s work force is globalized and there are few domains that are still untouched by technology.
Yet the very ubiquitous and rapidly evolving nature of information and communication technologies (ICTs) gives rise to fears of displacing more workers and potentially widening the economic gap between the rich and poor. Technological evolution and artificial intelligence are fast redefining the conventional structure of our society.
- Artificial Intelligence
- wage stagnation
- inequality and shared prosperity
- Income Inequality
- information and communication for development (ICT4D)
- jobs market
- Private Sector Development
- Labor and Social Protection
- Information and Communication Technologies
- The World Region
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
A Global Middle Class Is More Promise than Reality
Pew Global Research
The first decade of this century witnessed an historic reduction in global poverty and a near doubling of the number of people who could be considered middle income. But the emergence of a truly global middle class is still more promise than reality. In 2011, a majority of the world’s population (56%) continued to live a low-income existence, compared with just 13% that could be considered middle income by a global standard, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of the most recently available data. And though there was growth in the middle-income population from 2001 to 2011, the rise in prosperity was concentrated in certain regions of the globe, namely China, South America and Eastern Europe. The middle class barely expanded in India and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central America.
Global Internet Report 2015: Mobile Evolution and Development of the Internet
While there's no question that the mobile Internet is changing everything, there are still big reasons why people aren't logging on. The 2015 Global Internet Report presents data that shows it's not always a question of if it's available, but rather how cost and a lack of useful content are core to why people are not opting in. While things need to change, together we have the power to find new solutions so everyone is able to seize the potential of the mobile Internet. Read the 2015 Global Internet Report and together we can start closing the digital divide.
Beyond Propaganda: How authoritarian regimes are learning to engineer human souls in the age of Facebook.
Pity the poor propagandist! Back in the 20th century, it was a lot easier to control an authoritarian country’s hearts and minds. All domestic media could be directed out of a government office. Foreign media could be jammed. Borders were sealed, and your population couldn’t witness the successes of a rival system. You had a clear narrative with at least a theoretically enticing vision of social justice or national superiority, one strong enough to fend off the seductions of liberal democracy and capitalism. Anyone who disagreed could be isolated, silenced, and suppressed. Those were the halcyon days of what the Chinese call “thought work” — and Soviets called the “engineering of human souls.” And until recently, it seemed as if they were gone forever. Today’s smart phones and laptops mean any citizen can be their own little media center. Borders are more open.
Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective
International Monetary Fund
Widening income inequality is the defining challenge of our time. In advanced economies, the gap between the rich and poor is at its highest level in decades. Inequality trends have been more mixed in emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs), with some countries experiencing declining inequality, but pervasive inequities in access to education, health care, and finance remain. Not surprisingly then, the extent of inequality, its drivers, and what to do about it have become some of the most hotly debated issues by policymakers and researchers alike.