Difficult social problems are fiendishly difficult to communicate. For, these are issues about which experts disagree and citizen-voters, too. The causes are unclear, the solutions are unclear, and then there is the ideological deadweight that tends to drag meaningful debate and discussion all the way down to seedy depths. Above all, public debate on complex social problems also leads to framing battles: you frame the discussion to privilege the ‘solution’ you want. So, for instance: what do we do about homelessness in our cities? If you don’t want public funds spent on it, you frame it as an individual responsibility issue. You argue that the homeless need to pull themselves up by the straps of their dirty sneakers. If you want public funds spent on the problem, you frame the issue as a structural challenge. You ask for a focus on unemployment, targeted welfare schemes, improved care for the mentally ill and so on.
‘Chi-Raq’, Spike Lee’s new movie, tackles a horrendously difficult problem: the horrific and persistent gang violence in inner cities in the United States of America (and, by implication, several such places across the globe). His setting is the South Side of Chicago. The title of the movie is a play on Chicago and Iraq. The movie opens with these stunning statistics: while American deaths in the Iraq War between 2003 and 2011 came to 4,424, between 2001 and 2015 there were 7,356 homicides in Chicago. Think about that for a second: 7,356 homicides.
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