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The Political Economy of Inequality: Implications for Inclusive Growth

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When: Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 2:30pm - 4:00pm

Sponsor: PREM Poverty Reduction Group
Chair: Nancy Birdsall (President, Center for Global Development, USA)

  • François Bourguignon (Director, Paris School of Economics, France)
  • Frances Stewart (Professor, Development Economics, Oxford University, UK)
  • Leonard Wantchekon (Professor of Politics, New York University, USA)

Description: Inequality has gained prominence as a concern both in developing and in developed countries in recent years. Considerable agreement has emerged that high levels of inequality can have negative consequences: reducing growth, but also undermining political stability and potentially contributing to conflict – with repercussions for growth and poverty. The concern about country-level inequality, furthermore, is linked to the wider concern about inclusive and equitable globalization.
The session addresses the political economy of country-level dimensions of inequality. It seeks to explore why high levels of inequality emerge – and what makes them persist.

Some of the key questions the session will focus on are:

  1. Does inequality affect the quality of economic and political institutions, and if so, how?
  2. Does the political salience of inequality and its effects on policy making differ significantly across countries/regions (e.g. Latin America vs. Asia vs. Africa)?
  3. What political conditions/constellations are conducive to effectively addressing high levels of inequality in a way that is pro-poor as well as pro-growth, and to helping all groups in society cope with globalization and rapid social and environmental change?

The speakers of the panel contribute three unique perspectives on these issues. François Bourguignon has devoted a lifetime research effort to understanding and exploring equity and inequality issues. From 2003 to 2007 as Chief Economist at the World Bank, he translated his research into a policy agenda for this institution. Frances Stewart has led research efforts on poverty, inequality, and conflict at the United Nations University, and is now pursuing a deepening of this research effort at Oxford University. Leonard Wantchekon is a professor at New York University. He has undertaken intriguing research on how support for more clientelistic versus more public policy oriented policies emerges among voters in poor, recently democratized settings – shedding light on possible pathways out of inequality traps. Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. A considerable share of her extensive published work is dedicated to the issue of inequality.

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