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Focus on GDP Fuelling Inequality and Short-Termism

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Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash

Decades of prioritizing economic growth over social equity has led to historically high levels of wealth and income inequality and caused governments to miss out on a virtuous circle in which growth is strengthened by being shared more widely and generated without unduly straining the environment or burdening future generations. These are the findings from the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index 2018, which is released today.

Excessive reliance by economists and policy-makers on gross domestic product as the primary metric of national economic performance is part of the problem, since GDP measures current production of goods and services rather than the extent to which it contributes to broad socio-economic progress as manifested in median household income, employment opportunity, economic security and quality of life.

The Inclusive Development Index is an annual assessment that measures how 103 countries perform on 11 dimensions of economic progress in addition to GDP. It has three pillars: growth and development; inclusion; and intergenerational equity – sustainable stewardship of natural and financial resources.

According to this year’s index, over the past five years, the 29 advanced economies included in the study have on average flatlined in terms of inclusion, which is measured by median household income, poverty, and wealth and income inequality, despite boosting their Growth and Development score by over 3%. The four indicators that make up the index’s Growth and Development pillar are: GDP per capita; labour productivity; employment; and healthy life expectancy.

Over the same period, only 12 of the 29 advanced economies were successful in reducing poverty and only eight saw a decrease in income inequality.

More worrying still: rich and poor countries alike are struggling to protect future generations. The index’s Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability pillar – which takes into account public debt; carbon intensity of GDP; dependency ratio and adjusted net savings (which measures savings in an economy after investments in human capital, depletion of natural resources and the cost of pollution) – actually deteriorated in upper-, middle- and low-income economies since 2012 and improved only marginally (0.6%) in advanced economies.

Top performing countries

According to the index, the most inclusive advanced economy in the world in 2018 is Norway. The Nordic nation ranks second overall for intergenerational equity and third for the two other pillars of the index: Growth and Development, and Inclusion. Small European economies dominate the top of the index, with Australia (9) the only non-European economy in the top 10.

Of the G7 economies, Germany (12) ranks the highest. It is followed by Canada (17), France (18), the United Kingdom (21), the United States (23), Japan (24) and Italy (27). In many countries, there is a stark difference between individual pillars. For example, the US ranks 10 out of 29 for Growth and Development; however, it ranks 28 on Inclusion and 26 on Intergenerational Equity. France, on the other hand, fares less well on Growth and Development (21 out of 29); however, it ranks 12 for Inclusion. Its low ranking on Intergenerational Equity (24) suggests it may be storing up problems for the future.

Six emerging European economies are located in the top 10 spots in the emerging economies’ ranking: Lithuania (1), Hungary (2), Latvia (4), Poland (5), Croatia (7) and Romania (10). These countries perform well on Growth and Development, benefiting from EU membership, as well as on inclusion indicators, as median living standards rose and wealth inequality declined significantly. Latin America also performs well, with three countries featured in the top 10: Panama (6), Uruguay (8) and Chile (9).

Performance is mixed among BRICS economies, with the Russian Federation ranking 19th, followed by China (26), Brazil (37), India (62) and South Africa (69). Although China ranks first among emerging economies in GDP per capita growth (6.8%) and labour productivity growth (6.7%) since 2012, its overall score is brought down by lacklustre performance on Inclusion. Other emerging countries such as Mexico (24), Indonesia (36), Turkey (16) and the Philippines (38) show more potential on Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability but lack progress on Inclusion indicators such as income and wealth inequality.

Key findings and policy implications

IDI data suggest that relatively strong GDP growth cannot be relied upon by itself to generate inclusive socio-economic progress and rising median living standards. All but three advanced countries have experienced GDP growth over the last five years, but only 10 of 29 have registered clear progress in the IDI’s Inclusion pillar. A majority, 16 of 29, have seen Inclusion deteriorate, and the remaining three have remained stable. A majority of those countries with the best GDP growth performance failed to improve on Inclusion. This pattern is repeated in the relationship between GDP growth and performance on Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability with 11 of 29 showing clear progress and 18 of 29 deteriorating.

Emerging -country data show a similar disconnect between GDP growth and Inclusion. Of the 30 emerging economies with the highest GDP per capita growth over the past five years, only six have scored similarly well on a majority of the Inclusion indicators, while 13 have been no better than mediocre and 11 have registered outright poor performance. With respect to Intergenerational Equity, only eight have scored similarly well on a majority of the Intergenerational Equity and Sustainability indicators, while 12 have been no better than mediocre and 10 have registered outright poor performance.

This evidence suggests that GDP growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition for achievement of the broad-based progress in living standards by which most people judge countries’ economic success. This message is particularly relevant at a time when global economic growth is returning to a more robust level and policy-makers could do more to future-proof their economies and make them more equitable. Political and business leaders should not expect higher growth to be a panacea for the social frustrations, including those of younger generations who have shaken the politics of many countries in recent years.

“Economic growth as measured by GDP is best understood as a top-line measure of national economic performance. Broad, sustainable progress in living standards is the bottom-line result societies expect. Policy-makers need a new dashboard focused more specifically on this purpose. It could help them to pay greater attention to structural and institutional aspects of economic policy that are important for diffusing prosperity and opportunity and making sure these are preserved for younger and future generations,” said Richard Samans, Managing Director and Head of Global Agenda at the World Economic Forum.

About the Inclusive Development Index

The IDI is a project of the World Economic Forum’s System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Economic Progress, which aims to inform and enable sustained and inclusive economic progress through deepened public-private cooperation, thought leadership and analysis, strategic dialogue and concrete cooperation, including by accelerating social impact through corporate action.

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UN launches global plan to strengthen protection of internally displaced persons

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With multiple crises forcing millions of people away from their homes, United Nations agencies, Governments and partners have launched a set of measures to strengthen protection of internally displaced persons as well as find solutions to address their problems.

“Addressing the protection needs of the forcibly displaced and seeking solutions to their plight contribute to greater stability for countries and whole regions,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a news release announcing the three-year Plan of Action.

The consequences of our failure to resolve internal displacement can be devastating,” he stressed.

The framework, formally called the Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection and Solutions for Internally Displaced People (2018-2020), calls on all relevant actors to step up efforts to prevent, respond to and resolve internal displacement.

It also proposes concrete activities to strengthen the participation of internally displaced persons in decisions concerning them, and expand national laws and policies on internal displacement as well as actions to improve data collection and analysis on displacements globally.

By the end of 2016, more than 40 million people were displaced within their own countries due to insecurity or rights violations. An additional 24 million were driven from their homes due to disasters. Every year, an estimated 15 million people are also displaced by development projects.

Bold and ambitious steps needed

Given this complex conundrum, “bold and ambitious” steps are needed, underscored Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

“The Plan of Action seeks to galvanize a strategic dialogue, concerted action and adequate resources to address the plight of the internally displaced, while engaging them in the decisions that affect them,” added the independent expert.

In the same vein, Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs committed that the Organization will continue to work with affected Governments and displaced persons to ensure that their needs are addressed.

Leave no one behind

“The international community has pledged to leave no one behind,” stressed Mr. Lowcock, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, noting that this promise must extend to all those displaced.

The Plan of Action was drafted under the leadership of the Special Rapporteur, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Its launch coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, widely accepted as being the global standard for protecting and assisting internally displaced people.

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UN Environment designates Chinese idol Wang Junkai as National Goodwill Ambassador

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Singer and Actor Wang Junkai, or Karry Wang, best known for his leading role in the box office blockbuster film Miracles of the Namiya General Store and the hit single “KarryOn” was designated as UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador today in a ceremony in Beijing.

In his role as goodwill ambassador, Wang will connect with China’s youth on some of the most urgent
environment issues of their generation, including pollution, air quality, wildlife protection, ecosystems, and more.

As a young actor and singer, I greatly appreciate UN Environment giving me this opportunity to be National Goodwill Ambassador. We youth have the responsibility to protect our environment and secure our future, and I am looking forward to learn from and work with the UN family on key environmental issues. Youth are no longer merely onlookers when it comes to environmental action, nor should they be. I will spare no effort to do everything I can to take care of our earth, and I invite everyone to join me in generating a wave of positive action.

It’s inspiring to hear a strong and determined voice of Chinese youth on environmental issues. When young people set their mind to change, incredible things can be accomplished,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “We’re very excited to work with Wang Junkai to create even more awareness about environmental issues and, more importantly, the solutions to these challenges.”

The 18-year old performer is a superstar of the highest ranks in Asia. Known for his leading role in the film Namiya General Store, top roles in various TV series – among which “Finding Soul” and “Qingyun Zhi “ – and solo music career, he has amassed more than 40 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. Both in China and the rest of South-East Asia, Wang has been one of the leaders of the online conversation on the environment.

In 2016, Wang widely shared the #wildforlife Campaign, reaching 400 million viewers. A year later, he publicly spoke out on the urgent need to protect endangered wildlife, naming them the “superstars of the planet.”

Beyond drawing attention to wildlife, he called upon his followers to pledge to reduce their e-waste, with the hashtag #beatpollution. Within 24 hours, his post was retweeted by 1.67 million times and more than 400,000 followers signed the pledges.

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New Solar Project to Restore Electricity to Over One Million Yemenis

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The World Bank announced today a new project to finance off-grid solar systems in Yemen to power vital basic services, and improve access to electricity for vulnerable Yemenis in rural and outlying urban areas.

Funded by a US$50 million grant from IDA, the World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries, the new project will rely on the commercial solar market, which has grown despite the conflict, providing further support to the local economy and creating jobs.

Solar power has proved to be the most immediate solution for severe energy shortages in Yemen. A booming solar industry has developed driven by the private sector, but the costs have put the technology beyond the reach of public facilities and the most vulnerable populations.

The Yemen Emergency Electricity Access Project will work with the current solar supply chain and the existing network of microfinance institutions, to finance and deliver off-grid solar systems to rural and peri-urban areas. The aim is to restore or improve access to electricity to 1.4 million people, around half of them women. The project will also fund solar power for critical infrastructure, such hospitals, schools, water corporations, and rural electricity providers.

The lack of electricity in Yemen has had a devastating impact on Yemenis and the provision of services,” said Dr. Asad Alam, World Bank Group Country Director for Yemen, Egypt, and Djibouti. “While responding to immediate need, the project will contribute to building a more inclusive and sustainable solar market in Yemen through targeted financing to the private sector which will expand its reach to the poor and vulnerable.

The project will be implemented in partnership with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and in collaboration with the local private sector, including Micro Finance Institutions, solar equipment suppliers and technicians. Working with the Yemeni private sector will help create hundreds of jobs.

Investing in solar will make Yemen’s electricity more resilient, reduce the dependence on fuels for critical service facilities, and create jobs in the private sector,” said Joern Torsten Huenteler, World Bank Energy Specialist and Task Team Leader of the project, “What Yemenis need today more than ever is a quick and innovative energy solutions to help ease the crisis.

With this new financing, IDA emergency grants to Yemen issued since July 2016 have totaled US$1.183 billion.

These projects have been prepared – and are being implemented – in partnership with Yemeni institutions and UN organizations such as the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and the United Nations Office for Project Services.

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