Global inequality--what's going on?

Author:Williamson, Roger

26 September 2014

Huge interest in the WIDER Inequality Conference (5-6 September)

Inequality is big news. Whether you think Thomas Piketty's book is primarily long-run economic history or a prediction of future trends for returns to capital and labour, it is still a surprise that a big, serious economics book is a best seller.

So perhaps it should be no surprise that the demand for places at the UNU-WIDER inequality conference should be high, attracting 350 participants (one of the biggest by WIDER standards), and that only 15 per cent of the papers offered to the conference could be accepted.

UNU-WIDER--a centre for inequality research

Amartya Sen video greeting. [C] Alexander Zach/UNU-WIDERIn a way this theme of economic research was coming home. The World Income Inequality Database (WIID) was first established at WIDER for a project in 1997-99 called 'Rising income inequality and poverty reduction: Are they compatible?' by the then director Giovanni Andrea Cornia. WIID has recently been revised and continues to be openly available. However this is far from being UNU-WIDER's only contribution to the inequality debate. Inequality has been a priority at UNU-WIDER since its founding, with high profile figures such as Amartya Sen contributing research on the topic. During a filmed interview, former director Anthony Shorrocks told me that the 2006 WIDER Working Paper reporting on global household wealth, the first serious study of its kind, generated such interest that it was top story on the BBC website and the demand for downloads led to the UNU-WIDER website crashing twice in a day. His recollection was that the paper was downloaded 140,000 times in a month. Shorrocks and co-author James Davies continue a highly productive association preparing the Global Wealth Report put out annually by Credit Suisse. Cornia, Shorrocks and Davies all presented at the Inequality conference, and some comments will be made below on their papers.

Insights from politicians--early attention to inequality is needed The conference was framed by contributors with high-level political experience as it was opened by the Brazilian Minister of Strategic Affairs, Marcelo Cortes Neri--and closed with a final panel including Tarja Halonen, the former President of Finland. They provided political insights into why inequality matters and strategies to address it.

Opening keynote by Marcelo Cortes Neri, Minister of Strategic Affairs of Brazil. [C] Alexander...

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