200million People are left in Extreme Poverty due to Unequal Growth

Global Development

Worsening inequality is a key challenge of our time. Evidence from Oxfam illustrates that next year, if current trends continue, the richest 1% of humanity will own half of global wealth. Our own computations show that over the MDG period (1990-2015), nearly 4 people in 5 lived in countries where the bottom 40% of the income distribution grew more slowly than the average.

We should be concerned about inequality for many reasons – just one of them is that it is intimately linked to levels of absolute deprivation. Growth can reduce poverty even if offset by rising inequality but it makes the challenge much harder. In light of the global call of the SDGs to ‘leave no one behind’ and the proposed target that the incomes of the bottom 40% within countries should exceed national averages, it becomes pertinent to think about what the poverty reducing effect might be.

One potential approach, featured in a recent World Bank working paper, is to undertake poverty projections over the next 15 years under different inequality scenarios. Another, which we adopt, is to estimate how many people would be poor today according to the $1.25 a day benchmark if countries had experienced more equal growth over the last 30 years.

Using some simplifying assumptions, we explore two scenarios. Under the first, ‘equal growth’, we assume the bottom 40% of the population grew at the same rate as the average of their country. Under another, ‘pro-poor growth’, we assume the bottom 40% grew faster than the average (we considered gaps of 1 to 3 percentage points, in line with the actual experiences of some countries in the past 3 decades). We wanted to keep overall growth constant so that we isolated the impact of inequality – this meant that any increase to the growth of incomes of the bottom 40% had to be subtracted from the incomes of richer people within that country. We considered two possibilities – if this income was subtracted equally from every person in the top 60% of the society, and if it came solely from those fortunate enough to be in the top 10%.

The headline finding: many fewer people could have been left behind in extreme poverty had growth been more equal over the last 30 years.

We first illustrate this claim, then highlight an important caveat.

  • Equal Growth Scenario

If all people within each country had experienced equal income growth, around 200 million more people – about 1 in 5 of those that are currently very poor – would have escaped extreme poverty. Interestingly, the difference is entirely due to unequal growth in many of today’s middle income countries (Chart 1). On average, today’s low income countries experienced relatively equal growth between the bottom 40% and the average.

Total Poverty by Income Category

Under this scenario, China could have effectively eliminated extreme poverty along with countries including Mexico and Peru. In other words, while growth played a key role in reducing extreme poverty in fast growing middle income countries like China, if growth had been equal, the impact on poverty could have been much bigger.

  • Pro-poor growth

Fewer than half as many people would live in extreme poverty today if the incomes of the bottom 40% of people in each country had grown two percentage points faster than the average. For example, extreme poverty could have been eliminated in Indonesia and Philippines and could have fallen to around 5% in India and Vietnam. This level of pro-poor growth is possible as it actually did occur in around a quarter of countries.

Now the key caveat… Initial poverty levels and the type of redistribution matter

In too many countries still, poverty rates over 40% are part of recent history or current reality. In these places, redistributing income bluntly from the top 60% of the population can actually increase poverty levels if it pushes people that were above the poverty line below it. One alternative is that these high-poverty countries redistribute income growth from the top 10% of their population alone – this is likely to reduce poverty in most but not all the countries we examined.

Whether growth is redistributed from the top 60% or the top 10% also has a potentially big impact on the global poverty (Chart 2). If growth is redistributed away from top 60%, then extreme poverty starts to increase when growth is more than 2 percentage points higher for the bottom 40% relative to the average. In contrast, if growth is redistributed away from top 10%, the global poverty rate continues to decline.

Extreme Poverty under different scenarios

So what can we learn from past experience?

This analysis illustrates that significantly more poverty reduction could have occurred if the income growth of the bottom 40% of the population was higher than the average in many MICs. In contrast, in most LICs this would have done very little to eliminate extreme poverty. To move towards the SDG poverty goal – to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ – growth needs to be more equally distributed in middle income countries. While in LICs, growth needs to be higher while continuing to be relatively equal across the distribution. But we also show that governments need to be very careful in how they redistribute in order to avoid perverse outcomes. ‘Leaving no one behind’ will require a careful mix of global ambition and careful attention to country realities.

 

This post originally featured on the Post-2015 Blog, available here: http://post2015.org/2015/07/30/how-many-people-were-left-behind-by-unequal-growth-during-the-mdg-period/

Can Poor Countries Afford to Eliminate Extreme Poverty on their own?

Global Development

Key Points

  • Most poor countries do not have enough money in their economies to bring everyone out of extreme poverty through redistributing taxes alone.
  • Only once countries tend to have reached upper middle-income country status does it become theoretically feasible for them to be able to eliminate extreme poverty on their own.

Background

Most low and lower middle-income countries can’t afford to eliminate extreme poverty by redistributing taxes on their non-poor population to those in extreme poverty. Former World Bank economist, Martin Ravallion, illustrates this. He defines being non-poor by a developed country standard, living above the US poverty line of $13 a day (or an annual income of around US$5,000). Ravallion calculates what the additional (marginal) tax rate would need to be in a developing country on the non-poor population to be able to raise enough tax revenue to be able to theoretically bring everyone out of extreme poverty (see chart below). For example a country with an average income of around US$1000 a year would need to raise the tax rate on their non-poor (or ‘rich’) population by 60 percentage points to generate enough tax revenue to give to the poor to lift them out of extreme poverty. This is quite unrealistic politically.

Ravallion Chart

As incomes in poor countries rise, through economic growth and other measures, the additional tax rate required to raise enough revenue to eliminate extreme poverty becomes more politically feasible. However in the meantime, external funding sources such as aid, are needed in most low and lower middle-income countries to be able to eliminate extreme poverty. Relying on redistributing taxes alone would push the non-poor back into poverty (by developed country standards). This seems to suggest that the rush by some aid donors to abandon providing aid to some middle-income countries is premature. Assistance is still needed to end extreme poverty in many of these countries.

Source:

World Bank 2012 <http://blogs.worldbank.org/developmenttalk/should-we-care-equally-about-poor-people-wherever-they-may-live>

Revised Commonwealth Games Medal Tally

Global Development

As the 2014 Commonwealth Games come to end have you ever wondered how fair the playing field is?

Most members of the Commonwealth are developing countries and many are small islands. Only a few countries, like the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, are rich enough and have sufficiently large populations to have well nourished populations that have time to hone their skills in competitive sports. This significantly reduces the competition at the top of the medal tally. For example, to illustrate the inequality between Commonwealth countries compare the richest and poorest countries. The richest country, Australia, has over 125 times more income per person than the poorest country, Uganda.

Countries rankings would change dramatically if the medal tally were revised to adjust for differences in income per person and population size, as has been done for the table below. This removes disparities in wealth and population and allows for a fairer comparison of how countries have performed.

 

Rank Country Revised Medal Tally Change in Ranks
1 Nauru 1482 24
2 Samoa 459 15
3 Kiribati 373 23
4 Grenada 253 16
5 Jamaica 148 4
6 Saint Lucia 77 21
7 Kenya 61 1
8 Bahamas 39 10
9 Trinidad and Tobago 38 4
10 New Zealand 27 -5
11 Cyprus 27 1
12 Uganda 26 3
13 Fiji 26 15
14 Cameroon 25 0
15 Isle of Man 24 14
16 Barbados 23 14
17 Namibia 22 2
18 Papua New Guinea 14 3
19 Mozambique 13 3
20 United Kingdom 11 -19
21 South Africa 10 -15
22 Zambia 9 1
23 Australia 9 -21
24 Mauritius 8 7
25 Nigeria 8 -18
26 Botswana 6 6
27 Malaysia 6 -17
28 Singapore 5 -17
29 Canada 4 -26
30 Ghana 4 -6
31 India 3 -27
32 Pakistan 2 -16
33 Sri Lanka 2 0
34 Bangladesh 1 0

Small islands countries and some African countries perform substantially better when the medal tally is revised to take into account income per person and population size. Nauru, Samoa and Kiribati take the top three places because they are middle-income countries with tiny populations and still managed to get five medals between them (including a gold and three silver). While Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada fall to the bottom third of the rankings.

Sources

Commonwealth Games 2014 <http://results.glasgow2014.com/medals.html>

World Bank 2014 <http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators>

Australian Aid mainly goes to Middle Income Countries

Australian Aid Policy

Key Points

  • Almost 90% of Australia’s country program aid goes to middle-income countries.
  • Middle-income countries have higher average living standards than low-income countries and are typically less reliant on aid. For example, aid accounts for less than 2% of Vietnam’s economy.
  • Almost all low-income countries in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the region where Australia provides the lowest level of aid in per person terms.

Background

The World Bank defines a middle-income country as having over US$1045 income per person (2013 GNI Atlas Method). These countries are considered to be rich enough to be able to begin to access forms of finance other than grant aid, such as private sector loans.

Australia provides almost 90% of country program aid to middle-income countries. This is significantly higher than most other aid donors. The chart below shows that almost all of Australia’s top aid recipients are middle-income countries.

Income per person

Aid is typically only a small share of the economy in middle-income countries. The chart below shows how most of Australia’s top aid recipient countries are not very reliant on aid. In the case of Indonesia and Philippines, aid is actually a negative share of GNI because more money is spent paying off aid loans than they receive in new disbursements of aid.

Aid as a share of GNI

High economic growth rates in Asia in recent decades have meant that there are only a few low-income countries in the region. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to almost all low-income countries in the world and the region is the most reliant on aid. However Sub-Saharan Africa receives the lowest level of Australian aid in per person terms.

Should the region with the poorest countries in the world, which rely the most on aid and have the highest proportion of people in extreme poverty, receive the lowest levels of Australian Aid?

 

Sources

 

OECD 2014 <http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/idsonline.htm>

World Bank 2014 <http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators>

 

Are Developing Countries too dependent on Aid?

Global Development

Key Points

  • Aid as a share of Gross National Income (GNI) in developing countries has remained below 1% for the last 20 years. In 2012, it reached the lowest level ever recorded.
  • Least Developed Countries receive more than ten times as much aid as a share of GNI as Middle Income Countries.
  • The Pacific receives the highest level of aid as a share of GNI for any region in the world.

Background

A great deal of attention is given to the level of aid as a share of GNI that developed countries provide, however less attention is given to aid as a share of GNI that developing countries receive. This measure is important to examine because it provides insight into how dependent developing countries are on aid. While there is a considerable variation between countries, the chart below shows that on average aid to developing countries has remained below 1% of GNI for the last 20 years.

Aid as a share of Developing World GNI

Least Developed Countries (LDCs) receive significantly more aid as a share of GNI than Middle Income Countries. However on average aid as a share of GNI is still below 5% in LDCs. As the chart below shows as countries’ incomes increase they tend to become considerably less dependent on aid.

Aid as a share of GNI (Income level)

There is tremendous variation in the level of aid as a share of GNI across regions. The chart below shows that the Pacific region receives almost 10% of GNI in aid. The low level of aid as a share of GNI for East Asia is partly due to high economic growth in the region in recent decades that has reduced dependence on aid.

Aid as share of GNI (Regional)

On average, there is little reason to believe that developing countries are too dependent on aid. However for some countries this concern may be more valid. For example, the Solomon Islands have received around 40% of GNI in aid for the last decade.

Source

OECD 2014 <http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/idsonline.htm>