Inequality – so, so mainstream

People listening recently to Morning Report may have heard the World Bank’s chief economist, Kashik Basu, noting that the bank had two new goals that confirm inequality’s position in the mainstream of world thinking.

The first was to reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty; the second, to make sure that countries were promoting “shared prosperity” and that the benefits of economic growth were going not just to the top 10 per cent but also to the lowest 40 per cent of the population.

“There is pretty much a shared view at the top end of the World Bank,” he said, “that it would be utterly foolish just to sit back and say that growth is going to trickle down to the poor. You do need interventions by government.”

In making these statements, the bank has joined a long list of international economic bodies expressing concern about growing income inequality. The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, said earlier this year that income had to be “distributed more fairly”. The OECD has issued a series of major reports on inequality, and its secretary-general, Angel Gurria, has said that “ignoring increasing inequality is not an option”.

Other advocates of reducing inequality include Barack Obama and the Pope. Whether any of these individuals or organisations has the will to reduce inequality, or even the right policies, remains open to debate. But this roll call of concerned bodies is clear evidence, if it were needed, that inequality is now central to the political debate.