Our Perspective

      • What can the US learn from Latin America’s declining inequality? | Heraldo Muñoz

        01 Feb 2014

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        Programmes like Bolsa Familia helped reduce poverty in Latin America (Photo: UNDP Brazil)

        As the debate about inequality grows in the U.S., what lessons can be drawn from Latin America, which — although still highly unequal — is the only region that managed to reduce income inequality in the last decade? Despite being the world’s largest economy, the U.S. is the most unequal among the industrialized countries. In 1979, the top 20 percent of Americans received 43 percent of income, while the top 1 percent got 9 percent. Today, however, the top 20 percent of the population captures over 50 percent of pre-tax income, while the top 1 percent receives nearly 15 percent. Meanwhile, Latin America has steadily become more middle-income while reducing poverty.In16 of 17 countries there has been a significant decline in income inequality over the past 10 years. How did they do it? First, nearly half of the decline in inequality can be explained by improvements in household labour income. Economic growth created greater demand for domestic goods, moving more people into the labor force, driving wage increases. This helped reduce the wage gap between college-educated workers and those without a degree. In the U.S., this education gap has increased in recent years. Second, Latin America leads the world in social  Read More

      • Working for the few: private power over democracy | Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva

        24 Jan 2014

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        According to a new UNDP report, to be launched next week, income inequality increased by 11% in developing countries between 1990 and 2010. Photo: UNDP PARAGUAY

        Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years. In a paper released this week, Nick Galasso, from Oxfam America, and I explore the current growing concentration of income and political capture. Firstly: The rich are getting richer, faster. The poorest half of the world's adults, 3.5 billion people, own a total of $1.7 trillion worth of assets. That is similar to the wealth owned by the world's richest 85 people. In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth between 2009 and 2012, while the bottom 90 percent became ever poorer. Secondly: This growing concentration of income and wealth is closely associated with political power and influence. It sounds obvious but it's very easily forgotten. Either through lobbying, campaign finance, or avoiding regulation, the rich exert their power over how the rest of society is governed. In Working for the Few we explore the mechanism by which wealth brings political influence, which in turn breeds greater wealth for a select few. The lopsided influence of the wealthy occurs through different channels. Take the example of Mexico and Carlos Slim. Slim is the CEO and Chairman of  Read More

      • UNDP strategic plan 2014-2017: Changing with the world | Turhan Saleh

        20 Jan 2014

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        An aerial view of the city of Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan's southern Sindh Province. Photo: UN/WFP/Amjad Jamal.

        We are at a very important moment in modern history, an inflection point, meaning that things are going to be very different in the future than they have been in the past. First, the role that developing countries play in the world – in the economy, science, technology, politics, culture – is changing dramatically. Their importance and influence, which is rising rapidly already, will increase greatly. Second, for the first time in human history, more people are living in cities and towns than in villages. The fastest rates of urbanization are in developing countries, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa. Just think about how this changes our conventional view of where and how people live in the developing world. Third, we have technologies now that are profoundly changing the way we work with each other, relate to each other,  and make and sell things. And the boundaries of these technologies are shifting quickly.    So this is really an incredibly exciting time for development. But there are big dangers: •    Growth and development are not necessarily bringing benefits fairly to everybody, so tensions are rising – and sometimes boiling over –  in a growing number of countries. •    Sometimes the changes taking place are so  Read More

      • Welcome to a new generation of ‘development issues’ | Duncan Green

        16 Jan 2014

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        Health problems such as obesity, once more common in countries of the Global North, are increasingly rising in the South, and the development focus for health may need to shift as a result. (Photo: UNDP Fiji)

        As I browsed my various feeds over the Christmas break, one theme that emerged was the rise of the “North in the South” on health, or what I call Cinderella Issues: things like traffic accidents, the illegal drug trade, smoking or alcohol that do huge (and growing) damage in developing countries, but are relegated to the margins of the development debate. If my New Year reading is anything to go by, that won’t last long. ODI kicked off with Future Diets, an excellent report on obesity that shows the number of obese/overweight people in developing countries (904 million) has more than tripled since 1980 and has now overtaken the number of malnourished (842 million, according to the FAO). Other key messages include that diets are changing wherever incomes are rising in the developing world, with a marked shift from cereals and tubers to meat, fats, sugar and fruit and vegetables. While globalisation has led to a homogenisation in diets, their continued variation suggests that there is still scope for policies that can influence the food choices people make, particularly in the face of the serious health implications. Meanwhile, the Economist ran a two-page report and editorial on “the new drugs war”:  Read More

      • Consumption consumes you | George Gray Molina

        10 Jan 2014

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        CASIMIRA SANCHEZ PREPARES PIECES OF GYM EQUIPMENT AT A PLANT IN MEXICO CITY. A UNDP PROGRAMME TO STRENGTHEN SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED BUSINESSES INCREASED THEIR ACCESS TO NEW MARKET TECHNOLOGY. PHOTO: LUIS ACOSTA/AFP FOR UNDP

        Scott Fitzgerald used to say about alcohol: “First, you take the drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you”. The same thing could be said about consumerism as a way of achieving social status and recognition. First, let’s  look at a few facts. Consumerism is the engine driving growth in Latin American economies. It represents 59% of the GDP in Brazil, 66% in Mexico, 69% in Chile, 77% in Honduras and 88% in the Dominican Republic ,so more than two thirds of the economic growth in Brazil, Mexico and Chile over the past twelve months. Consumerism also led to a significant reduction in poverty  and favored the emergence of the middle class in the region. Today, most of the population is no longer “poor” in the statistical sense of the term, but “vulnerable” as they work in precarious labor markets yet enjoy higher levels of income and purchasing power than before. Secondly, let’s look at some areas of concern. Consumption is intrinsically linked to high levels of liquidity, easy access to credit, and household debt. Household debt has increased throughout the region: According to Morgan Stanley, the ratio of household debt to income is 60%, in Brazil, the ratio stands at more than 30%,  Read More

      • Why Latin America and the Caribbean matter for the Post-2015 Agenda | Alejandra Kubitschek Bujones

        09 Jan 2014

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        CHILDREN WITH ACCESS TO EDUCATION

        Latin America could emerge as one of the most influential regions in the negotiations on what will follow the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. First: The politics - As discussed in the recent UNDP-commissioned, NYU/Center on International Cooperation (CIC) independent report, A Laboratory for Sustainable Development? Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Post-2015 Agenda, Latin America has successfully captured the most important positions in the bodies engaged with the post-2015 framework. This gives the region a unique opportunity to lead and influence the outcome of post-2015 negotiations. Colombia currently presides over the Economic and Social Council, Bolivia heads the G77 group of nations, and Antigua and Barbuda will hold the Presidency of the General Assembly until the 69th session. In addition, Brazil currently leads the World Trade Organization; and the COP 20 climate negotiations will take place in Lima, Peru. Second: The lessons and experience - Latin America has served as a laboratory for designing and implementing innovative sustainable development approaches. The region has developed some of the best-recognized development programs, combining poverty reduction with social inclusion. Successful cash transfer schemes, such as Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Mexico’s Oportunidades, and Chile’s Solidario have played an important role in increasing  Read More

      • Boosting transparency and accountability policies in Latin America | Gerardo Berthin

        19 Dec 2013

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        One of the main challenges undermining human development and democratic governance in Latin America and the Caribbean is the lingering perception of corruption, particularly bribes. This jeopardizes the potential of public policies as important means to promote greater equality and human development. For example, people make a direct correlation between the perceived corruption and the quality and effectiveness of public services in a given country. In November 2013 the Fifth Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC ) took place in Panama City with more than 1,500 Member States delegates, in addition to representatives from civil society, academia, the private sector and media outlets. To date, the UNCAC has been ratified by 169 states, and in Latin America only half a dozen of countries are not part of the convention. UNDP and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have been boosting efforts to better understand how UNCAC parties have been designing and implement transparency and accountability policies. The region and the entire world still lack further studies to assess the impact of coordinated anti-corruption policies and the role of specialized agencies in preventing. That’s how this first attempt to systematize anti-corruption  Read More

      • Moving from transparency to accountability in the fight against corruption | Patrick Keuleers

        13 Dec 2013

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        Football Match Anti-Corruption Campaign in Argentina (Photo: UNDP Argentina)

        Corruption is a major bottleneck to sustainable development: it prevents public and private investment from going where it is most needed, drives up costs, and distorts resource allocations and priorities. This realization was at the heart of the commemorations for International Anti-Corruption Day on December 9th, and at the 5th Conference of the State Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption which I attended in Panama City recently. Anti-corruption has been one of the fastest growing and most successful areas of work under our democratic governance portfolio. The World Bank estimates that corruption can cost a country up to 17 percent of its GDP. Imagine the impact on achieving the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadlines if only 10 percent of that money could be channeled back into development. Through the MYWorld Global Survey, more than 1.5 million people have identified “honest and responsive governments” among the top priorities for the ‘World They Want’. A degree of consensus is now emerging around the importance of integrity, transparency and accountability in governance as key factors to reduce poverty, inequalities and exclusions. Addressing integrity in the public sector is an important component of that strategy. The public service is expected to  Read More

      • Political quotas for women: Myths & facts | Elizabeth Guerrero

        09 Dec 2013

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        Salvadorian parliamentarians celebrate the approval of the new law that addresses violence against women (Photo: El Salvador Legislative Assembly)

        Women still comprise only 21.4 percent of members of parliaments (MP) around the world. While Latin America has more than 24 percent of women MPs — one of the highest shares in the world — the region still has a long road to travel towards gender parity. The provision of quotas — an idea that began in Europe and has spread to other continents — has effectively been used to boost women’s political participation, adopted as a temporary measure to encourage political parties to nominate a minimum percentage of women. This may take place as a voluntary action by political parties or through law-driven measures which push parties to nominate a certain number of women candidates. Yet several myths remain: Myth 1: "Quotas contradict the principle of equality before the law" This argument is based on the assumption that men and women actually have the same opportunities to run for elections. But that simply does not reflect reality. In many countries women can vote, but they cannot be elected. Evidence shows that women and men do not share the same opportunities to be appointed candidates because women face a number of barriers to be nominated by political parties. Therefore, the idea  Read More

      • Latin America: The paradox of economic growth hand-in-hand with citizen insecurity | Heraldo Muñoz

        12 Nov 2013

        In recent years, Latin America has set the stage for considerable advances in two areas: economic and social progressand crime. Despite the headway that has been achieved in terms of growth and improvements in health, education and the reduction of poverty and inequality, Latin America has become the most dangerous region in the world. In fact, in this region, homicide rates exceed the "epidemic" level, with more than 10 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.   This is one of the conclusions reached by the Regional Human Development Report, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America,” which we have recently made public. The finding that insecurity is a shared challenge and simultaneously an impediment to social and economic development in all Latin American countries resulted in our dedicating two years of research in order to assess the problem and suggest a number of remedies that would improve public policy as and when required.   The report highlights the fact that Latin America has witnessed low-quality growth, based on consumption and withinsufficient social mobility. The deterioration of citizen security is also related to demographic trends caused by rapid and uncontrolled urban growth as well as by changes in family structure and deficiencies in the school system:  Read More