April 10, 2014 | Contribution by
FRANCOIS BOURGUIGNON Francois Bourguignon is a Professor at the Paris School of Economics
Delivery of Bolsa Família in Teresina, Brazil.
Photo credit: Flickr @glaubercavalcante (https://www.flickr.com/photos/glaubercavalcante/)
For Francois Bourguignon — Professor of Economics (and former Director) at the Paris School of Economics and World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President from 2003-2007 — the fascination with how to reduce poverty and inequality continues unabated. Already the recipient of many honors in economics, in fall 2013 he received LACEA’s Juan Luis Londoño Prize for high quality and policy relevant research on socioeconomic issues relevant to Latin America — which still is the most unequal region in the world.
In Part 1 of this series, Bourguignon tells the JKP that "the big evolution" in the field of inequality over the past 30 years has been the shift from focusing on income (a result of economic activity) to "opportunities" (determinants of economic activity). However, unlike income inequality, which can be summarized in a single figure (the Gini coefficient), the degree of inequality of opportunities — that is, differences in the capacity and capabilities of the people — is not only impossible to summarize in a single figure but also tough to measure, and thus a major area of research now. He also notes that in the past decade, Latin America's inequality has diminished in part thanks to successful programs like Opportunidades in Mexico and Bolsa Familia in Brazil, which provide cash transfers to the poor conditional on parents pursuing better education and healthcare outcomes for their kids. (Part 2 of this series explores possible policy steps to continue reducing inequality, especially on the tax front.)
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