How can we create a better life for everyone?

Why is equality still so elusive, while inequality is seen as normal and almost inevitable? We interview the greatest economic minds in the world, as they share ideas about what real economic equality might look like - and how it could be achieved across the world.

Why is there such a large gap between the richest and the poorest?

Nobel Laureate Robert M. Solow explored why some economies grow much faster than others; and why economic growth is stagnant in some parts of the world, while elsewhere there’s been rapid industrialization. He argued that there was no economic need for such a sharp contrast between the world’s ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, and firmly believed that economics could be used to improve equality.

"The science of economics should teach us not only how to increase the wealth of all of us, but to share the wealth more equally than we do."

Real GDP growth 2016

Does wealth always improve your life?

There’s no question that achieving equality is one of the world’s most important and complicated challenges. But how do we measure poverty? And will money always make people happier?

Acknowledging the disparity of wealth in the world, Nobel Laureate Sir Angus S. Deaton says money isn’t always the answer to inequality – especially when people’s lives can be improved by better healthcare and education. In fact, financial aid can make things worse.

"It’s very difficult to overcome the simplistic view that if you’re poor and I’m rich and I give you money, that’ll make you better off."

Why do some countries get stuck in poverty?

Growing up in St. Lucia during the First World War, Nobel Laureate Sir Arthur Lewis had firsthand experience of the ‘have nots’, as the country was very poor and still dealing with the aftermath of slavery.

He described an economy with a modern capitalist sector and an under-developed sector - which led to inequality and lower wages. His work on economic development, and why some countries get stuck in cycles of poverty, challenged the thinking of the time.

"High levels of unemployment allow an urban entrepreneurial class to exploit plentiful labor. They enjoy the profits of their development, while people at the bottom of society don’t progress at all and unemployment becomes indigenous to the system as a whole."

So how can we tackle inequality?

How can we make sure that the world’s poor have better lives? Nobel Laureate Paul R. Krugman was interested in income equality, arguing that people should earn enough money not just for food and shelter, but enough to be able to really take part in society. He thought this should come in the form of a basic income, for everybody. But is this really an achievable reality, or just a far-fetched utopian dream?

"There are things we know we can do, and things we think we can do. But we should be doing all of them. Redistribution, taxes and transfers; guaranteeing a basic income for the less fortunate, paid for by taxes of the more fortunate - we can do that."

Can we rewrite the rules of our economy to achieve equality?

Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz says there’s no easy overnight way to do this. But he also says that if we wrote the rules to make the economy more unequal, we should now be able to rewrite them too.

"Give workers more bargaining rights, curb the power of corporations, create better corporate governance, keep checks and balances on the financial sector. There is an agenda that can promote strong growth in the US economy."

Can we use tax to make things fairer for the many?

Laureate Sir James A. Mirrlees is an expert in development economics, and developing systems that create fairness for everyone in society.

"It’s about getting rid of poverty and poor education", he says. "To make the poorest well-enough off, you have to take money from the rich."

Though, he concedes, this is a simplistic viewpoint that doesn’t take into account the real world.

Mirrlees lives in Hong Kong, so he’s seen first-hand the rise of China as an economic power - and how it’s lifted many of its population from poverty. He suspects it’ll continue on an upwards trajectory: "I feel pretty sure that urban wages in the big Chinese cities will be comparable with wages in the big (western) cities within the next 50 years."

Is globalization helping or hindering equality?

We’ve all witnessed the world becoming increasingly interconnected, not just the products and services we use but also our culture. While globalization has been taking place for hundreds of years, it has sky rocketed over the last half-century. Has this hyper-globalization created inequality or spread the wealth?

It doesn’t appear to have helped close the gap between the richest and the poorest, but it has been good for developing countries. Nobel Laureates Paul R. Krugman and Joseph E.Stiglitz point out that one of the positives has been the huge rise of middle classes in countries like China and India. This means that hundreds of millions of previously deprived people are now relatively well off.

Will China rule the world?

It’s not just about the economy, what about gender equality?

Women could add $12 trillion to the global economy in the next decade* - their wealth is growing faster than men’s.

But gender equality still hasn’t come far enough, despite obvious steps forward in recent decades. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2086.

With the theme #BeBoldForChange for International Women’s Day 2017, we’re shining a spotlight on some of the exceptional ways in which women are challenging, reinventing and innovating across the world.

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