Debates on inequality too simplistic – Chiteme

Minister of National Development Planning Alexander Chiteme says any comprehensive assessment of inequality must consider income and wealth.

In a speech read on his behalf by Ministry of National Development Planning Permanent Secretary in charge of Development Cooperation, Monitoring and Evaluation, Danies Chisenda, during the launch of the 2019 global human development report entitled “Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today: Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century”, Thursday, Chiteme said there was need for government to act on inequalities using policies which don’t work in isolation.

“Inequalities in human development affect social cohesion and people’s trust in government, institutions and each other. They also distress economies, wastefully preventing people from reaching their full potential at work and in life. Inequalities in human development are not just about disparities in income and wealth. The report’s main purpose is to assess inequalities broadly beyond income, beyond averages and beyond today. Any comprehensive assessment of inequality must consider income and wealth. It must also go beyond dollars and kwachas to understand differences in other aspects of human development and the processes that lead to them. Other than economic inequality, inequalities exist in key elements of human development such as health, education, dignity and respect for human rights,” Chiteme said.

He noted that the report observed that the debate on inequality was over simplified today.

“The report notes that the debate on inequality is oversimplified, relying on summary measures and incomplete data that provide a partial, sometimes misleading picture, both in the types of inequality to consider and the people affected. The analysis as the report recommends, must go beyond averages that collapse information on distribution to a single number and look at the ways inequality plays out across an entire population, in different places and over time. The 2019 human development report also notes that much analysis on inequalities focuses on the past or on the here and now, yet a changing world requires considering what will shape inequality in the future. Existing and/or new forms of inequality will interact with major social, economic and environmental forces to determine the lives of today’s young people and their children,” Chiteme said.

“Climate change and technological transformations are the two major shifts that will shape the twenty-first century. The climate crisis is already hitting the poorest hardest, while technological advances such as machine learning and artificial intelligence can leave behind entire groups of people, even countries creating the threat of an uncertain future under these shifts.”

He said the Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today: Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century report highlighted four main findings on how measuring inequalities had evolved.

“First, while many people are stepping above minimum floors of achievement in human development, widespread disparities remain. For example, gaps exist at all education levels with forty-two percent of adults with a primary education in low human development countries compared with ninety-four percent in very high human development countries. Only 3.2 percent of adults in low human development countries have a tertiary education, compared with 29 percent in developed countries. Second, a new generation of severe inequalities in human development is emerging, even if many of the unresolved inequalities of the 20th century are declining. For instance, the proportion of the adult population with tertiary education is growing more than six times faster in very high human development countries than in low human development countries, and fixed broadband subscriptions are growing 15 times faster,” Chiteme said.

“Thirdly, inequalities in human development can accumulate through life, frequently heightened by deep power imbalances. This is illustrated by gender inequality being one of the greatest barriers to human development. Inequality is still sharp in the power men and women exercise at home, in the workplace or in politics. At home, women do more than three times as much unpaid care work as men. And although in many countries women and men vote equally, they do not share equally in political power. Fourth, assessing inequalities in human development demands a revolution in metrics. A new generation of metrics is needed to fill the many data gaps to measure these different inequalities and, more generally, to go systematically beyond averages. This starts with gaps in some of the most basic statistics, with many developing countries still lacking in vital registration systems. Fifth, redressing inequalities in human development in the 21st century is possible—if we act now, before imbalances in economic power translate into entrenched political dominance. Enhancing capabilities is associated with more empowerment that can enable policy makers to realise people’s ability to make choices that fulfil their aspirations and values.”

He highlighted the recommendations in the report.

“The 2019 human development report presents the following options: Government action should not be based on policies in isolation. Long-lasting change in both income and the broader range of inequalities in human development depends on a wider and more systemic approach to policies, a framework that links the expansion and distribution of both capabilities and income. The options span premarket, in-market and post market policies. Premarket policies can reduce disparities in capabilities, helping everyone enter the labour market better equipped. In market policies affect the distribution of income and opportunities when individuals are working, shaping outcomes that can be either more or less equalizing. Post market policies affect inequalities once the market along with the in-market policies have determined the distribution of income and opportunities,” said Chiteme.

“Timely action on climate change is necessary. Climate crisis shows that the price of inaction compounds over time, as it feeds further inequality, which can in turn make action on climate more difficult. Technology is already changing labour markets and lives, but not yet locked-in is the extent to which machines may replace people. In conclusion, expanding peoples’ freedoms should be both the aim and means for sustainable development, and placing emphasis on expanding human choices as the ultimate criteria for assessing development results. The human development report points to the fact that the future of inequalities in human development in the twenty-first century is in our hands. We therefore cannot be complacent. We do have a choice, and we must exercise it now.”




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