Tackling Inequalities: At the Heart of the Post-2015 Agenda?


Introductory Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the Second Development Lecture in Honour of Angus Maddison

Paris, 3 April 2013

(As prepared for delivery)

Professor Bourguignon, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

Welcome to the Second Lecture on Development in Honour of Angus Maddison. It is my great pleasure to open this event. I would like to extend a special thank you to the family members of Angus Maddison who have joined us this evening, and to our guest speaker Prof. François Bourguignon. I also want to congratulate the Development Centre once again for this initiative.

About a year ago we were meeting here to inaugurate the Maddison Lecture Series on the occasion of the OECD Development Centre’s 50th Anniversary. On that evening, Prof. Philippe Aghion took us on a fascinating journey across the globe; shedding light on the binding constraints to growth and why some regions and countries perform better than others. This time we have asked Prof. Bourguignon to address one of the most pressing global challenges: the urgent need to reduce inequalities.


The Maddison Lectures, remembering a visionary.
The Maddison Lecture Series commemorates Angus Maddison, the influential and inspiring economist who left us in 2010. This enthusiastic and thought provoking "chiffrephile" – as he used to call himself – contributed an essential piece of economic history and shook up the profession when he proposed an estimate of world GDP from year one.

The OECD also shares a more personal history with Angus Maddison who was part of the OECD family from the beginning and one of the founding fathers of the Development Centre. Angus greatly contributed to one of the core missions of the OECD: evidence-based policy making. We need to identify “paradigm pioneers” and learn from them, that is why we created these lectures.

The Maddison Lecture Series gives us an opportunity to bring to the OECD some of the world’s leading thinkers and help us adapt our conceptual frameworks and approaches to a changed global context. In this respect, it echoes other recent initiatives by the OECD - such as the OECD New Approaches to Economic Challenges Initiative (NAEC) and the joint project with the Ford Foundation on Inclusive Growth. Learning lessons as much from recent crises as from long-term trends is an essential step in tackling pressing challenges and in paving new ways forward.


Today we want to focus on the ultimate ethical challenge: inequalities.
The need to reduce inequalities has become one of the most important issues of this century.

In a large majority of OECD countries, wage gaps widened and household income inequality increased during the three decades prior to the crisis. This occurred even when countries were going through a period of sustained economic and employment growth. Our study “Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising” shows that: in OECD countries today, the average income of the richest 10% of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10% – a ratio of 9 to 1 (in contrast to about 7 to 1 thirty years ago).

Inequalities have also been growing in many emerging economies and developing countries, despite their fast growth over the last years. Among the BRICS for example, only Brazil managed to reduce inequality substantially. However, with a ratio of 50 to 1, it is still a far more unequal country than any of the OECD countries. According to data from the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER), in 2011, the richest 2% of adults owned more than half of the global wealth.

What do these numbers and trends tell us? How should policymakers react? Should the issue of inequality be at the forefront of the discussions for the Post-2015 agenda?


To help us answer these questions, what better choice than Prof. Bourguignon!
François Bourguignon has dedicated his work and career to the analysis of inequality and poverty; income distribution; and economic development, to name but a few. He has based some of his analyses on Maddison’s historical series. And has made a remarkable contribution to the role of redistributive policies, and to our understanding of the implications of growth for poverty and inequality with his famous growth-poverty-inequality triangle.

François is of course no stranger to us. He is Director of Studies and Professor of Economics at l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) at Paris School of Economics, the institution that he headed between 2007 and January 2013. Before that, he was also  Chief Economist and first Vice President of the World Bank for four years. He is the author of great books. I recommend you "La mondialisation de l'inégalité". And he is a very good friend of the OECD, participating as keynote speaker in many of our big conferences on inclusive growth, social policy and the implications of inequality for development.

He is one of those unique economists and thinkers that combine impeccable theoretical, quantitative and modelling skills with a genuine interest and ability to address the most relevant societal questions.

So be prepared for a mind-rattling presentation. And be ready to put your questions forward to him with your thoughts and ideas. We want to generate a fruitful dialogue. Because as the provocative social scientist from Columbia University, Steven Johnson argues: “It is often the collision between different ideas or hunches what creates a major breakthrough”.

I would like to thank you all again for being with us tonight for the Second Lecture on Development in Honour of Angus Maddison. Please join me in welcoming Professor François Bourguignon.


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