Tony Blair

Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva

Inequality, exclusion and democracy

What is the impact of inequality in democracy? Former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, explores this question in this special edition marking the 10th anniversary of the Kapuscinski Development Lectures. Watch his #KAPTalks below.

Tuesday 18.06.2019

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Mr. Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom opened his speech with an open question on how inequality could be tackled by good governance.

Inequality can be changed and poverty is a problem with a solution as Ryszard Kapuscinski’s life shows it, according to Blair. The key driver of tackling poverty is the quality of governance: the capacity to govern well, effectively, build institutions capable of making the best and sustainable decisions. However the quality of government cannot be imported, needs to be built locally.

Blair recalled examples of countries with same population, same opportunities, natural resources, but with different development success: Columbia and Venezuela, Poland and Ukraine, Ruanda and Burundi, North and South Korea. Government is tough and usually there is a vast gulf between great idea and effective implementation. Therefore providing support in building institutions is vital in reducing inequality. All African countries the Blair Institute works in share similar challenges – poor infrastructure (lack of electricity), inefficient small agriculture sector, education systems with poor quality, basic healthcare, corruption, inability to attract investments. And they add a new challenge with access to technology which can create a digital divide. According to Tony Blair the answer is the good governance. He stressed that there are solutions in tackling these problems, but the international community is slow in implementing these lessons. Aid assistance falls short because the focus of key decision-makers is missing.

Blair again called for greater recognition of importance of governance in development. He was convinced that a change can happen and politics can deliver, giving the examples of implementing the Millennium Development Goals and significant progress globally.

“Poverty is a problem with a solution. Inequality can be eliminated and the way to do that is through good governance,” he said, adding that “real change happens when nations are strong enough to stand on their feet and take destiny into their own hands.”

The lecture was followed by a discussion with Luis-Felipe López Calva, Regional Director of UNDP for Latin America and the Caribbean, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, Santiago Levy, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute and Jos Verbeek, World Bank Manager and Special Representative to the UN and WTO.

When measured in terms of income differences, inequalities have been decreasing slightly, even though the perception around the world is that they are in fact rising, said Luis-Felipe López Calva.

However, inequality has multiple dimensions beyond income and there is a genuine concern among the international development community that certain groups in many countries have more bargaining power, resulting in a “deterioration of democracy and fragmentation of the social contract”, he specified.

Oxfam now has a “Commitment to Reduce Inequality” Index that measures progressive taxation, progressive social spending and labor rights, said Winnie Byanyima. She also pointed out that 26 billionaires own as much as the bottom half of humanity and exert disproportionate influence over decisions.

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Tony Blair served as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2007. He was a staunch advocate of an interventionist foreign policy, in particular in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. He trebled the UK’s aid programme for Africa and introduced the first environmental programme in the UK to combat climate change. Since leaving office Tony Blair has spent most of his time working on three areas: supporting governments to deliver effectively for their people, working for peace in the Middle East, and countering extremism. He has established the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change to work on some of the most difficult challenges in the world today, including how the centre ground of politics renews itself with practical policy solutions.

Mr. Luis Felipe López-Calva is the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. He leads the organization´s work and teams in 40 countries and territories in the region helping bring governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector together to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Mr. López-Calva has nearly 30 years of experience working in academia, advising top governments in the region.  He has held key leadership positions in multilateral organizations, including UNDP, and most recently with the World Bank where he served as Practice Manager of the Poverty and Equity Global Practice for Europe and Central Asia. He was also the co‑director and lead author of the World Development Report 2017 on “Governance and the Law” and was a lead economist in several World Bank divisions.  From 2007‑2010, he served as Chief Economist for UNDP´s Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean in New York, the same division he will now lead. His research focuses on labour markets, poverty and inequality, institutions and microeconomics of development.  He has presented his research at top institutions including:  Harvard University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, San Diego; and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Centre.  He holds a Master’s degree in Economics from Boston University, as well as a Master’s and a Doctorate in Economics from Cornell University.

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