© Reuters/Vivek Prakash
Despite the crises that tend to dominate today’s headlines, global socio-economic development in the past 25 years has still been outstanding – in many albeit not in all parts of the world. Steady economic growth has transformed the lives of many, and has lifted many out of poverty, particularly in East Asia. Success stories can also be found in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. It may be premature to talk of “Africa rising,” but many view the continent’s development prospects as being much brighter today than just 15 years ago. Economic growth and the reduction of income poverty have been accompanied in many places by progress in non-income dimensions of well-being, for example access to school education. A down side of economic growth is the ongoing extreme inequality in many developing countries, although the inequality that has typically characterised a number of Latin American countries has been declining in the 2000s, in part driven by an expansion of social programmes. A further major challenge is environmental quality, which has massively deteriorated in a number of fast-growing economies. Beyond local effects, economic growth in developing economies is doing great harm to the global commons.
To join the ranks of today’s high-income economies, developing countries must continue to achieve economic growth for an extended period of time. The enthusiasm of the early 2000s has given way to some concerns about sustaining progress. China’s growth has slowed, and the related end of the commodities boom has negatively affected a number of sub-Saharan African and Latin American economies, most notably Brazil. This growth deceleration has nourished fears in Brazil of a middle-income trap, as its income levels are well below those of high-income countries and as it displays typical features of a developing economy, in particular the prevalence of informal activities. Also, the supposed rise of a new middle class in developing countries, which could catalyse socio-economic change, may have come to a halt before it fully unfolded. Without broad-based growth and the rise of a middle class, it seems unlikely that the considerable inequalities of most societies in developing economies can be reduced.
The research agenda of the Growth and Development Research Programme is thus organised around the following three guiding questions:
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