Just before the World Economic Forum’s Davos Conference - 2018 the Forum recently released the Inclusive Development Index 2017 (WEF IDI). The WEF prepares this index annually ranking 103 countries’ economic performance that measures how countries perform on 11 dimensions of economic progress in addition to GDP. The eleven performance indicators are (1) labour productivity; (2) employment; (3) healthy life expectancy; (4) median household income; (5) income gini; (6) poverty rate (7) wealth gini; (8) adjusted savings; (9) dependency ration; (10 public debt as a share of GDP; and (11) carbon intensity of GDP.
The report mentions that mere GDP may not be enough to measure the inclusive progress of a nation.
Though the report began with the statement saying ‘slow progress in living standards and widening inequality have contributed to political polarisation and erosion of social cohesion in many advanced and emerging economies’ the report brought about some good news for countries like Bangladesh.It mentioned that Bangladesh scored ahead of most of its neighbours. Designed as an alternative to GDP, the Inclusive Development Index (IDI) effects more closely the criteria by which people evaluate the countries’ economic progress. The index ranked the economies in two groups-advanced and emerging. The finding reveals Norway is the best performing advanced economy in 2018 with a consistently strong performance. Of the 29 countries (data from Singapore were not available) clustered as Advanced Economies Greece is placed in the last position while United States is placed at 23rd. The Emerging index table consisting of 24 countries (no data were available for three countries) is headed by Lithuania, Mozambique being placed at 24th. What is encouraging is that Bangladesh is placed at 34th, India at 62nd, Pakistan at 49th, Nepal at 22nd and Sri Lanka at 40th. Bangladesh has outperformed even its giant neighbour, India. The index used a seven point scale and Bangladesh scored 3.98. Needless to say the enviable position by Bangladesh vis-à-vis its neighbours brought about a relief to its people and the present government. The government is preparing to shed off its LDC status this year as its socio-economic growth has shown a steady growth over the last few years. The agricultural output has increased, the small and medium scale industries have prospered and the export basket have widened marginally. New market for its export wares have been added and the standard of living have increased while the internal revenue has also increased reducing its dependence to finance its development budget on international donor agencies like the WB or ADB.
Unfortunately while the world acknowledges the socio-economic growth of Bangladesh, some of its own think tanks and civil society member who seemingly survive on peddling Bangladesh’s assumed poverty and income disparity fails to acknowledge such gains made by the country. Needless to say there is income disparity that exists but it has not gone up to the level of raising any alarm. Such think tanks never ever could acknowledge the progress made by Bangladesh in any front and after the announcement of every annual budget will announce in public that the budget is unattainable and is very ambitious. The primary job, it seems, is to discover loopholes and nail the government. The Prime Minister very rightly came down hard in the National Parliament on these think tanks and some civil society members who are in a habit of always finding the glass half empty and projecting a dismal picture of the country to the people and to the outside world.
Though Bangladesh has performed well compared to its neighbours there are quite a few things that needs to be fixed as quickly as possible, the first being its banking sector. Corruption and nagging unnecessary bureaucracy have become endemic and at times it seems that the government is fighting a losing battle against these two. County’s bureaucracy currently enjoys perks and benefits hitherto unknown to them but the return the country gets from them falls short of common expectation. The country’s laws have enough loopholes through which the corrupt can wriggle out and remain out of reach of the long hand of the law. Corruption thrives under the protection of such legal loopholes. If both corruption and unnecessary bureaucratic red tapes could be leashed, it would not be difficult for Bangladesh to climb up few more notches in the IDI.
Though newer countries are regularly being included in the list of emerging economies globally, the gap between rich and poor keeps on widening. According to a report published on 22 January by the development charity Oxfam to coincide with WEF Davos meet, billionaires had been created at a record rate of one every two days over the past 12 months, at a time when the bottom 50 per cent of the world’s population had seen no increase in wealth. It added that 82 per cent of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the wealthiest 1 per cent. According to Oxfam it is unacceptable and unsustainable for tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. Oxfam also mentions that 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009. Most of the people who hold bulk of the global wealth are from Europe and US, few coming from China, India and Central America. Needless to say the poorer half of the world’s population is concentrated in Africa, parts of Asia and Latin America.
As said there is no denying the fact that income inequality survives in Bangladesh as in any country and to reduce such income equality what is needed is practical and good fiscal policy and competent corruption-free governance. With such income equality the world cannot hope for peace and equitable progress and prosperity. Only through reducing the income gap can Bangladesh attain the coveted 23rd position amongst the world economies by 2050 leaving behind Australia, South Africa, Malaysia and Netherlands. In the meantime let Bangladesh climb a few more steps in the IDI ladder. Congratulations to those who made this possible, including the government. For those who only see the half empty glass now it is time to see the one that is half full.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator