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We have long advocated for more widespread use of median income or median consumption to compare individuals’ material well-being between countries and its development over time, and we are happy to report that the World Bank team that manages the (impressive) PovcalNet database has come through: as of October 1, the median monthly per capita income or consumption for each country is now part of the standard indicators displayed for any country query on PovcalNet.
Amartya Sen’s famous study of famines found that a nation’s people died not because of a food shortage but because some people lacked entitlements to that food. In a new CGD working paper with Chris Hoy, we ask if a similar situation is now the case for global poverty: are national resources available but not being used to end poverty?
After several starts and stops, the Nigerian government has finally removed fuel subsidies, resulting in an overnight price hike of 67 percent. The economic logic of subsidy reform is clear. What’s notable, and potentially problematic, is that the government is planning to use any savings from lifting the fuel subsidy in the regular budget.
PovcalNet, the World Bank’s global poverty database, provides all kinds of country statistics, including mean income, the share (and number) of the population living in absolute poverty ($1.90), the poverty gap and several measures of income inequality, such as the Gini coefficient. But one thing it doesn’t provide is median income or consumption. The median is a better measure of “typical” well-being than the mean, which is always skewed to the right.
We’ve been waiting for the World Bank to add these medians to its PovcalNet database, but we got impatient and did it ourselves. By manually running a few hundred queries in PovcalNet, we now have (and can share with you) the latest median income/consumption data for 144 countries (using 2011 PPPs — more on our methods below).
It's that time of year again when presidents, CEOs and civil society leaders get together at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, leaving the rest of us to wonder whether it is really true that a small number of very rich people at the top of the income distribution own more than the bottom half of the world.
Prioritising poor countries to receive our foreign aid might prevent us from getting it to poor people. As my colleagues Owen Barder and Matt Juden discussed, the latest data shows that although 2014 was a record year for aid spending, there was a significant fall in the share going to least developed countries, which face the most urgent development challenges.
This trend is worrying. It also highlights deeper issues with the way aid is spent.