Book cover: Transitioning to Reduced Inequalities
Open Access Edited Book

Transitioning to Reduced Inequalities

Published: February 2023
Pages: 246
ISBN 978-3-03921-160-9 (hardback); ISBN 978-3-03921-161-6 (PDF)
This book is part of the book series: Transitioning to Sustainability
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The world has never been richer than today. The distribution of our global wealth, however, is hugely biased. Since 1980, the gains were mainly captured by the rich: The top 1% obtained twice as much of the income growth as compared to the bottom 50%. Nevertheless, within economics, debates about inequality have remained rather marginal, despite long-term research by renowned scholars such as Tony Atkinson. Within the public arena, concerns about inequality emerged as a result of a number of developments: First, the global financial crisis in 2008 exposed the risks of the financing of the economy; secondly, 2013, Thomas Picketty’s book “Capital in the 21st century” demonstrated that, against the trend of the overall 20th century, capital returns outstrip the gains through economic growth in recent decades, thus threatening social coherence and democratic institutions and thirdly, the Millennium Campaign presented impressive achievements regarding poverty but stirred doubts whether the most deprived were left even further behind.

Since 2015, then, the stated aim of SDG 10 is to “reduce inequality within and among countries”. There is growing consensus that economic growth is not sufficient to reduce poverty, and that our efforts to make it more inclusive so far were insufficient. The very first step reduce inequality is to adopt a systemic perspective, allowing an integrative analysis covering both ends of the ladder. Policies should be universal in principle and pay attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations. Predicated on comparison, inequality reminds us that it’s not enough to study lower earners and the poor. Instead, the term demands that we expand our perspective, scrutinizing how economic value is generated, accumulated, at whose cost, and – not least – how the overall system could be made fairer. “Transitioning to Reduced Inequalities” therefore explores inequality trends worldwide, offers a debate on different measures and comparative perspectives, highlights key actors who either benefited or suffered from recent economic trends, and explores policy options to reduce inequality and thus contribute to SDG 10. The volume considers particularly:

  • conceptual frameworks with regards to the inequality debate;
  • the relationship between poverty reduction, economic growth and inequality;
  • measures of inequality;
  • overlooked/bypassed groups in developing countries;
  • analysis on income/wealth growth for different groups in the global north;
  • discussion about policies to reduce inequality;
  • and further research in the realm of inequality.

Transitioning to Reduced Inequalities is part of MDPI's new Open Access book series Transitioning to Sustainability. With this series, MDPI pursues environmentally and socially relevant research which contributes to efforts toward a sustainable world.


poverty; inequality reduction; equality; economic development


Published with the generous support of the Swiss National Science Foundation.


  • A World Drifting Apart: Challenges and Possibilities of Transitioning to a More Equitable Planet

    The editorial sets out a diagnostic panorama on how and why inequality of income and wealth have increased in the last 50 years. Pointing out the problematic dynamic of societies drifting apart while environmental crises threaten our future, the authors offer a selection of work-in-progress think-pieces to stimulate research and open up pathways towards substantive reduction of multiple forms of inequalities and dignified lives for all within our planetary boundaries.

  • The Missing Link between Inequality and the Environment in SDG 10

    Social equality was one of three dimensions to be considered by the SDG High Level Panel of Eminent Persons. In keeping with the central importance of inequality, one of the 17 goals, SDG 10, is dedicated to reducing inequality. Yet, despite strong and well-documented links between inequality and environmental impacts, SDG 10 does not mention the environment, while more environmentally-focused goals address inequality indirectly, if at all. This raises the question of how a plan to achieve the SDGs taken as a whole should best think about relationships between inequality, environmental impacts, and access to environmental resources. In this chapter we address this question through the lens of three frameworks: climate equity, environmental justice, and analysis of distributional impacts. These frameworks urge a systemic view of inequalities and how they are reinforced and perpetuated. Absent a systems approach, acting on environmentally-focused goals can inadvertently exacerbate inequalities. This observation suggests the utility of an “SDG interactions” approach to sustainability policy. Interactions between SDG 10 and other goals can be either positive or negative, depending on how strategies are designed and implemented.

  • Liaison of Climate Change and Social Inequality

    Climate change contains, in a nutshell, fundamental relations of social inequality such as gender, “race”, and class. This chapter outlines how climate change is human made, primarily by a capitalist economic system. Capitalism relies on exploitative relations of nature and humans, mainly in the global South and of women. A reduction of inequalities is possible through a socio-economic transformation, which seeks degrowth and an alternative to a Green New Deal.

  • Capitalism, Money and Inequality in the World

    This chapter considers the important relationship between capitalism, money and inequality in the world. Ultimately, it asks what policies can be pursued to reduce economic inequality both within and between states once we have a deep understanding of how the structural logic of capitalism, the creation of new money in the economy and the generation of inequality are all interrelated. The chapter argues that it is too often forgotten that while economic growth over the last three centuries has lifted many people out of extreme poverty, capitalism is primarily an economic, monetary and accounting system whose aim is to generate income and wealth inequality. This helps to explain why, even after centuries of global economic growth, the division of wealth both within and between nations has never been starker. Since the overthrow of capitalism is neither nigh nor perhaps welcome, the chapter investigates how the fiscal and monetary policy of states can be deployed to lessen harmful economic and financial inequalities and work towards achieving the 10th sustainable development goal.

  • Inequalities in Trade

    Reducing inequalities both between and within countries is a major concern of policymakers. One aspect that is left out of many studies concerning sustainable development at the national level is the importance of globalization and participation in international trade. The following chapter sheds light on the differences regarding the integration of countries into the world trade network and the developments over the last five decades (1968–2016). To that end, we use a very rich dataset of bilateral trade from CHELEM-INT (CEPII) covering the trade flows between 72 countries between 1968 and 1990 and 84 countries between 1994 and 2016, detailed to a level of 147 products. Results show that trade inequality measured with the help of the Theil-Index decreased significantly over the investigation period. Whereas in the late 1960s, mostly highly developed countries were (almost) fully integrated in international trade, many Southern American, Asian and African countries significantly increased their participation over the course of time. However, even during the last decades of hyper-globalization, important differences between countries continued to persist. This is largely explained by their different specialization patterns emerging from unequal access to natural resources, technological innovation, and education.

  • Would Open Borders Lead to Reduced Global and Within-Country Inequality?

    International migration is identified in SDG 10 as a way to reduce global and within-country inequality. The literature on the effects of migration on migrants, their countries of origin, and their destination countries is vast. This review surveys recent literature on these topics, highlighting the complex relationships between inequality and international migration. The impact of international migration
    on inequality depends on who the migrants are, where they come from, the circumstances surrounding their decisions to migrate, and their final destinations. Policies with respect to refugees and asylum seekers are different from those for other types of migrants, and not all policies work to reduce inequalities or benefit migrants and their countries of origin. Reducing or eliminating restrictions on the movements of human beings would bring very large economic benefits to the world as a whole, but the equitable distribution of these gains will require the development of appropriate policies.

  • Urban Planning and Heterodox Economics in the United States: Progressive Partners to Reduce Inequalities

    As humanity becomes ever more urbanized, the urban environment is an ever more effective area in which to intervene in order to reduce inequalities. However, many of the urban policy interventions with the intended result of reducing inequalities are paradoxically perpetuating them. We discuss how this is the case in the context of US housing policy—particularly as it pertains to the role of underlying racial-ethnic and socio-spatial inequality in generating uneven housing outcomes—where the very policies claiming to be progressive expand existing group-based and place-based inequalities. We explore methods of overcoming this paradox by illustrating how heterodox economics and urban planning in practice could synergistically reinforce their respective disciplinary aspirations to speed up a transition to a more equitable world. In doing so, we highlight how calls for a Jobs Guarantee program, derived from heterodox economics, together with the support of locally based planning initiatives and a Homes Guarantee program, could bring us much further than we have come before toward reducing inequalities.

  • Right to the City, Right to Sanctuary: Sanctuary Practices, Urban Inequality, and Immigrant Political Subjectivities in New York

    The evidence presented here is—to the contrary of arguments in recent literature on sanctuary cites—suggestive of an emancipatory potential of sanctuary practices in the urban environment, in spite of the fact that in many aspects of their lives the undocumented must remain in the shadows of the city. Sanctuary cities, it could be cautiously argued, thus have a potential to more robustly realize appropriations of urban space of a Lefebvrian “right to the city” and are suggestive of an alternative
    legality grounded in ‘rightful presence.’ The New Sanctuary Coalition in New York actively dismantles the binary relations between ‘host’ and ‘guest,’ and disrupts the state monopoly on the legal and political through its accompaniment program and through a variety of sanctuary acts and practices.

  • Inequality and Inclusive Development in Ghana

    This chapter provides an overview of inequality in Ghana from a political economy perspective. The extent and consequences of inequality in the country have fluctuated in response to structural factors linked to socio-economic and political changes. Critical historical junctures that have affected inequality trends in the country go back to precolonial times and include the social effects of slavery, the introduction of “legitimate commerce” following the abolition of the slave trade, the rise of the cocoa economy at the turn of the twentieth century, the adoption of socialist economic policies after independence, political instability between the late 1960s and early 1980s, and the advent of economic and political liberalisation from the mid-1980s. Against this backdrop, we interrogate how inequality in Ghana has evolved in response to these large-scale factors. The chapter is organised as follows: the first section provides a theoretical and historical overview of inequality. The second section explores the various domains of inequality in Ghana, with a focus on class, gender, and disability. This exploration is done against the backdrop of the country’s entrenched north–south disparities in development. The third section examines a selection of social development programmes introduced in recent decades and how the larger political context shaped their ability to produce propoor outcomes. The chapter concludes with a brief reflection on progress made so far in actualising Ghana’s commitment to SDG 10.

Review Mode

Each chapter in this edited book has been reviewed by the editor/s as well as an external expert who reviewed each chapter of the book and provided an overall review. The opinions expressed in the chapters do not reflect the view of the publisher.

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