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Development economics, globalism and inequality, the aid system, international financial institutions, education, Latin America, climate financing
Nancy Birdsall is president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a policy-oriented research institution that opened its doors in Washington, DC in October 2001. Prior to launching the center, Birdsall served for three years as senior associate and director of the Economic Reform Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her work at Carnegie focused on issues of globalization and inequality, as well as on the reform of the international financial institutions.
From 1993 to 1998, Birdsall was executive vice-president of the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest of the regional development banks, where she oversaw a $30 billion public and private loan portfolio. Before joining the Inter-American Development Bank, she spent 14 years in research, policy, and management positions at the World Bank, most recently as director of the Policy Research Department.
Birdsall has been researching and writing on economic development issues for more than 25 years. Her most recent work focuses on the relationship between income distribution and economic growth and the role of regional public goods in development.
Birdsall is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Food Policy Research Council (IFPRI), of the African Population and Health Research Center, and of Mathematica. She has chaired the board of the International Center for Research on Women and has served on the boards of the Social Science Research Council, Overseas Development Council, and Accion. She has also served on committees and working groups of the National Academy of Sciences.
Birdsall holds a PhD in economics from Yale University and an MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Putting Education to Work in Egypt, by Nancy Birdsall and Lesley O'Connell. Prepared for Conference, Growth Beyond Stabilization: Prospects for Egypt, sponsored by The Egyptian Center for Economic Studies in collaboration with the Center for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector, University of Maryland; the Harvard Institute for International Development, and the US Agency for International Development, February 3-4, 1999, Cairo, Egypt. March 1999.
"Intergenerational Mobility in Latin America: Deeper Markets and Better Schools Make a Difference," with Jere R. Behrman and Miguel Szekely, in New Markets, New Opportunities? Economic and Social Mobility in a Changing World (1999)
"The U.S. and the Social Challenge in Latin America: The New Agenda Needs New Instruments," with Nora Lustig and Lesley O'Connell, in The Search for Common Ground: U.S. National Interests and the Western Hemisphere in a New Century (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999)
"Deep Integration and Trade Agreements: Good for Developing Countries?" with Robert Z. Lawrence in Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 1999)
"No Tradeoff: Efficient Growth Via More Equal Human Capital Accumulation in Latin America," in Beyond Trade-Offs: Market Reforms and Equitable Growth in Latin America (1998)
"That Silly Inequality Debate," in Foreign Policy, May/June 2002
"Education in Latin America: Demand and Distribution are Factors that Matter," with Juan Luis Londoño and Lesley O'Connell in CEPAL Review 66, December 1998
"Life is Unfair: Inequality in the World," in Foreign Policy, Summer 1998
"Public Spending on Higher Education in Developing Countries: Too Much or Too Little?" in Economics of Education Review, 1996
CGD founding president Nancy Birdsall has seen a few US presidents come and go in her long career as a leading development economist, but her message to all occupants of the White House has remained fairly steady: Enact smart policies that help developing countries build stable, prosperous economies of their own—and that will help people at home too. This week she joins the CGD Podcast to talk about some of those ideas, and why development should be a priority for the next US president.
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.
The multilateral development banking (MDB) system is regarded as having been remarkably successful—but is the model still fit for purpose? CGD president Nancy Birdsall and senior fellow Scott Morris delve into a new CGD report's recommendations on how to make MDBs more effective.
Finance and development ministers gathered in Washington this weekend at the World Bank’s annual meetings have an ambitious agenda of topics to discuss. But the truth is, it is not nearly ambitious enough. A new CGD report by a high level commission of development and finance experts explains why and what should happen.
The Birdsall House Conference Series on Women seeks to identify and bring attention to leading research and scholarly findings on women’s empowerment in the fields of development economics, behavioral economics, and political economy.
Critics allege that the World Bank is deeply flawed. Yet the world needs a strong World Bank to help manage development and the related global challenges of the 21st century. Do the Bank's shortcomings put its future at risk? If so, can the Bank be rescued? Rescuing the World Bank, a new book that includes a CGD working group report and selected essays edited by CGD president Nancy Birdsall, offers timely perspectives on challenges that are crucial to the Bank’s future success.
In the 2005 WIDER Annual Lecture, “The World is not Flat: Inequality and Injustice in our Global Economy” (PDF), CGD President Nancy Birdsall addresses the challenge that global inequality poses for managing globalization so that it works for the developing world. She first argues that inequality matters to people. Moreover, in developing countries, where markets and politics are far-from-perfect, inequality can be destructive, reducing prospects for growth, poverty reduction, and good government. She then turns to a fundamental problem of globalization--that it is asymmetric, i.e. that it benefits the rich more than the poor, both within and across countries. Birdsall argues that the world is not flat as argued by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Rather, what appears to be a level playing field to people on the surface is actually a field full of craters in which poor people and poor countries are stuck. Birdsall discusses the implications of these craters for shared prosperity, global security, and global social justice. She concludes by suggesting steps for addressing the core problem: We have a global economy but no effective global polity.
In the accompanying article Rising Inequality in the New Global Economy (PDF) Nancy Birdsall argues that globalization is disequalizing, rewarding the already rich while leaving the poor behind, and that we need a global polity to address the asymmetric impacts of globalization.
Download slides from the lecture "Why Inequality Matters in a Globalizing World" (PDF, 580KB) delivered October 26, 2005 at the World Institute for Development Economic Research (WIDER) in Helsinki, Finland
The lecture draws upon the following previously released CGD publications:
Commodity Dependence, Trade and Growth: When Openness Is Not Enough
Economic Policy and Wage Differentials in Latin America
Give Us Your Best and Brightest. The Global Hunt for Talent and Its Impact on the Developing World
J. Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), analyzes the process and achievements of the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in Busan, South Korea, in 2011.
In 2016 on the CGD Podcast, we have discussed some of development's biggest questions: How do we pay for development? How do we measure the sustainable development goals (SDGs)? What should we do about refugees and migrants? And is there life yet in the notion of globalism? The links to all the full podcasts featured and the work they reference are below, but in this edition, we bring you highlights of some of those conversations.
The evidence is compelling that countries benefit from immigration, particularly if immigrants are already well-educated, working-age adults, as is the case with most of the Syrians fleeing war at home. Still, there are real economic, security, and political costs of hosting refugees when, as with the Syrians, the arrivals are sudden and substantial. Given those costs, how should we think about the obligations of potential host countries?
In this paper we identify a group of people in Latin America and other developing countries that are not poor but not middle class either. We define them as the vulnerable “strugglers”, people living in households with daily income per capita between $4 and $10 (at constant 2005 PPP dollar). They are well above the international poverty line, but still vulnerable to falling back into poverty and hence not part of the secure middle class. In a first step, we use long-term growth projections to show that in Latin America about 200 million people will likely be in the struggler group in 2030, accounting for about a third of the total population.
New research shows that inequality in Latin America is falling. In this paper, the authors summarize recent findings, analyze the affect of different regimes, and investigate the relationship between inequality and changes in the size of the middle class in the region. They conclude with some questions about whether and how changes in income distribution and in middle-class economic power will affect the politics of distribution in the future.