Benedict Clements, co-editor of an IMF book on Inequality, discusses “one of the defining issues of our time”
Inequality is at the forefront of the economic policy debate today in much of the world
How is the IMF contributing to the debate about rising income inequality?
On many fronts. First, we are doing new research on the causes of inequality and its macroeconomic implications. Second, we are doing studies on how economic policies and reforms can help countries achieve their equity goals. Our book on Inequality andFiscal Policy is an example of this kind of research. Third, we are deepening our work on individual countries in the context of our annual consultations with them.
What’s the importance of this work?
In many countries, achieving more “inclusive” growth—the kind that creates a high number of jobs and does not increase inequality—is a priority. In this context, policymakers are eager to know the effects of economic policies on inequality and the effects of these policies on economic growth. As an advisor to countries on macroeconomic and fiscal policies, the IMF has an important role. In our book, we look at the evidence and provide guidance for policymakers and Fund staff on these issues. The good news is that there are many reforms that both reduce inequality and boost growth. Greater use of property taxes to raise revenues and the reform of energy subsidies are two such examples.
How much has French economist Thomas Piketty’s book fueled this debate?
Piketty’s work has helped draw attention to the issue. This is just one of many excellent studies that have documented the rise in inequality. Of equal importance is the work that examines what countries can do to address it.
In your own case, what attracted you to economics and in particular to fiscal issues?
During my college years, I took a trip to Latin America with the Maryknoll Fathers, who work with the poor. That trip helped show me that economics really matters when it comes to poverty and inequality. I’ve been interested ever since.
Benedict Clements is a division chief in the Fiscal Affairs Department of the IMF. He has worked in the IMF since 1991 and has published extensively on public finance and macroeconomic issues.