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Rising Inequality in Asia and Policy Implications


  • Zhuang, Juzhong
  • Kanbur, Ravi
  • Rhee, Changyong


This paper looks at the recent trends of rising inequality in developing Asia, asks why inequality matters, examines the driving forces of rising inequality, and proposes policy options for tackling high and rising inequality. Technological change, globalization, and market-oriented reform have driven Asia’s rapid growth, but have also had significant distributional consequences. These factors have favored owners of capital over labor, skilled over unskilled workers, and urban and coastal areas over rural and inland regions. Furthermore, unequal access to opportunity, caused by institutional weaknesses and social exclusion, has compounded the impacts of these forces. All these combined have led to a falling share of labor income in national income, increasing premiums on human capital, and growing spatial disparity—all contributing to rising inequality. The three drivers of rising inequality cannot and should not be blocked, because they are the same forces that drive productivity and income growth. This paper outlines a number of policy options for Asian policy makers to consider in addressing rising inequality. These options, aiming to equalize opportunities and, thereby, reduce inequality, include efficient fiscal measures that reduce inequality in human capital, policies that work toward increasing the number and quality of jobs, interventions that narrow spatial disparity, and reforms that strengthen governance, level the playing field, and eliminate social exclusion.
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Suggested Citation

  • Zhuang, Juzhong & Kanbur, Ravi & Rhee, Changyong, 2014. "Rising Inequality in Asia and Policy Implications," Working Papers 180123, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:cudawp:180123

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hyun H. Son, 2013. "Inequality of Human Opportunities in Developing Asia," Asian Development Review, MIT Press, vol. 30(2), pages 110-130, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Aoyagi, Chie & Ganelli, Giovanni, 2015. "Asia's quest for inclusive growth revisited," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 29-46.
    2. Rémi Bazillier & Jérôme Héricourt & Samuel Ligonnière, 2017. "Structure of Income Inequality and Household Leverage: Theory and Cross-Country Evidence," Working Papers 2017-01, CEPII research center.
    3. Dongkoo Chang & Jami'ah Jaffar, "undated". "Monetary Policy Towards Inclusive Growth: The Case of Korea," Working Papers wp05, South East Asian Central Banks (SEACEN) Research and Training Centre.

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    Agricultural and Food Policy; Production Economics;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East

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