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Will income inequality cause a middle-income trap in Asia?


  • Akio Egawa


The Asian economy is expected to realise favourable growth during the first half of this century, but there is no guarantee. There is a discussion about a ‘middle-income trap’, which refers to a country that has realised rapid growth to become a middle-income country but is unable to grow further. A middle-income trap could occur not only if there is a delay in shifting the economy toward a productivity-driven structure, but also if there is a worsening of income distribution.We consider this in line with the theories of development economics and through a quantitative analysis. The relationship between income inequality and the trap can be explained by the Kuznets hypothesis and the basic-needs approach. Our quantitative analysis supports the Kuznets hypothesis, and indicates that,although a low-income country can accelerate its economic growth with the worsening of income distribution as an engine, a middle income country would experience a decreasing growth rate if it fails to narrow the income gap between the top and bottom income groups. The results also show that the basic-needs approach is also applicable in practice, and imply that the improvement of access to secondary education is important.A sensitivity analysis for three Asian upper-middle-income countries(China, Malaysia and Thailand) also shows that the situation related to a middle-income trap is worse than average in China and Malaysia. These two countries, according to the result of the sensitivity analysis, should urgently improve access to secondary education and should implement income redistribution measures to develop high-tech industries, before their demographic dividends expire. Income redistribution includes the narrowing of rural urban income disparities, benefits to low-income individuals, direct income transfers, vouchers or free provision of education and health-care, and so on, but none of these are simple to implement.

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  • Akio Egawa, 2013. "Will income inequality cause a middle-income trap in Asia?," Working Papers 797, Bruegel.
  • Handle: RePEc:bre:wpaper:797

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    Cited by:

    1. Vladimir Mau & Sergey Ulyukaev, 2015. "Глобальный Кризис и Вызовы Экономической Политики Современной России (Global Crisis and the Economic Policy Challenges of Modern Russia)," Working Papers 126, Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, revised 2015.
    2. Pierre-Richard AGENOR, 2016. "Caught in the Middle? The Economics of Middle-Income Traps," Working Papers P142, FERDI.
    3. repec:sgh:gosnar:y:2016:i:6:p:5-22 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:eee:rujoec:v:1:y:2015:i:1:p:4-29 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Mau, Vladimir & Ulyukaev, Sergey, 2015. "Global Crisis and the Economic Policy Challenges of Modern Russia," Published Papers dok23, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
    6. Harinder S. Kohli (ed.), 2016. "The World in 2050: Striving for a More Just, Prosperous, and Harmonious Global Community," Books, Emerging Markets Forum, edition 1, number world2050, August.
    7. Eric Rougier & Riana Razafimandimby Andrianjaka, 2017. "What difference does it make (when a middle-income country is caught in the trap)? An evidence-based survey analysis of the determinants of Middle-Income Traps," Cahiers du GREThA 2017-16, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée.
    8. Ozturk, Ayse, 2016. "Examining the economic growth and the middle-income trap from the perspective of the middle class," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 25(3), pages 726-738.
    9. Pierre-Richard AGENOR, 2016. "Caught in the Middle? The Economics of Middle-Income Traps," Working Papers P142, FERDI.

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