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Jenny Pearce

This chapter examines the key conceptual debates on inequality that were common until the end of World War II and the birth of the field of ‘development’. Two inequality-related questions have dominated development debates for decades. Firstly, does growth inevitably lead to inequality? And if so, does it matter, as long as poverty declines? The debates around these questions began in the 1950s with Simon Kuznets’ introduction of the ‘inverted-U hypothesis’, which posited that relative inequality increases, but only temporarily, in the early stages of economic growth, improving once countries reach middle-income levels. The chapter considers the politics and economics of inequality in the developing world as well as inequalities in the age of globalization. It concludes with an assessment of the World Bank’s incorporation of the goal of ‘shared prosperity’ in its discourse alongside its ongoing concern to reduce poverty.


This chapter explains what comparative politics could be relevant for, such as informing the public debate and giving policy advice. It argues that comparative politics has a huge but sometimes underdeveloped potential for being relevant for the various aspects of human well-being, economic prosperity, and social justice that most people care deeply about. Empirical research shows that the manner in which a country’s political institutions are designed and the quality of the operations of these institutions have a strong impact on measures of population health, as well as subjective well-being and general social trust. One result is that democratization without increased state capacity and control of corruption is not likely to deliver increased human well-being. The chapter also considers whether democracy generates political legitimacy, and concludes by suggesting that comparative political science has so far paid relatively little attention to issues of state capacity, control of corruption, and institutional quality.