'Poverty, employment and inequality in the SDGs: Heterodox discourse, orthodox policies?', by Malte Luebker

ISS Working Paper No. 626



The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put much emphasis on the employment and inequality, a noteworthy shift from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their focus on poverty eradication. To achieve ‘Sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth’, SDG Goal 8 contains targets on productivity-enhancing policies, employment and decent work, and makes reference to three out of the four fundamental labour rights. While these are necessary ingredients for a sustained increase in living standards and important elements of heterodox accounts of development, they are not sufficient conditions to create equitable growth. Drawing on examples from Asia, the paper makes this argument by addressing three orthodox conjectures: that workers benefit from productivity growth through higher wages; that factor shares in national income are roughly constant; and that policy interventions such as minimum wages are bound to fail. The paper concludes with two policy implications: (1) Countries need to adopt fiscal, wage and social protection policies that reduce inequalities of outcome and achieve faster income growth for the poorest – elements which can be found in Goal 10. (2) Effective labour markets governance needs to include the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, the only fundamental labour right not explicitly mentioned in the SDGs.

SDGs, poverty, productivity, labour market institutions, income inequality, functional distribution of incomes.

JEL classification
D31, D33, I30, J31, J83

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About the author

Malte Luebker is a Doctoral Fellow at the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS). His main research interests are: poverty, income inequality and labour market institutions. He holds an MSc in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and has worked extensively on wages and working conditions in Africa and Asia for the ILO.

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