Skip to main content

Alicia Bárcena Calls for Moving Toward a New Development Paradigm and Putting an End to Inefficient and Unsustainable Inequality

Available in EnglishEspañol
12 February 2018|Press Release

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary gave a keynote speech today in Mexico in the framework of the “Change of Era” Permanent Seminar, organized by the regional commission and UNAM.


Alicia Bárcena during her keynote speech.
La Secretaria Ejecutiva de la CEPAL, Alicia Bárcena, durante su conferencia magistral.
Foto: CINU México.

The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, called on countries today to put an end to inefficient and unsustainable inequality and move toward a new development paradigm that, among other advances, would tear down the culture of privilege still deeply rooted in the region.
In Mexico City today, the senior United Nations official inaugurated the Change of Era Permanent Seminar, Latin America and the Time for Equality: Progress, Setbacks and Challenges, which is being organized by ECLAC and the University Program of Development Studies (PUED) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
Other participants in the inauguration included Enrique Graue, Rector of the UNAM; Eduardo Vega, Director of that educational institution’s Economics Department; and Rolando Cordera, Coordinator of the PUED.
During the seminar, Alicia Bárcena gave a keynote speech entitled “Progress and challenges of the equality agenda in Latin America,” in which she warned that the global context is characterized by a greater concentration of wealth in the world, which is exhibiting an unprecedented intensity and fast pace.
She recalled that, according to the latest edition of the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth Report, 1% of the richest households in the world possess half of the globe’s wealth. Total global wealth has reached $280 trillion dollars and is 27% higher than a decade ago, when the financial crisis began, she said.
Furthermore, tectonic changes and a more uncertain world mark current globalization, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary indicated.
In this context, she said, the challenge of achieving development with equality puts the region face to face with three structural problems: “structural heterogeneity, which is the expression of the culture of privilege at the production system level; external vulnerability, which keeps the region highly dependent on the external context; and the enormous weakness of the State, the institutional part that does not allow us to make progress.”
Alicia Bárcena said ECLAC contends that equality must be the horizon of development; progressive structural change, its path; and policy, its instrument.
She recalled that inequality is inefficient and unsustainable because it limits poverty reduction, works against development, increases the cost of gaps in education and health and, in the case of income inequality, hinders intergenerational mobility.
Likewise, she affirmed that the culture of privilege, deeply rooted in Latin American and Caribbean societies, naturalizes difference as inequality and the relationship between one’s place on the social scale and greater or lesser access to education, health, work, security and habitability.
The senior United Nations official added that the culture of privilege results in deep inequalities in monetary income and high concentration of wealth; in tax-related inequities such as exemptions, evasion and low income taxes; in rigidity regarding intergenerational social mobility; and in territorial segregation with regard to infrastructure, services and in cities.
In that context, she called on countries to take action on territorial segregation, segmentation in education and access to health, and universal access to social protection and care systems; to combat unequal access to justice and to networks of influence; and to highlight the importance of the right to difference.
Bárcena also urged for establishing a taxation system for equality and adapting education to the new technological context.
ECLAC’s top representative underscored Latin American countries’ low propensity for investing in research and development, with the exception of Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica and Mexico, which, nonetheless, do not reach the level of innovation seen in technologically advanced countries.
Alicia Bárcena highlighted the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and stressed that, on the path to implementing and achieving it, Latin America and the Caribbean faces the great challenge of eradicating poverty, ending intertwined inequalities, universalizing health and education, and achieving gender equality and women’s economic autonomy.
“Therein lies the key to being able to achieve that progress,” she concluded.
The Change of Era Permanent Seminar, which ends tomorrow, continued today with panels on the political economy of low growth and multilateralism in light of the change of era.