Economist draws parallel between Bangladesh’s recovery, reduction of inequality

SAJIBUR RAHMAN | Tuesday, 18 January 2022

A possible waiver of patent of coronavirus vaccines could have helped Bangladesh to reduce inequality through stemming of the periodic tide of Covid-19 infections, a senior economist has said.

As a latest Oxfam report has observed that inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, Dr Zaidi Sattar acknowledged that developing and low income countries suffered for scarcity of vaccines relative to their demand.

However, he termed Oxfam’s comments on widening inequality as sweeping conclusions. Oxfam, the economist argued, has taken a swipe at the post-pandemic global recovery by highlighting the rise in "inequality" rather than pointing to the strong economic rebound.

Although the report did not make any specific focus on Bangladesh, studies suggest the rise of an army of new poor and widening disparity in the country in recent years.

Dr Zaidi Sattar, Chairman at Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI), explained that Oxfam’s general observation about rising inequality between developed and developing economies might hold as Bangladesh stands out as an exception.

For the past two pandemic years, ‘Bangladesh's growth took a hit but did not turn negative while leading developed and developing economies experienced negative growth,’ he added.

In this context, he referred to the rise in Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita from $376 billion and $2209’ in 2019’ to $2554 and $411 billion’ respectively in 2021.

“Because of Bangladesh's proficient pharmaceutical sector, patent waiver of Covid vaccines would have given a further boost to Bangladesh's strong post-pandemic recovery, and reduction of inequality trends, by stemming the periodic tide of Covid infections,”Mr Zaidi Sattar noted.

Dwelling on the Bangladesh economy, he mentioned that it is on track to cross another threshold of $0.5 trillion GDP by 2023.

Also a former World Bank official, he went on to say that the massive stimulus fiscal packages around the world did pay off in terms of recovery though supply chain bottlenecks and inflationary spike has somewhat dampened the growth euphoria lately.

“Inequality appears to have risen during the two years of the pandemic, both within and between economies,” he said, adding that capital markets in North America, Europe and elsewhere have yielded bounties for the very rich from the ownership of tech companies that rode the innovation train (e.g. Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google).

“This will happen in the future as more transformative tech innovations hit the market in the near and distant future.”

Oxfam, a confederation of charitable organisations, released the report styled ‘Inequality Kills ’recently, saying that the world’s 10 richest men have seen their wealth double during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said extreme inequality is a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that perpetuate the wealth and power of a privileged few result in direct harm to the vast majority of ordinary people across the world and the planet itself.

Mr Zaidi Sattar appreciated Oxfam’s criticism of the protection of Covid vaccine patents. “A global community approach to vaccine production and distribution should have been the norm in the height of the Covid pandemic, most global leaders chose to embrace vaccine nationalism and patent protection instead, leaving developing and low income countries in the grip of vaccine scarcity relative to demand,” he said.

[email protected]