ABU-ZAINEH, Mohammad (1); H. Abul Naga, Ramses (2) (2017). 'Bread and Social Justice: Measurement of Inequality and Social Welfare Using Anthropometrics' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Although abundant in household surveys, two defining properties of anthropometrics (survival thresholds and non-monotonicity) limit their application in studying social welfare and inequality. We first examine the effect of bounding a variable on the properties of (i) the Lorenz curve; (ii) the equally distributional equivalent value and (iii) the class of Atkinson-Kolm-Sen (AKS) inequality indices. The purpose is to clarify systematically why anthropometrics exhibit comparatively low levels of variation in comparison to income and expenditure data. Secondly, we study the effect of working with a welfare decreasing anthropometric indicator over a bounded interval on the Lorenz curve, the equally distributed equivalent endowment, and the family of AKS inequality indices. We show that routine application of standard AKS income inequality indices in the context of welfare decreasing variables results in these indices taking increasing values in relation to Pigou-Dalton progressive transfers (such transfers are intended to decrease the level of inequality). We argue in particular that in the context of welfare decreasing variables it is more appropriate to work with a concave (rather than convex) Lorenz curve where cumulating data is undertaken in reverse fashion, starting from the largest values (poor health) and summing to smaller values (better health).

We provide an illustrative application on a group of five Arab countries (Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Comoros and Yemen). The proposed methodology reveals important differences between Yemen and the other countries in the lower tail of the distribution of body mass, and between Egypt and the other countries in the upper tail of the distribution. When applied to a group of five Arab countries (Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Comoros and Yemen), the findings reveal that the ordering of health distributions below and above the optimum health endowment are very different, highlighting the need to undertake separate distributional comparisons for those who may have insufficient calorie intake from those who may be consuming excess amounts of calories. Our findings provide provide some support for the hypothesis that lack of bread and social justice may have contributed to the Yemeni revolt of 2011. In Egypt on the other hand, it would appear to be low levels of social justice rather than lack of bread that may have contributed to the outbreak of the Arab uprising

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