World's Financial Elite Get Lofty on 'Inequality,' But Critics Unimpressed

In reference to last week’s “Spring Meetings” between the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, critics are calling on the two financial giants to put their money where their mouths are and initiate policies that fight growing global inequality, rather than create it.

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In the build-up to the annual meetings between finance ministers, central bankers and other top officials, three reports were published by the IMF and World Bank that warn about the growing gap between the global rich and poor. These reports call for a change in IMF and World Bank lending and advisory policies including the implentation of measures that would eradicate global tax evasion and create tax code reform that benefits the poor over the rich.

However, according to executive director of Oxfam America Ray Offenheiser, even though World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde “have been outspoken about the dangers of skyrocketing inequality,” the world has yet to see “real initiatives to back up their rhetoric.”

The lofty talk coming from IMF and World Bank officials has left some observers scratching their heads. As institutions well known for pushing fiscal policies that have enriched the world’s wealthiest while pushing punishing austerity on struggling nations, some quipped that the recent talk has them sounding like they just returned from an Occupy Wall Street rally.

“From the Occupy movement, to the corridors of power: the rallying cry against inequality could be heard the last few days in a setting far removed from the street demonstrations that sprouted in 2011,” wrote Alexander Panetta, reporting for the Canadian Press. “The past week’s global financial meetings heard repeated warnings about inequality and its deleterious effect on economic growth.”

Head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, went so far as to say that the organization is already incorporating these ideas into the policy advice it offers member-states, Panetta reports.

“The fund is always changing, evolving in the past 70 years,” Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the IMF, told a panel discussion on Thursday. “After the [2008 financial ] crisis, particularly, income inequality became an issue.”

However, as rights group Oxfam pointed out last week, despite this shift in language, those organizations are yet to actively shift policies away from their austerity-driven past.