An interview with Dr. Lustig for the Paris School of Economics newsletter
Your personal history tells us a lot about your career: did studying inequality always seem obvious?
Nora: When my family migrated from Argentina to the USA, the gap in living standards between the two countries struck me deeply. A few years later, as a PhD student at UC Berkeley, it became clear to me that I wanted to "do" something about that. With Albert Fishlow and Alain de Janvry in my thesis committee, the path to development economics and inequality took shape.
Which key changes have you witnessed in the academic and institutional fields in the last decades?
With notable exceptions such as PSE distinguished professors Anthony Atkinson and François Bourguignon, thirty years ago inequality was not a topic in mainstream academia. This has changed radically. Influential research groups such as the World Inequality Lab at PSE and the Center for Equitable Growth at UC Berkeley are widely recognized and are able to attract top students from around the globe. The causes of inequality are so complex that it is great news that much more research is being done.
In most international institutions, while being concerned with poverty was widely accepted, inequality was almost a "taboo" subject. Now, inequality is everywhere in the organizations' agendas. I've had the chance to work in the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), UNDP, and the World Bank (WB) and, thus, I have been able to witness this sweeping change first-hand. To the extent of my modest possibilities, I tried to contribute to this shift. For instance, in the late 1990s, I persuaded the IADB to call my unit the Poverty and Inequality Unit to indicate that we would do research and policy analysis in both. As one of the lead authors of the WB World Development Report 2000/1 (1) I made sure we covered prominently income, ethnic, social, and gender inequalities in the report.