ERF 20th Annual Conference on “Social justice and economic development”

Economic Research Forum (ERF) kick-started its 20th Annual Conference in Cairo yesterday, March 22nd, featuring an impressive line-up of speakers. In light of the significant political transformations happening in the region, this year’s conference is devoted to the theme “Social Justice and Economic Development”. Social justice is widely considered to be one of the main factors behind popular uprisings in the MENA region; Arab societies witnessed an increasing concentration of wealth, unequal opportunities and rising corruption. The conference is addressing social justice with a special focus on what social justice might mean, how different societies were able to bring it about, and the lessons-learned from these experiences for Arab countries, particularly the ones in transition.

Speakers during ERF annual conference

Alternative perspectives on social justice

The opening and first plenary session discussed the alternative perspectives on social justice. Following the opening remarks of Ahmed Galal (ERF Managing Director), and Abdlatif Al-Hamad (Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development), François Bourguignon (Paris School of Economics) discussed the empirical and factual side of inequality in his presentation entitled ‘Inequality trends in the world: Common forces, idiosyncrasies and measurement errors’. When comparing the patterns of inequality in the developed world with that of the MENA region, Bourguignon shows that two thirds of developed countries witnessed an increasing inequality in the two decades between 1980 and 2000; including Sweden and the Netherlands, as do countries in Africa and Latin America. The striking intelligence he shared is that only the MENA region ‘shows surprising stability’.

Watch our interview with François Bourguignon


Marc Fleurbaey (Princeton University) discussed different approaches to measuring justice in his presentation, entitled ‘Measuring justice and development: Providing opportunities or respecting preferences. While questioning how valid it is to use opportunity as a social justice benchmark, Fleurbaey argues that a focus on the role of preferences would contribute in overcoming the existing shortcomings of measuring justice and development.

Watch our interview with Marc Fleurbaey

The third and last speaker was John E. Roemer (Yale University) who talked about ‘Social justice: Going beyond GDP per capita‘. Roemer proposed a new approach to measure economic development; by looking at the degree to which a country equalises opportunities for the acquisition of income among its citizens, instead of the traditional method of examining the GDP per capita increase.

Watch our interview with John Roemer

A pre-Conference workshop exploring aspects of export diversification in the ERF region took place on March 21st. It is worth mentioning that this year’s conference is special for the ERF, as it marks its 20th anniversary. On this occasion, ERF celebrated, over dinner last night, with a recognition awards ceremony for the dedicated researchers and figures who have contributed over the years to making ERF a premiere regional institute for economic research.

Read on Alternative perspectives on social justice

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