On September 29th, 2022, OLA hosted the book launch of Lena Simet’s book Cities and Economic Inequality in Latin America, Intra-Urban Inequality in Argentina, published by Routledge in 2022. Lena Simet is a senior researcher and advocate on poverty and inequality at Human Rights Watch, she received her PhD in Public and Urban Policy at The New School in 2020. The event was attended by about 35 people.

The author offered an overview of the book’s key highlights and messages, focusing on a set of quantitative tools that identify inequality determinants. Her presentation explained that intra-urban inequality generally mirrors national-level trends, but local idiosyncrasies related to a city’s labor market, informal employment, and social protection systems matter. Furthermore, Simet explored some of the promises and unintended consequences of slum upgrading initiatives in Buenos Aires’ Villa 20.

Mary Watson, Executive Dean of the Schools of Public Engagement opened the session by welcoming alumna Lena Simet and a robust panel of commentators. Sanjay Reddy, Chair of the Department of Economics at The New School opened the discussion by highlighting that inequality is objectionable precisely in contexts of poverty, inviting to consider the impact of capital incomes in the shape of inequality, and questioning the manipulation of policies to fight inequality by the elites.

Following, Marcela Melendez, Chief Economist for Latin America, United Nations Development Program, celebrated the book’s approach and its emphasis on Latin America, that according to her has been a victim of excessive copy-pasting of models that do not fit its particular realities. Melendez, the lead author of UNDP’s 2021 Regional Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean, shared insights from this report that argues the region is caught in a high-inequality and low-growth trap.

The final set of comments was offered by Marcelo Medeiros, economist and sociologist based at the Institute for Applied Economic Research at Universidade de Brasília and currently Visiting Professor at Columbia University. Medeiros provided a thoughtful set of insights on the challenges of centralization and federalism for tackling inequality, the regressive character of sanitation policies, and the inequality among various inequalities. He ended by posing a question about the effective relationship between poverty and inequality, given that income concentration at the very top is of more concern.

Simet answered questions and comments from panelists and attendees and emphasized the importance of developing strategies against inequality that incorporate local features and resist the temptation to rely on the “free market” for solutions to urban problems.

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