Keeping Out Extreme Inequality from the SDG Agenda – The Politics of Indicators

The SDGs are important because they set consensus norms. At face value, Goal 10 sets a strong norm on reducing inequality within and between countries. Yet this is undermined and distorted by the targets and indicators which are weak and set an agenda for inclusion rather than for reducing inequalities. This paper explains this paradox as a result of an intense contestation over the framing of the inequality agenda as inclusion, focusing on the poor and excluded, rather than on extreme inequality. The paper provides a detailed account of the negotiations and argues that the insertion of the shared prosperity measure in setting the target on vertical economic inequality (rather than distribution measures such as Gini or Palma ratio) was strategic. It concludes that the political choice over the meaning of a norm is made on what is said to be a technical basis. The technical and political considerations cannot be disentangled and greater transparency on the policy strengths and weaknesses of measurement choices is needed.