The higher the inequality, the more likely we are to move away from democracy


In every political system, the rich tend to hold more power – but the relationship between politics, economics and inequality is complex. To better understand these critical issues, we must look to Big Data

I am asked this question very often: why should we care about inequality? There are three reasons.

First, every inequality in the treatment or position of individuals – including inequality in income and wealth – requires understanding and justification, because we are all fundamentally the same. That does not mean we should all have the same incomes because our effort and luck may vary, but we need to think about the reasons for any and every inequality.

For example, we can adopt Rawls’ perspective – that inequality can be justified only if it is in the interest of the least well-off (that is, so long as it raises the absolute income of the poorest). Or we can agree with Hayek that inequality is acceptable so long as the rules of the game, such as equal access to the market, are observed. Or we can provide another rationale.

But no matter which philosophical opinion we find the most attractive, we have to address the reasons for the existence of inequality.

Second, we want to study inequality and its effects on economic growth – not only on the growth of the mean, like GDP per capita, but along the entire income distribution: for the poor, the middle class and the rich. This, unlike the first reason, is a very instrumental reason: we want to find out whether inequality helps or retards economic progress.

Common sense, some heuristics and empirical evidence suggest that neither of the extremes – that all incomes are the same, or that inequality is extremely high – are desirable.

The former might stunt incentives to work hard, study or take risks, meaning economic growth will suffer: communist economies are a case in point. The latter might imply perpetuation of inequality across generations, where people who do not work or study still remain on the top of the pyramid thanks to the wealth of their parents, while those with talents are stuck at the bottom because they cannot pay for school, for example. Latin America is, broadly speaking, a good example of this extreme.

So the objective is to find out what types of inequalities may be good for growth (for example, inequality due to differential effort) and what are not (inequality due to gender, race or parental wealth).

Finally, we need to look at the relationship between inequality and politics. In every political system, even a democracy, the rich tend to hold more political power. The danger is that this political power will be used to promote policies that further cement the economic power of the rich. The higher the inequality, the more likely we are to move away from democracy toward plutocracy.

The implicit theme in all three reasons is that nuances are important. In each case, we are dealing with a continuum: justification of inequality is not black or white, and nor are our conclusions about its effect on growth or democracy. There is also a spillover from one sphere to another: suppose that more equality is good for democracy, but bad for economic growth of the poor. How do we work around these trade-offs?

Such problems are not likely to be solved theoretically, nor once and for all. They will have to be dealt with empirically. And this is why the new and up-and-coming areas of inequality studies will benefit enormously from Big Data.

The current interest in inequality should be seen as an important instance of the general growth of interest in heterogeneity of phenomena, as opposed to our hitherto almost exclusive focus on averages (such as GDP per capita and the consumer price index), “representative agents” and the like. As often happens in history, this interest has fortuitously coincided with much greater availability of data to study such heterogeneity.

Let me conclude with the four areas where I think this rising interest and ability to address difficult questions leads us to expect most progress:

  1. Inequality of opportunity: we should empirically show its magnitude and (presumably negative) impact on growth.
  2. Intergenerational inequality: tracking the transmission of wealth and advantage across generations, then (linked with 1) showing how noxious are its effects.
  3. Empirics on the political influence of the wealthy.
  4. Global inequality of wealth and income: this topic’s importance increases as the world becomes more globalised, and capital and labour move more easily (despite the recent setbacks) than ever in history.

 Branko Milanovic is the visiting presidential professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of Global Inequality: a new approach for the age of globalization.


By : Branko Milanovic
Date : May 2, 2017
Source : The Guardian

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Inequalities & Social Justice, Social Justice | Leave a comment

No Racial Justice Without Basic Income


In 1966 the Black Panthers released their Ten Point Platform, a series of demands and calls to action that offered a clear statement of their political orientation. The second point of the program demanded that the federal government provide either full employment or a guaranteed income. In 2016 this call was renewed by the Movement for Black Lives. What the Panthers understood in 1966 is what the Movement for Black Lives understands today: capitalism in the United States functions by creating, maintaining, and exploiting class and racial differences to produce antagonistic forms of security. Antagonistic security is security that is created for some people by processes that work against the ability of others to access resources such as wealth and political power. For those on its receiving end, it often generates precarity, from barbed wire fences to predatory police patrols.

In the right context, basic income has the potential to expand cooperative security, which is security with others: the kind of security that a dam provides a nearby village, or that mass vaccination schemes provide a community that develops herd immunity. However, a basic income advanced as a replacement for labor regulations and other security-enhancing government programs—“UBI-,” we call it—will only further exploit those whose lives are made most precarious by this system. Conversely, a basic income that supplements existing or new welfare structures—“UBI+”—could radically redistribute security, remove incentives for the most pernicious forms of policing, and create the conditions for a more thorough overhaul of the current political system.

In the absence of a stable and equitable distribution of wealth, the government has long advertised the welfare state as a partial citizens’ security that defends its recipients from extreme poverty. President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed “freedom from want” as an executive mandate in his 1941 State of the Union address, less than a decade after his administration’s New Deal redefined the character of the U.S. state as a guarantor of security. The New Deal federalized schemes to provide insurance against bank runs and bad crop years, and expanded access to homeownership by establishing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, and the Home Owners Loan Corporation.

Although the New Deal has been well documented as racially inequitable, it was progressive in that it established a state responsibility to make its citizens secure, primarily by protecting their economical well-being. But the discriminatory development and implementation of state security was not an unintended consequence or accidental imperfection. It was a manifestation of the state’s interest in maintaining racial hierarchy. Given this goal, the state secured the interests of white people even when it meant the exclusion and dispossession, and precarization of others. In the ensuing years, many good-paying jobs moved to the exclusively white suburbs that had been made possible by government policies and regulatory schemes. Meanwhile, in the wake of the hundreds of race riots in the 1960s and the associated anti-authoritarian consciousness developing in cities, increasingly large and professionalized police forces were tasked with preventing and responding to urban unrest, partially aided by counter-insurgency strategies developed in Vietnam. For many working-class communities, especially those of color, the government has been simultaneously a last line of defense against the most serious forms of poverty and the first line of attack against their basic dignity and autonomy, offering security with one hand and taking it with the other. True collaborative security requires not only that a government provide all its citizens with resources to survive through tough times, but also that it does not engineer the conditions for those tough times in the first place.

The criminal justice system in the United States largely functions to insulate the politically powerful from the risks of their decisions, at both the literal and figurative expense of working-class communities of color. Overpolicing and an increasingly broad set of plunderous police activities, ranging from creative “enforcement” of fine-generating traffic laws to civil asset forfeiture, sits awkwardly next to chronic underpolicing of corporate predation. The everyday shakedowns of working-class people bring a very real risk of bodily harm and can even cause death: Philando Castile was murdered during a routine traffic stop, SWAT stormed Korryn Gaines’s house over unpaid parking tickets. But what is also important are the much more reliable effects: increased revenue for government coffers, arrest statistics that provide police unions and elected officials with the useful illusion of effective law enforcement, and opportunities for incarceration that destabilize communities and provide a political pretext for politically and economically disenfranchising millions. These tactics, taken together, provide antagonistic security for a handful of political elites at the expense of endangering the lives, livelihoods, and political power of entire swaths of the population.

Incremental adjustments to our capitalist society—such as means-tested welfare benefits, anti-gentrification, and policing reform—are important and should be fought for. But many of these approaches are perceived, sometimes accurately, to pit exploited groups against each other in zero-sum games. Taxpaying people who are not targeted by specific welfare programs represent welfare recipients as being supported by their dime; efforts to protect neighborhoods from newcomers further constrict an increasingly unaffordable housing market for outsiders; and many view the police as necessary to protect them from intimidating populations, especially youth of color. When these ways of generating antagonistic security dominate political discussions, they support the dangerous and mistaken idea that social groups must primarily protect themselves from other groups, This neglects the hidden framework of false choices that seem to constrict the viable possibilities to only various forms of antagonistic security. The result is a political climate that fails to imagine how we might build cooperative security together. UBI- capitulates to exactly these kinds of forces by secretly serving as an offensive against welfare programs and other forms of government-provided security. UBI+ asks instead that we find ways to struggle together for forms of cooperative security—security that does not sacrifice the lives and liberty of vulnerable people. Only when this is our orientation will we be in a position to dismantle racial capitalism.

More radical challenges to racial capitalism are possible. UBI+, by guaranteeing everyone an income sufficient to live on, reframes the way society treats labor and provides security to its citizens. For example, this kind of guarantee recognizes that the labor of raising children and caring for the elderly—work done disproportionately by women—is valued as work. Currently much of this work is uncompensated, and as a result we economically and socially marginalize those who do it. In a capitalist system where economic value and overall value are often conflated, this reinforces the idea that caregiving is not an important contribution to society and penalizes people who try to do this work alongside paid work (e.g., child-unfriendly work policies, expensive child care, lack of clear leave policies for caring for children or elders). UBI- would provide a guaranteed income but eliminate programs that respond to these specific concerns, such as those provided by Social Security that target the needs of elderly and disabled people. This would effectively offer security with one hand while taking it with the other.

UBI+ likewise helps provide freedom from exploitation. It contributes to freedom from harmful relationships by helping to eliminate reliance on the income of a partner who does paid work, a dynamic that often plays out in relationships between women and men. A UBI+ that is sufficient to meet basic needs, and supported by social services that strengthen its impact, will allow people to live with dignity, choices, and the kind of freedom that many in the United States seek but routinely fail to achieve.

A guaranteed income would also give activists and organizers within marginalized communities more space to work on the myriad problems a basic income would not solve. Many people working for a more just world get little to no pay for their work. In a world with basic income, activists would not have to work a day job or constantly hustle to get by, but would be able to give their lives to agitating for other causes without the anxiety that comes from being financially precarious.

For these reasons the Movement for Black Lives—a coalition of more than fifty black-led organizations seeking “radical transformation, not reactionary reform” for racial justice—released a six-point platform that included reparations for slavery and the institutional exclusion and disenfranchisement that followed. UBI+ alone would go a long way to improving security for all marginalized individuals and families in the United States, but a UBI+ coupled with a broader social vision of cooperative security, such as the one advanced by the Movement for Black Lives, could change the game. This vision would, wherever possible, embrace radical forms of cooperative security, from universal health care coverage to the abolition of both police and prisons.


By : The Undercommons
Date : May 3, 2017
Source : Boston Review

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Inequalities & Social Justice, Social Justice | Leave a comment

The Arab Spring and the Western Winter


BEIRUT – There are many striking parallels between the “Arab Spring” that began in 2010 and the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, the election of US President Donald Trump, and the far-right resurgence across Europe. In each case, an old order fell, and progressive parties have been too weak to counter the emergence of authoritarian and xenophobic forms of governance.

The growing discontent with the status quo that underlay the Arab uprisings of 2010-11 had many causes, and the opposition took both progressive and conservative forms. Members of the middle class resented their loss of dignity at the hands of an unaccountable elite. Young people decried a future that looked especially bleak when compared to the expectations of their parents’ generation. And Islamists stoked moral opposition to the loss of ethical values in society.

These are all recurring themes in ongoing debates across the West, with its growing population of disaffected whites, displaced workers, and frustrated young people. Over time, as economic liberalism has crowded out longstanding principles of equality and social solidarity, vast wealth disparities have emerged, corrupting many Western countries’ politics.

Meanwhile, globalization and technological innovation have had profoundly negative effects on certain social cohorts, and public policies have failed to mitigate the damage. Far-reaching policy adjustments are now urgently needed, not least because of the deadly threat that climate change poses to the entire globe.

But what adjustments will be made, and who will carry out them out? Popular revolts – in the streets and at the ballot box – have so far failed to deliver an alternative governing framework that offers credible solutions to the political, social, and economic problems that have engulfed Western and Middle Eastern societies.

In the Arab world, the explosion of popular anger dislodged long-entrenched regimes. But the old autocrats had worked hard to prevent a credible opposition from ever being conceived. The 2010-11 revolutions were leaderless, and thus could not fill the resulting political void. Instead, armies, tribes, sectarian groups, and religious parties quickly came to the fore.

Egypt has now experienced an autocratic restoration. Yemen, Syria, and Libya are mired in civil war. Lebanon and Iraq are fragmented. And the oil producers that tried to extinguish the regional fire by pouring money on it are now running massive fiscal deficits. Turkey, too, has moved toward strongman rule; and progressive forces in Iran have been weakened. Only Tunisia is still pursuing a messy transition toward democracy; even there, however, economic reforms have fallen short of addressing the challenges facing the country.

The Middle East’s new autocrats are consolidating power with divide-and-rule tactics that have polarized citizens along sectarian and identity lines. Owing to widespread feelings of personal insecurity, many citizens have opted for sect over society, and for security over civil rights.

In the West today, populist politicians with no realistic plans for actually building a better future are emulating Middle Eastern autocrats. They win power by stoking fear of the “other” – refugees, Muslims, or foreign terrorists – and promising to establish security through force. Once in power, they begin to consolidate their rule accordingly. Democratic institutions may be resilient to populist governance; but, as we are already witnessing in the US, these institutions will soon be tested, and undoubtedly weakened before all is said and done.

The same parallel holds for international relations. The geopolitical map of the Middle East is being redrawn by the transnational Shia-Sunni split – which is being stoked by rivals such as Iran and Saudi Arabia – and by outside intervention into regional conflicts. Similarly, Western populist leaders are disrupting their countries’ interests with respect to China, Russia, India, and Northern Europe, and challenging the post-1945 international order, without offering anything remotely resembling a viable alternative.

Then there is the failure of progressive political forces to provide such an alternative. The dominant narrative has already shifted worldwide. Most people no longer believe in a future defined by progress: economic dynamism, global integration, and social democracy. A more pessimistic view has taken hold, in which the future is corrupted by globalization, untamed markets, labor-saving technological innovations, and global warming.

Restoring optimism, in both the Middle East and the West, will depend on whether intellectuals, unions, progressive parties, and civil-society groups can build a common political base and offer a shared vision for the future. This will require not only novel solutions to emerging problems, but also a credible means to implement change democratically.

At the very least, this new age of resistance and revolution has brought out into the open problems that were once left to fester in the dark. As a result, we now know that economic policies should be geared toward inclusion; material consumption will have to be curtailed; and democracy must be protected from the malign influence of concentrated wealth and entrenched interests.

These are immense challenges, to be sure; but if we can identify them clearly, we can begin to take action. And an achievement in one place can be a model everywhere else. The next time millions of people march peacefully in Cairo to demand that their voices be heard, the trigger may not be a self-immolation in Sidi Bouzid, but a riot in Istanbul, the impeachment of a US president, or electoral victories for progressive parties in Europe.


Ishac Diwan is an affiliate at the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative at Harvard University and holds the Chaire d’Excellence Monde Arabe at Paris Sciences et Lettres.


By : Ishac Diwan
Date : March 27, 2017
Source : Project Syndicate

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Latest Post, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Amnesty Int’l urges ‘utmost restraint’ in martial law enforcement


By declaring martial law in Mindanao, President Rodrigo Duterte has ‘summoned the ghost of Marcos,’ says Human Rights Watch

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights groups on Thursday, May 25, urged the military to exercise “utmost restraint” in implementing martial law in Mindanao.

Amnesty International called on security forces full comply with the country’s obligations under international human rights law, adding that they would be held accountable if these rights are violated.

“The authorities, including army commanders, must make it clear that military personnel of all ranks will not be exempted from prosecution for human rights violations committed when carrying out their duties,” it said in a statement.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, May 23, declared martial law in Mindanao following clashes between the Maute Group and the military in Marawi City. He also said on Wednesday, May 24, he is considering expanding the declaration to cover the whole Philippines. (TIMELINE: Marawi clashes prompt martial law in all of Mindanao)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines had promised to respect basic human rights of Filipinos in the implementation of martial law. The defense department issued guidelines to the AFP on Thursday. (READ: DND to AFP: Uphold rule of law, human rights in Mindanao)

Human Rights Watch (HRW), however, referred to this as possible “wishful thinking” based on the notoriety of Philippine law enforcers especially under the Duterte administration.

“Given the lawlessness of Duterte’s war on drugs, in which the police and their agents have been implicated in the cold-blooded killing of more than 7,000 suspected drug dealers and users, military restraint in Mindanao may be wishful thinking,” HRW Legal and Policy Director Jim Ross said on Thursday.

Repeal suspension of habeas corpus

In a press briefing upon his arrival from Russia on Wednesday, Duterte said he was suspending the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao. Under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, a declaration of martial law does not automatically suspend it.

Amnesty International called for Duterte to retract this announcement as it is very vulnerable to abuse.

“This right is an essential safeguard against arbitrary deprivation of liberty, which under international human rights law is non-derogable, that is, it cannot be denied even in times of emergency,” it said. “President Duterte must therefore repeal this suspension immediately.”

Crafted after the EDSA People Power revolution that ousted Marcos in 1986, the 1987 Constitution highlights the role of other branches of government in the martial law declaration.

Under the 1987 Constitution, a state of martial law cannot override the function of both the judiciary and legislative branches of government. (READ: Martial Law 101: Things you should know)

People are also still entitled to their rights such as right to life as well as freedom from torture, warrantless arrest, and illegal detention. (READ: Hate human rights? They protect freedoms you enjoy)

The Constitution says martial rule should not initially exceed 60 days, and any extension has to be approved by Congress.

‘Ghost of Marcos’

Duterte said, however, that his martial law is no different from that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which was marked by corruption and human rights violations.

This is a cause for alarm, according to HRW in a press statement titled, “Philippine President Duterte Summons Ghost of Marcos.”

“For Filipinos who lived through martial law under Marcos, Duterte’s casual reference to the late dictator should be especially alarming,” Ross said.

He said Duterte’s “significant obstacle to becoming the next Marcos” is the 1987 Constitution, which means that it would now be up to the Congress and the courts to ensure that there will be no repeat of Marcos’ martial rule, considered a dark chapter in Philippine history.

“The coming days and weeks will see if the Philippine Congress and courts are up to the task of keeping a wildly abusive president in check,” Ross said. “Since Duterte took office nearly a year ago, they haven’t been.”


By : Jodesz Gavilan
Date : May 25, 2017
Source : Rappler

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Social Justice | Leave a comment

How Restrictive Immigrants Measures Undermine the Mental Health of Latino Migrants


When Bartólo left southern Mexico and set out for the fields of California, he hoped that the money he sent home would help lift his family out of grinding poverty. However, the stress of border-crossing and the near-constant fear of capture by immigration authorities wore him down, affecting his ability to work. Laboring in the tomato fields, he said he and his compatriots were “treated like animals.” Bartólo developed symptoms he had never experienced before, including sadness, anxiety, and crippling fear.

Bartólo forced himself to keep working for a while, but soon he could endure no longer and returned to Oaxaca. When I met Bartólo as part of a 20-month investigation of mental health experiences, conceptions, and treatments in southern Mexico, it was at Oaxaca’s public psychiatric hospital, where he was being treated for anxiety and depression. Roughly one-third of patients at the psychiatric hospital had been migrants, and nearly all of these patients attributed their mental health problems to the migration experience. In particular, these former migrants often thought their psychiatric symptoms were caused by the unrelenting stress of living as an undocumented migrant in the United States, facing restrictive immigration policies.

Policies that Affect Latino Immigrant Health

The militarization of the U.S. border with Mexico and a general emphasis on enforcement and deportation has created a population of informal, undocumented workers who not only risk their lives to enter the United States but live precariously once here.

  • Tough border enforcement initiatives since the mid-1990s have pushed migrants into the most dangerous areas of the desert, contributing to significant spikes in mortality and other traumas caused by the growing people-smuggling industry. Migrants crossing the southern border are vulnerable to exploitation by hired guides, or coyotes, who currently charge several thousand dollars yet sometimes rob, assault, or abandon the migrants they are hired to help. For many migrants, then, the hazardous border-crossing becomes the first in a series of mental health stressors.
  • Prior to migration, poverty and deprivation in migrants’ countries of origins may cause emotional distress, and migrants fleeing violence in their home countries are disproportionately at risk for trauma-related psychiatric illness.
  • Restrictive U.S. immigration policies contribute to a climate of fear and anxiety for undocumented and documented immigrants alike. Many are reluctant to go out in public due to fears of being apprehended by police and immigration authorities. In states such as Arizona, where police are deputized to enforce immigration law, both immigrant and non-immigrant Latinos experience elevated levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic trauma. Studies show that Latinos living in states with more exclusionary immigration policies have poorer mental health than those with more inclusive policies.

Fear of deportation and discrimination can also contribute to missing work and school and underutilization of the few public services available to undocumented immigrants. Fearful immigrants can be reluctant to report crimes, workplace health and safety violations, and wage-theft. What is more, President Trump’s recent executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” drastically expanded the definition of who qualifies as high priority for deportation and reinstated the “Secure Communities” program that requires state and local police to enforce immigration law. These developments could have mental health consequences for both immigrant and non-immigrant Latinos, given that many undocumented immigrants live in mixed-status families. Fear of family separation due to detention and deportation can have devastating health effects for immigrants and their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens. Indeed, policies targeting immigrants who are overwhelmingly law-abiding workers doing jobs not easy to fill in other ways, can be disruptive for entire communities.

Healthcare Realities

Despite the mental health risks they face, both immigrant and non-immigrant Latinos experience considerable difficulty getting adequate mental healthcare. Few of the migrant returnees I interviewed in Oaxaca had had success finding care in the United States, and when they did, it was of poor quality. Latinos—especially the foreign born—are unlikely to have regular healthcare providers, and as few as five percent of Latinos experiencing psychiatric symptoms seek mental healthcare. This is due to a number of factors, such as a lack of affordable, culturally competent care; inadequate detection of psychiatric conditions; discrimination; stigma; and poor access to insurance programs. Federal legislation has created additional barriers. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, both passed in 1996, directly restricted immigrants’ access to publicly funded health programs, and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 also prohibited undocumented immigrants from receiving most public health services.

What Can be Done?

Short of comprehensive federal immigration reform with a path to legalization and citizenship, many kinds of state or local efforts can help improve conditions for Latino immigrants:

  • “Sanctuary” policies discourage local police from enforcing federal immigration laws and prohibit state employees from inquiring about immigration status.
  • Local public safety health clinics can provide care without regard to legal status, and states can decide to make health insurance available to all residents.
  • School-based programs can raise awareness about the vital contributions and needs of immigrants in the community.
  • Training for health care providers can help them provide culturally competent care.
  • Community outreach to immigrants and their families can offer education about their rights and their potential access to mental health care and social services.


By : Whitney L. Duncan (University of Northern Colorado)
Date : May 2017
Source : Scholars Social Network

Posted in Democratization & Social Movements, Health, Latest Post, Social Justice | Leave a comment
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