Welcome to the Archive Space/E-special for Social & Economic Inequalities. Here you will find articles from the archive of International Sociology and Current Sociology related to this theme.

You can participate.

Simply post your comments or links to other articles related to the theme of Social & Economic Inequalities below for others to access and share.

The root cause of corruption


If we want to cut down on corruption, we will have to start working more seriously on reducing the huge chasm between the rich and the poor

Transparency International, a global anti-corruption coalition, ranked India 81 out of 180 countries in its corruption index of 2017. The least corrupt nations were New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the U.K. Just above India in the list were China, Serbia, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Ghana (less corrupt). And below India were Morocco, Turkey, Argentina, Benin, and Kosovo (as corrupt or more corrupt).

Now, 81 out of 180 might not seem too bad, especially to sceptical Indians, but it is misleading: often the same rank is occupied by as many as three countries (for instance, rank 71). As such, in terms of numbers, India is placed in the bottom third of the list, if not the last quarter. This should not surprise sceptical Indians.

However, ranking the corruption level of a country is less of a science and more of an art. And it is an art that naturally occludes the advantages — which others might see in terms of invisible corruption — of rich First World nations, where polity and economy, Parliament and corporation often have long-established and uncontroverted relationships. This does not mean that nations like Ghana, India, Morocco and Turkey do not have considerably more corruption than nations like New Zealand and Denmark. What it means is that the ranking game is not sufficient to understand corruption at the global, national and local levels.

Cultural and historical factors

How, then, can we understand the corruption that we find in nations like India? One common option is to employ a cultural perspective. It is attributed to something like national character. For instance, it seems suggestive that all the least corrupt nations listed above, with the exception of Singapore, are European or European-settler states. Even Singapore has a highly ‘Europeanised’ structure, in all regards except that of some citizen rights. Another common explanation is basically historical: for instance, by referring to the top-down power structures of feudal or colonial regimes in places like Morocco, China and India until just a few decades ago.

I will not deny that cultural ethos and historical precedence play a role. After all, both abiding by the law and lawlessness have a domino effect: if you follow the law, other people around you are more likely to do so; if you break the law, other people around you are also more likely to do so. A history of unresponsive authoritarianism might increase the tendency to break laws, if one can get away with it, because the citizen has nothing invested in the status quo. Only fear upholds the law, and the moment the citizen can get away with it, he or she breaks the law. This can also lead to a greater tendency towards corruption.

The most important factor

But culture and history are misleading as primary explanations. Far more important is another factor that few people talk about. If you look at India and the countries around it on the index, and at the top 10 (least corrupt) countries, you realise that the former group contains nations with huge socio-economic inequalities, and the latter contains nations with a high degree of social and economic justice. In that sense, Singapore belongs with the European and European-settler countries ranked as the 10 least corrupt nations. In short, corruption is directly proportionate to the socio-economic gap in a nation. Cultural and historical factors add to this or subtract from this, but the greater the socio-economic disparities, the greater the incentive towards corruption.

This happens in many ways, both among the rich and the poor. For instance, in a country where, say, ₹10,000 is nothing for the rich, it is easy for the rich to offer a bribe of that sum. But if, in the same country, ₹10,000 is what a poor man may earn in an entire month, it is difficult for him to refuse a bribe of that sum. This leads to the gradual erosion of morality and ethics on both sides: some find it easy to spend money to get things done, others find it difficult to refuse to accept that money. On both sides, there builds up a disrespect for the system and for each other. The system itself is seen as thoroughly corrupt because of such individual acts of corruption. This further ‘justifies’ the corruption on both sides. Moreover, the poor look at the affluence of the rich as basically a consequence of corruption, which is by no means the case all the time. And the rich look at the vulnerability of the poor as the consequence of a corrupt morality, which is again by no means the case all the time. Such a nexus saps the entire social fabric of a country, also creating apathy towards demands for greater transparency in the corridors of power. This further leads to the spread of corruption.

If we in India want to cut down on corruption, we will have to start working far more seriously on reducing the huge (and some say, widening) chasm between the rich and the poor.


By: Tabish Khair
Date: January 20, 2019
Source: The Hindu



Posted in Latest Post, Politics, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Millennials, Gen X, Gen Z, baby boomers: how generation labels cloud issues of inequality


Generations can be defined by family structure, stage of life or historical events. But most often, they’re categorised as “cohorts” of people born during a particular period in time. Catchy labels such as baby boomers, millennials and Gen X and Gen Z tend to stick with each cohort, which are assumed to have shared experiences, behaviours and ideals. This is known as a “cohort effect”.

But common generalisations – for example, that baby boomers are hoarding housing, while millennials have no hope of buying a home – can distort or mask the inequalities that exist within and across generations. So rather than pitching the generations against one another, perhaps it’s time to unpack some common assumptions, and question how much one generation really benefits at another’s expense.

The name game

Popular labels are applied to the generations currently living. The “silent generation” are those born from 1925 to 1945 – so called because they were raised during a period of war and economic depression. The “baby boomers” came next from 1945 to 1964, the result of an increase in births following the end of World War II.

After the baby boomers came “Generation X”, from around 1965 to 1976. The term coined by Charles Hamlett and Jane Deverson (originally referring to the Baby Boomers in their teenage years), was made popular by Douglas Coupland’s eponymous 1991 novel. The label reflected the counterculture of a rebellious generation, distrustful of the establishment and keen to find their own voice.

The cohort known as millennials – originally Generation Y – were identified by American authors William Strauss and Neil Howe as those graduating high school in the year 2000. With the popular focus on the millennium at the time, the name stuck. Although the birth date of this cohort can start from as early as the late 1970s, by some accounts, it generally ranges from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s or early 2000s.

“Generation Z” is the current name for the cohort born from the mid-1990s, though iGen, centennials, post-millennials are further possible labels for a generation that has grown up in a hyper connected world. A “new silent generation” is emerging for those born during the early 2000s, since like their great grandparents in the silent generation, their childhood is also deemed to be marked by war and economic recession.

From needy to greedy

Social and political conflict between generations often boils down to the seemingly unfair consumption of resources by the old. During the 1940s, the “needy” older generation were seen as a burden on the tax-paying younger generation. From the 1950s, older people were blocking beds in hospitals, when they should be in their own homes. More recently, older people are being told that they should move out of their homes and stop hoarding family housing.

Today, it’s often said that baby boomers benefited most from the welfare state, during a period when healthcare and education were free, jobs plentiful and housing affordable. There is also a fear that this generation will be the last to have good pensions.

But all of these arguments conveniently ignore the inequalities within generations, which are greater than the inequalities between them. Not only is there considerable inequality within cohorts, even greater divides are created by gender, ethnicity, disability, housing tenure and class.

Take housing, for example. While baby boomers are often accused of hoarding housing, the accumulation of housing wealth is more often a reflection of income and regional variances, rather than age differences. Between 20% and 25% of the housing wealth in the UK is owned by those under the age of 65, who are in the top 20% of the population in terms of income.

Society’s limits

Another example is education. While baby boomers and Gen X may not have paid for their university education, very few were actually able to take advantage. In England and Wales, participation was at 8.4% in 1970 compared to 33% in 2000. Overall levels of education have actually improved over time.

The problems facing younger cohorts have more to do with the social limits to growth than the cost of education. In 1976, sociologist Fred Hirsch suggested that while the economy continues to grow, enabling ever greater consumption, society’s social structures will remain limited.

So, though more people are gaining degrees, only one person can get the job or the promotion. Standing out from the crowd requires ever increasing educational qualifications, work experience or skills training. In Hirsch’s words, “if everyone stands on tiptoe, no one gets a better view”.

With limited opportunities in society, rationing is achieved through higher entry requirements to both the labour and housing markets. The extent to which people can meet those requirements is still a matter of where they were born in the social hierarchy, rather than when they were born.

Indeed, wealth is generally transferred from older to younger generations via inheritance, rather than withheld: the problem is that this reinforces inequalities within cohorts, as richer people benefit more from transfers of family wealth. People’s access to health care, education and housing are determined by policy and the economy, not their date of birth, and the hype about generational conflict only serves to mask the real inequalities in society.


By: Beverley Searley (Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Dundee)
Date: January 16, 2019
Source: The Conversation

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Is internationalisation creating inequality in higher education?


Inequality is a word that has recently dominated public discourse, mainly with regard to its economic meaning of income and wealth inequality, but also in terms of social and educational inequality. Many researchers and organisations around the world have addressed the subject of inequality, and its reduction within and among countries is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 10).

Education and higher education in particular have long been considered a means to reduce social and economic inequality. Higher education enables individuals to gain knowledge, skills and competences that allow them to access better paid jobs and positions that are higher up the social ladder.

What do the results of the 5th Global Survey on Internationalization of Higher Education, an online survey conducted by the International Association of Universities (IAU) in 2018, which received replies from 907 higher education institutions from 126 countries around the world, tell us about this topic?

Internationalisation and inequality

Inequality is difficult to measure; data is scarce, difficult to interpret and the subject is sensitive. Sometimes interpretations of data trends are based more on political convictions than on objective analysis.

This is particularly true when analysing the effects of globalisation on inequality, with some researchers pointing out that globalisation has helped reduce inequality in the world (especially between countries), while others claim it has helped increase inequalities in the world (especially within countries); still others argue that the impact of globalisation on inequalities is negligible.

Internationalisation of higher education can be seen as both a reaction to and an active participation by higher education institutions in the changes brought about by globalisation.

Statistics show that internationalisation of higher education in its narrow form of student mobility is highly unequal, for two reasons:

  • Only about 2% of the world student population can benefit from a period of study abroad.
  • The global flux of mobile students is highly unbalanced, with clearly identifiable sending and receiving countries and therefore a transfer of skilled human capital from some countries to others.

There have been different responses to this problem – in particular internationalisation of the curriculum or internationalisation at home – and awareness of the necessity for internationalisation of higher education to be more inclusive is rising among the higher education community.

A recent updated definition of internationalisation of higher education published by the European Parliament clearly points out this mission for internationalisation to be inclusive, fair and equal.

It says internationalisation of higher education is “the intentional process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions and delivery of post-secondary education, in order to enhance the quality of education and research for all students and staff, and to make a meaningful contribution to society”.

However, beside the well-studied role of student mobility, not much data is available on the relationship between the whole process of internationalisation in its different aspects and inequality. Could there also be increasing inequality between the internationalisation policies of higher education institutions around the world?

An increasing divide in importance of internationalisation

In the 5th IAU Global Survey, higher education institutions were asked to identify how important internationalisation was to their academic leadership.

Two-thirds of respondents indicated that internationalisation was of high importance to their academic leadership. A quarter replied that internationalisation was of a medium level of importance, and a very low percentage, only 5%, indicated that internationalisation is of low or no importance.

Higher education institutions were also asked to identify how the level of importance of internationalisation has changed for their academic leadership over the past three years. More than 84% replied that the level has increased, with 34% saying that it has “substantially increased” and 50% claiming that it has “increased”.

Comparing this result with the data of the previous IAU Global Survey (conducted in 2013), the result might be puzzling at first glance. In fact, around the same number of higher education institutions considered internationalisation important as in the 4th Global Survey. However, 84% of higher education institutions in the 5th Global Survey claim that the level of importance has increased since 2013.

Further analysis suggested that this increase in the level of importance over the past three years has happened mainly at higher education institutions for which the level of importance was already high. These constitute the majority of respondents (68%). However, it has not happened at institutions where the level of importance of internationalisation was low.

This result is very interesting, as it suggests the importance of internationalisation is increasing at higher education institutions that already consider it important. This trend could have a negative consequence in terms of equality as it could create a gap between higher education institutions and their separation into two different groups: those that consider internationalisation a priority, and will be even more active with regard to internationalisation, and those for which internationalisation is not a priority.

Even for those, like the authors of this article, who believe that internationalisation of higher education is not generating inequality ‘per se’ and who see it is as a means to improve the quality of higher education for all students and staff, this trend is worrisome.

If we assume that internationalisation of higher education improves the quality of education and research and if this process is undertaken only by higher education institutions that are already engaged in it and not by those that are not and are therefore more in need of it, the result can only be growing inequality between higher education institutions.

The importance of internationalisation by region

We also looked at geographical factors. In other words: do we see inequality in the importance placed on internationalisation by higher education institutions in different regions of the world?

The results show that the level of importance is not the same in all regions of the world.

Internationalisation is highly important for higher education institutions in Africa and especially the Middle East, where 83% report ‘high’ importance, but it is less important than the global average for higher education institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean and especially in North America, where only 53% of higher education institutions report that it is given ‘high’ importance.

Higher education institutions in Asia and the Pacific and Europe follow the global trend of tending to give internationalisation ever greater importance.

North America is the only region where a non-negligible percentage of higher education institutions report a decrease in the importance given to internationalisation in the past three years – 10% of institutions, with 8% reporting a substantial decrease – while other regions follow more or less the upward global trend.

However, these regional results must be interpreted with some caution because their statistical relevance is not the same for all regions. The response rates for the Middle East and North America in particular are lower than for other regions.

The number of higher education institutions that reported medium and especially low levels of importance given to internationalisation is too small for a reliable analysis of the change of importance in the different regions. However, the results suggest that the global trend of higher education institutions that already consider internationalisation very important giving it even more importance seems to be present in all regions of the world.

The reasons for such a divide between higher education institutions that consider internationalisation extremely important and those that do not is worth reflecting on and deserves to be studied in more depth, especially if one considers internationalisation to be an essential part of all higher education institutions’ mission and a sign of quality.


Giorgio Marinoni is manager for higher education and internationalisation policy and projects at the International Association of Universities (IAU). Email: g.marinoni@iau-aiu.net. Hans de Wit is director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, United States, and a member of the IAU advisory committee for the 5th IAU Global Survey on Internationalization of Higher Education. Email: dewitj@bc.edu.


By: Giorgio Marinoni and Hans de Wit
Date: January 11, 2019
Source: University World News

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Rethinking Singapore’s approach to diversity and social inclusion


In a context where far right political parties and movements are stoking xenophobic sentiments in Europe and the United States, Singapore remains a bastion for liberal mobilities and cultural tolerance.

This is one of the most important reasons why Singapore has been able to attract not just the talented and highly skilled, but also those seeking to escape economic hardship and discrimination because of their gender, race, or religious affiliation.

In order to maintain that global reputation as a city-state that is welcoming of foreigners, we must not simply continue to provide economic opportunities for potential migrants and immigrants, but also build a social and cultural landscape that is more inclusive of difference and recognises the inequalities that these differences may engender.

With rising levels of economic inequality, combined with the changing cultural demographics of the citizen population, there is a need to rethink approaches to diversity and the ways in which social inclusion is configured within our city-state.

Post-independence, the Chinese, Malay, Indian, Other (CMIO) categorisations have defined much of Singapore’s approach to migration and diversity. This recognition of different ethnic communities and the intention to provide equitable resources through those categorisations proved largely successful in creating a nation tolerant to diversity.

However, the effects of these CMIO policies can also be felt in more visceral terms – Singaporeans now see themselves and others in prescribed racial terms. This means that difference rather than commonality as co-citizens is what is foremost in this politics of recognition.

Those who fall outside or elide such racialised categorisations may be left out of the system by which the state recognises cultural traditions or disburses social support.

This mode of seeing people within the nation by whether they are racial and cultural strangers or affiliates also affects how temporary migrants and immigrants are perceived.

Singapore’s exclusion of low-wage migrant labour from a route to attaining permanent residency or citizenship does not look set to change.

Despite their permanently temporary nature, low-wage migrants often stay for long periods in Singapore, taking on circular routes of migration that entail a regular back and forth between home and host countries.

Many who work in Singapore for decades describe strong feelings of belonging and emotional attachment to a nation that has been a home for much of their adult lives. How can we acknowledge the contributions of these temporary migrants to our nation?

Ground sentiment with regard to low-wage migrants is fast changing.

Thanks to the work of non-government organisations (NGOs) that cater to the welfare of migrant workers and generate coverage of their lives in the local media, there is now far more sympathy for these men and women than there was even a decade ago.

There is greater acknowledgement of the important work that they do in building and maintaining the material fabric of our city and in taking care of our children and senior citizens.

In response to these shifting mindsets, we must explore ways in which we can enhance how these men and women can be made to feel included in the social fabric of Singapore.

This should not be left only to NGOs or individual employers. The judicial system and policymakers should take on the task of changing the social structures that pertain to temporary migrant work.

Penalties for abuse of migrants, whether physical, verbal, or in terms of the late or non-payment of wages for instance, should be far harsher and better enforced.

Sending a signal that these crimes and practices are unacceptable assures temporary migrants that they are valued as equal, contributing members of our society.

In the past 20 years, Singapore has seen a very different wave of immigration compared to the movements of the pre-war years.

Our total population has grown by almost a fifth, and much of this is due to the expansion of immigration and naturalisation to augment the effects of ultra-low fertility rates.

These immigrants have been overwhelmingly from other Asian countries, although there are rising numbers of Singaporeans who are not of Asian ethnicity, and who do not fit easily into the CMIO categorisations.

What is of particular significance is that many (im)migrants who have been presumed to fit within the Chinese and Indian labels, being of East Asian or South Asian ancestry, are without the same cultural and national histories of second, third and later generation Singaporeans.

What do these changing demographics mean for Singapore’s national identity?

The inclusion of Indians and Chinese born outside Singapore within the same labels that define Singapore-born individuals of Chinese and Indian ethnicity have created some tensions within these two communities.

This needs to be addressed better by integration efforts that do not take affinity within groups as a priori. This means that we should not assume that just because people share similar phenotype characteristics, or even a shared ancestry, that they will share other characteristics, and act as a group.


Singapore has been highly successful in attracting highly educated Asians who see Singapore as a happy middle ground between East and West.

This group with high cultural capital often finds the city of Singapore an easy place to adapt to because of its Asian character.

However, in many cases, this has not entailed meaningful interaction with Singaporeans, as they maintain exclusive social networks and often self-segregate even in residential areas.

This mode of living “parallel lives” — side by side but without meaningful interaction — is a sign of the increasingly divided society that Singapore is becoming, along lines of socio-economic status, not race.

We should not ignore changing demographic realities on the ground.

One of the most significant trends that is emerging is the intersection of socio-economic status with immigration status, where highly-skilled employment pass holders and low-wage domestic, construction and service sector workers lead very separate lives from middle-class Singaporeans.

Attempts should be made for greater grassroots reach into condominiums and private developments where there is evidence of immigrant communities self-segregating.

More effort should also be made to ensure neighbourhoods are composed of a mix of housing types.

In addition, organic, bottom-up expressions of identity that are inclusive and bind people across racial and class differences should also be encouraged.

The politics of recognition that the post-independence Government adopted, which ensured the representation of the four major ethnic groups in Singapore across many spheres, has worked well on many counts.

We have a largely bilingual population, there is a high level of residential desegregation and Singaporeans, on most counts, are tolerant of difference in everyday life.

However, the CMIO system of dividing and catering to the welfare of the population along lines of race, seems to have reached the extent of its utility.

The divisions between socio-economic class and between local and foreigner/new immigrant now seem to have superseded the divisions once thought to be the most insurmountable – those between the different races.

Perhaps it is time to move towards a post-recognition politics; one that is inclusive and that resists labelling or categorisation.

This is almost an imperative given that one out of every four marriages here is between a Singaporean and a non-Singaporean. Current and future generations will comprise a significant proportion of bicultural individuals who will not easily fit into ethnic labels or even national categories.

These shifts in thinking about diversity should come together with a widening of perspective on who needs to be included within the nation.

Together with efforts to integrate immigrants, we should also consider how we can acknowledge the labour and contributions of temporary migrants to the nation.

After all, our collective dependence on migrants is not diminishing. In fact, with Singaporeans increasingly shifting to white-collar work, our reliance on a migrant pool doing blue collar jobs is growing.

Given these circumstances, it would be of mutual benefit if we develop better welfare mechanisms and frameworks to deal with issues that low-wage migrants regularly face such as overwork and lack of representation against errant employers.

Temporary migrants should also be integrated into mainstream Singaporean society through their inclusion in neighbourhood level activities, and the labour protections and rights that Singaporeans and middle-class workers enjoy should be extended to them.

Tangibly, this could mean, for example, extending to foreign domestic workers the benefits and protection prescribed under the Employment Act.

If we want multiracial cultural diversity to be one of our greatest strengths, Singapore’s leaders should rethink the traditional ways in which diversity has been defined and managed, taking into account the issues arising from migration that have been discussed. It is time for change.


Laavanya Kathiravelu is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the College of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University. This is adapted from a piece which first appeared in the latest volume of Commentary, a journal from the National University of Singapore Society.


By: Laavanya Kathiravelu
Date: January 16, 2019
Source: Today

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Should We Care About Inequality?


Since Occupy Wall Street, “inequality” has emerged as a central theme of progressive politics. Is that a good thing?

Following the sensational success of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, with no less than 2.5 million copies of the book sold worldwide, inequality is now widely perceived, to quote Bernie Sanders, as “the great moral issue of our time.” Clearly the shift is part of a wider transformation of American and European politics in the wake the 2008 crash that has turned the “1%” into an object of increasing attention. Marx’s Capital is now a bestseller in the “free enterprise” section of the Kindle store, Jacobin is considered a respectable place to be published, and socialism no longer looks like a failed rock band trying to climb on stage when the “party” is already over. On the contrary, if we are to believe Gloria Steinem, a Bernie Sanders rally is now the “place to be,” even “for the girls.”

On closer scrutiny, however, it’s not entirely clear how well our current interest in inequality (especially income inequality) rhymes with Marx’s own theory, or the ideas that dominated social-policy debates in decades following the Second World War. In fact, one could even argue that our current focus on income and wealth inequality, while crucial to any progressive agenda, also misses some of the most important aspects of the nineteenth-century critique of capitalism. At that time, “income inequality” was an elusive and at best ancillary term. In fact, the “monetization” of inequality is actually a relatively recent way of seeing the world — and, aside from its obvious strengths, it is also a way of seeing that, as the historian Pedro Ramos Pinto noted, has considerably “narrowed” the way we think about social justice.

The Lost Word in Capital

There may be no better way to gauge this difference than simply by looking at one of socialism’s classics itself: Capital. As surprising as it may seem, the term “inequality” per se was never a crucial category for Marx — or for nineteenth-century socialists, for that matter. Interestingly, the word itself, depending on the translation, appears fewer than five times in Marx’s voluminous masterpiece.

Our own conception of inequality, as something measured by the dispersion of income and wealth among individuals rather than between factors of production, such as labor and capital, became widespread only decades after Marx’s death in 1883. As Branko Milanovic argued, for a long time, if you assumed that “all workers are at subsistence, all capitalists rich, and all landlords even richer,” it simply did not make sense to think about inequality at an inter-individual level. No thinker until the late nineteenth century had ever thought to rank every single individual by total income to measure its distribution. For them, differences between classes, rather than between individuals, were what mattered. Only with the work of the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (later a fascist sympathizer) did proper tools to measure inequality as we know it today really emerge.

Obviously, Marx thought capitalism was a system that allocated society’s resources in a dramatically unequal fashion. In chapter 25 of Capital, where he deals with the “law of capitalist accumulation,” the philosopher famously wrote that the “accumulation of wealth at one pole” is “at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.” Along the same lines, Marx thought that capitalism could only exist in a society where “two very different kinds of commodity-possessors must come face to face and into contact”; on the one hand the owners of the “means of production” and “subsistence,” and on the other, “free laborers,” those who have only “their own labor power” to sell. In other words, capitalism presupposes “the complete separation of the laborers from all property in the means by which they can realize their labour.” From that perspective, capitalism itself, for Marx, was built on a primordial inequality in access to property, achieved through a violent expropriation that he famously called “primitive accumulation.”

Even here, however, Marx still thought of inequality in terms of classes that were produced by capitalism, rather than in individual terms. For Marx, it seems, the problem was not exactly how income was distributed among people but how capitalism itself tended inherently toward the immiseration of workers and the production of “a relatively redundant population of laborers.” In that sense, as Samuel Moyn has observed, it is quite clear that Marx never really embraced any conception of “distributional equality” because, within capitalism, it would always be “hostage to class rule.” Rather, he tried to imagine a post-market society. Of course, Marx’s ideal never fully came into existence in Western Europe or the United States, but his analysis of the causes of inequality, rooted in a rich literature of nineteenth-century thinkers and economists like Eugène Buret or Charles Fourier, would prove an enduring influence on how to think about inequality, well beyond the circle of self-proclaimed Marxists.

The Capitalist War Against Equality

After the Second World War, if the question of equality mattered for policymakers and thinkers, none of them really separated it from the question of the market. Not because it was a secondary issue for them — quite the opposite. Rather, it was simply due to the fact that “inequality” was rarely thought of independently from the question of what role the market would be given in society.

This understanding was hardly new. Already in 1841, when the French journalist and economist Eugène Buret wrote one of the first general analyses of the causes of poverty within the rising industrial order, he famously argued that “if misery exists,” it progresses “at the same pace as wealth”; it grows “under the influence of the same causes.” For him, it was clear that an economic order where the principle of “laissez-faire” was dominant shaped a society in which “the extreme freedom of the rich and the strong” is paid at the cost of the “servitude of the poor and the weak.” His book, entitled De la misère des classes laborieuses en Angleterre et en France, would become extremely influential, advocating the creation of “fair institutions” that would seek to limit the principle of laissez-faire and put an end to what he called the “hopeless” and “cruel” “theory of work as a commodity.”

It would therefore be quite unsurprising, more than a century later, to read the British sociologist T.H. Marshall arguing that “basic equality” can’t be “created and preserved without invading the freedom of the competitive market.” For Marshall, who never was a Marxist — though unlike Keynes or Beveridge he was a member of the Labour Party — it was clear even throughout the twentieth century that “citizenship and the capitalist class system have been at war.”

The discrediting of nineteenth-century economic liberalism was so profound that the idea of equality was always embedded within a larger framework of a post-laissez-faire world. Therefore, the institutions that constituted the basis of our modern welfare states were, from their very inception, in fact committed to limiting the sphere of the market in order to produce a more egalitarian society. Under that framework, to quote Steven Fraser, what was then understood as the “labor question” meant “not only to permanently alter the relationship between labor and capital, but in so doing to eliminate the immorality of exploitation, the social inequality and antagonism fostered by great aggregations of wealth, the threat to democratic politics represented by overbearing corporate power and pelf, and even the causes of global and imperialist war.”

Saving Man’s Soul

The problem identified by Fraser — extending the question of inequality beyond monetary concerns — also had a deeply moral and political dimension. For a significant number of the progressive thinkers who had experienced the social dislocations provoked by the birth of a “market society” in the nineteenth century, creating institutions designed to limit it was also a way to preserve a truly democratic order and some fundamental human values.

As the historian Tim Rogan notes in The Moral Economists, it was only very recently that “concerns about inequality” took central stage in arguments against capitalism. In fact, he contends, “for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” what mattered most for figures like Polanyi, R.H. Tawney or even E.P. Thompson was capitalism’s “moral or spiritual desolation.” To these thinkers, the totalized laissez-faire society had not only removed the allocation of wealth and resources from political deliberation but also altered the nature of social transactions as such. The expansion of the economic sphere had “broken” all relations and ties not conducted in the terms of the “naked self-interest” of “cash payment” and “drowned”, as Marx once wrote, “the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor … in the icy water of egotistical calculation.”

Even the experience of time, as shown in the writings of E.P. Thompson, underwent a profound change. Rather than time “going by,” as in pre-capitalist economies, it is now “spent” and can therefore be “wasted.” Working hours not only increased considerably — more than doubling compared to the peasants of the Middle Ages — but the standard of living would also, at first, deteriorate with the great exodus to the urban centers where the work force was piling up in infamous conditions. Finally, in order to increase productivity the quality of work itself that would deteriorate considerably: Taylorization transformed man into a simple “accessory to the machine,” as in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, where his entire body is subjected to the temporality of the factory for comic effect.

Whether it concerned production, work, or human relations more generally, “market society,” as Polanyi argued, was seen as a threat to democratic politics by letting the market shape the social order rather than the other way around. More than a mere rhetorical trick, this political and “moral critique” profoundly impacted policymakers and thinkers; the welfare state had to be more than a simple tool for redistribution.

It was for this precise reason that thinkers like Richard Titmuss could argue that the aim of a European welfare state would be to inculcate and preserve the so-called “Dunkirk spirit.” The rescue of thousands of British soldiers from the French coast in May–June 1940 by a flotilla of hundreds of civilian ships had a tremendous impact on the British people. Titmuss, a British social scientist and founder of the study of “social policy,” saw in this “spirit” the seeds of an upcoming “generous society.” As he wrote in the summer of 1940, with Dunkirk, “the mood of the people changed and, in sympathetic response, values changed as well. If dangers were to be shared, then resources should also be shared.”

However, the new order was not just about simple redistribution, but about creating democratic institutions to abolish what Beveridge called the five “giant evils” (want, ignorance, disease, squalor, and idleness) and promoting solidarity beyond the context of war. The welfare state was therefore supposed to offer not only a powerful tool for egalitarianism, but also the promise of a radically new society, closing the chapter of the horrors of the war and of nineteenth-century exploitation.

A New Form of Property

The “Dunkirk Spirit” bestowed on the state a tremendous role in guaranteeing fundamental social rights to its population (rights to health care, to education, to work, and so on). A growing share of wages were now socialized to finance large-scale protection schemes and high tax rates were imposed on the wealthiest members of society, with the revenues allocated to creating public services that would constitute a new “social property.” This notion, in use in France by the end of the nineteenth century, was seen as the solution to the dangers of civil war threatening a society where only property owners were granted full citizenship. As shown by the French sociologist Robert Castel, the aim was to build, alongside existing “private” property, a form of “social” property, which would render “available to non-owners a type of resources that is not the direct possession of a private patrimony, but a right of access to collective goods and services which have a social purpose.”

As Castel argued, one of the most original aspects of these new institutions of social protection and public service was that “this form of ownership is not constituted and does not circulate in the context of market exchanges.” It was also subject to democratic rule. In a sense, then, it’s important to understand welfare state institutions as an extension of the democratic imperative, making the physical reproduction of individuals a matter of political choice. It made it possible to decide collectively what kind of humanity society would create.

Of course, the labor-centered orientation of these new institutions relied essentially on the unpaid labor of women as domestic workers in households sustained by the “Fordist family wage.” Consequently, to various degrees depending on the country, it shaped a model of citizenship with significant exclusionary features for women or the immigrant labor force. However, in contrast to nineteenth-century poor relief systems, this new categorical architecture was, importantly, to be organized against the market rather than acting upon its margins. More importantly, demands and struggles for its effective universalization intensified in the decades following the war, slowly extending its benefits to a larger part of the population.

This perspective would gradually grow in Europe (and to a lesser extent the United States) and constitute the basis of what T.H. Marshall called a “social citizenship.” These institutions, he thought, would not have as their purpose to simply “abate the obvious nuisance of destitution in the lowest ranks of society,” but assumed “the guise of action modifying the whole pattern of social inequality.” “It is no longer content to raise the floor-level in the basement of the social edifice,” he continued, “leaving the superstructure as it was. It has begun to remodel the whole building.” Such a new understanding of the role of the state was promoted throughout the world.

In 1944, the Declaration of Philadelphia, which restated the objectives of the International Labour Organization, declared that “labor is not a commodity” and that “the extension of social security” was a fundamental aim. By 1946, the constitution of the World Health Organization mentioned the “highest attainable level of health as a right,” and by the late fifties, the Swedish economist and Nobel Prize winner Gunnar Myrdal was calling for the establishment of a “Welfare World.” As Samuel Moyn argues in his most recent book, while decolonization continued apace, “the new states born of the struggle against empire tended to dream bigger when it came to their own national welfare, invoking egalitarian ideals.” Postcolonial leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, or Leopold Sedar Senghor were committed to building the promise of welfare beyond the borders of the imperial world.

While hardly spared from criticism, the ideal of the universalization of these institutions remained dominant until the mid-sixties. The commitment to equality was therefore strongly embedded within the more general framework of “social rights” and citizenship rather through the sole lens of income distribution.

However, with the advent of the so-called “affluent society” and the excessive illusions it sustained concerning the shared benefits of growth slowly set aside inequality as a political issue. In his 1958 bestseller The Affluent Society even John K. Galbraith noted the “evident … decline of interest in inequality as an economic issue.” The stunning increase in production had, he thought, functioned as “alternative to redistribution.” What was going to capture public attention by the early sixties was rather the remaining poverty “within affluence.” This surge of concern for poverty would not, however, revive nineteenth-century commitments against the market. Rather, it would radically reshape ideas about social justice. The big issue was no longer inequality, but poverty alone.

The Turn to “Poverty”

When Michael Harrington published what would become his most popular book, The Other America, in March 1962, its purpose was essentially to contest the premises of postwar social policies and categorizations. For Harrington, whose book sold more than a million copies, America’s poor had “missed the social and political gains of the 1930s.” Welfare state programs, he claimed, were no longer the solution but rather part of the problem. Against the dominant view of the time, he thought the postwar institutions of welfare, minimum wages, labor laws, or unions were not designed for the poor and even contributed to their “rejection.” His “other” America was “beyond the welfare state.”

What was at first a statistical account of the persistence of poverty in “abundant” America published in a 1959 issue of Commentary rapidly became a more profound criticism of how poverty had been conceptualized since the nineteenth century. The idea popularized by the book was that “poverty” was now a “specific” condition, detached from the questions of labor, inequality, or the market. This argument was rather new, since in the 1950s nobody really imagined the “poor” as a group of citizens with its own dynamic. Echoing the work of anthropologist Oscar Lewis, Harrington argued that being poor was like being “an internal alien, to grow up in a culture that is radically different from the one that dominates society.” It was, he thought, “the most important analytic point” of the book.

In that sense, the issue of poverty, as it emerged in the early 1960s, would prove qualitatively different from the way it was posed in the nineteenth century. It appeared, above all, not as intrinsically, but rather extrinsically linked to the older divide of the capital-labor relationship.

The question of poverty was decoupled from the question of exploitation. It is no accident that the words “exploitation,” “market,” “socialism,” or even “inequality” barely appear in Harrington’s book — a clear break from nineteenth-century thinkers who never dissociated these questions. But, of course, if the poor constitute a group that “forms a distinct system,” that group also represents a specific problem. Now, as Dwight Macdonald argued in his seminal 1963 review of the book, “inequality of wealth is not necessarily a major social problem per se”; “poverty is.” For McDonald it was clear that the main concern was now to “provide a floor,” and not a system like Social Security that, he thought, simply perpetuated “the inequalities” keeping “the poor forever poor.”

By the early 1970s, in both the US and Europe, the spectacular emergence of the “poverty issue” would strongly encourage a vision of social justice focused on a monetary conception of poverty. Indeed, the focus on the establishment of a “floor” below which nobody could fall rapidly pushed aside any discussion of building ceilings or reducing market dependency. Guaranteed income proposals and negative-income-tax programs became widely popular among policymakers and political parties across the political spectrum, as a way to finally fight poverty while shedding any emphasis on large macroeconomic interventionism and complicated welfare schemes.

There was a flourishing of debates in this period about definitions of poverty and “needs,” opening the way for ambitious programs to measure and compare poverty levels around the planet. In France, the civil servant Lionel Stoléru, who had studied Milton Friedman’s idea of a negative income tax at the Brookings Institution in the early 1970s, offered an apt summary of this shift. In his view, a focus on “poverty” was the only reasonable social policy within a free market system. If we followed a policy that tended to reduce inequality we would inevitably affect “the heart of the dynamism of the market economy.” A program directed specifically against poverty, on the other hand, as argued by Friedman himself, “while operating through the market” would “not distort the market or impede its functioning,” as did Keynesian programs.

In this new conception of social justice, preserving market and price mechanisms was a central concern. If markets created an undesirable outcome, like poor housing, the solution had to be restricted to cash transfers rather than public services (social housing) or state regulations (rent control). As Friedman argued at a time when he still admitted to having “strong egalitarian leanings,” what people “ordinarily attributed to poor housing” and therefore to the market, is “really the social costs of poverty.” The general principle, then, was to rely completely on the “use [of] the price system for distribution of goods” and, when necessary, to “achieve changes in the distribution of income.”

Poverty, Worldwide

At the global level, this “free market compatible” vision of poverty was enthusiastically diffused through international institutions. One of the central architects of this evolution was Robert McNamara. Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, he was appointed head of the World Bank in 1968, after playing a decisive role in the escalation of the Vietnam War.

While president of the institution, McNamara articulated an anti-poverty strategy that significantly differed from previous visions. In his view, poverty could be an integral part of the Bank’s strategy if it focused not in redistribution per se, but rather on “helping the poor to reach their productive potential.” “Social justice was globalized and minimized,” Moyn argues, favoring the establishment of a floor under which “no one is allowed to sink,” yet in strong opposition to the egalitarian narratives of postcolonial leaders.

By the eighties, McNamara’s approach had spread to other international institutions. The OECD, for example, called for an end to the extension of social programs and avoiding making equality “an end in itself,” since it should only be considered “a tool to struggle against poverty.” By the nineties, the UN, which in 1996 decreed the first international year for the eradication of poverty, was also very careful to frame its anti-poverty agenda within the larger aim of creating a “growth-friendly economic environment.” What that meant, as stated in the recommendations of the 1996 World Summit for Social Development, was the establishment of “a stable macroeconomic policy framework … which will include controlling inflation, liberalizing trade, promoting agricultural production, freeing prices of agricultural products, encouraging the rural sector, removing constraints on labor markets such as restrictions on labor mobility and ensuring that subsidy systems benefit the needy.”

In reality, the implementation of these “anti-poverty” policies was often accompanied by “structural adjustment” plans and calls for the privatization of public services that had been seen, just decades before, as a crucial dimension of a fairer society. Social justice would henceforth be conceived not as a form of protection against the inequalities generated by the free play of the market but as an intervention aimed at enabling everyone to be part of it. The fight against poverty has thus functioned mainly as a policy for the management of mounting inequalities, rather than trying to limit those inequalities themselves. Unsurprisingly, then, it became the privileged social policy of our contemporary neoliberal era.

In that perspective, what has happened in the 1970s was more than a simple side-lining of considerations related to income inequality. The very basis of how we thought about it was profoundly affected. With the rise of a targeted concern for “poverty,” criticism of the market progressively disappeared as an inherent part of our vision of social justice.

Inequality, Rediscovered?

This long disappearance of inequality as a central concern came to an end during Occupy Wall Street with the striking use of the data collected and “stylized” over the previous years by scholars like Tony Atkinson, Thomas Piketty, or Emmanuel Saez. Indeed, the extent of inequality itself had long been known, yet, as Atossa Araxia Abrahamian recently pointed out, it “wasn’t keeping a lot of scholars up at night.”

The success of the “99%” slogan changed the mood and captured the public imagination, creating the conditions for our current fascination with inequality. However, as argued by Ramos Pinto, this success did not signal a rupture with the focus on quantitative and economic aspects of inequality. On the contrary, while inequality represents an improvement over the previous focus on poverty, it stills narrows our horizon to “personal attributes” and their “relation to the potential for income mobility” rather than looking at more political categories and relations. The discussion remains stuck, looking at “the effect, rather than searching for causes.”

The question we face, then, becomes how should we care about inequality? Indeed, depending on how we think about it, the solutions we could imagine might be very different. If we stick to a vision confined to the effects, and therefore one that is focused on strict income inequality, we might increase equality by reducing the gap between rich and poor.

However, this could perfectly well be done without affecting the market itself — the point being to enhance market opportunities for everyone, to enable people to make the most of it. The only difference now is that the rich won’t be able to spend millions of dollars on solid-gold toilets. This would certainly offer a better world, but still one where we all depend on the market to purchase the goods we need or desire; a world where the economic game is still ruthless but where none of us would fear material deprivation. Not exactly the “Dunkirk Spirit.” This is a world that, in fact, none of the nineteenth-century socialist thinkers ever would have imagined because of their strong belief that inequality was a problem of laissez faire.

This world would differ enormously from one where equality was reached mainly through the decommodification and democratization of goods like health care, education, public transportation, energy, and so on — a world that, by socializing and guaranteeing access to the most important aspects of our existence, would reduce market dependence and therefore attack the source that created inequality in the first place. For a long time, this project had not been seen as outrageously utopian, even by the most moderate reformers. To the contrary, for most of them progressive politics was not only about improving the material condition of workers but, more importantly, about providing the promise of a more democratic and humane society. And it was no doubt this promising vision of the future that in December 1942 motived thousands of people to queue in the cold to buy the copies of the dry and technical document known as the “Beveridge Report,” with sales reaching no less than 635,000 copies.

One might wonder, of course, why we should ask for more than reducing income inequality at a time when even this modest aim seems impossible to reach. Yet, in the aftermath of the “end of history,” ideological boldness has made a stunning comeback — mostly in right-wing and xenophobic guise. Amid this dramatic shift, the Left may have to transcend its narrow commitment to income equality, and promote a bolder vision of a world beyond market utopianism. The power of “big ideas” is that they do not aim to simply redistribute some cards, but to profoundly alter the rules of the game. “A revolutionary moment in the world’s history,” Beveridge noted, is “a time for revolutions, not for patching.”


Daniel Zamora is a postdoctoral sociologist at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Cambridge University.


By : Danie; Zamaro
Date : November 1, 2018
Source : Jacobin Magazine

Posted in Latest Post, Politics, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Do schools help or hinder social mobility?


Do schools help social mobility and fairness? Or do they give even more advantages to the better-off?

Even if they can’t make up for all inequalities, at least we might expect them to make the playing field more level.

But a major international study on social mobility from the OECD economics think tank shows a more sobering picture.

Each year that a child spends in education, the gap between rich and poor grows wider.

On average, across more than 60 countries, that difference between the richest and poorest is the equivalent to three years of schooling by the age of 15.

Only about one in 10 children from poor backgrounds will achieve the same results at those from wealthy backgrounds.

Gap getting wider

The study tracked test results taken by 10-year-olds in 1995, 15-year-olds in 2000 and then a decade later for young adults in their mid-20s.

At each point the social divide, with few exceptions, tended to widen.

It’s not that difficult to see how this happens.

The children of more prosperous families are travelling in an educational fast lane, with more support from home, a higher chance of getting into a good school and university, and benefiting from the interventions of better-educated parents.

The accumulation of advantages will amplify differences.

According to the study, on average by the age of 15 about 13% of the variation in students’ performance will be determined by their social background.

This varies between countries. In the UK, it’s below average at 11%, with Norway and Estonia lower at 8%. In France it’s 20% and in Germany and Switzerland it’s 16%.

Defying the odds

But it’s not all pessimism. The OECD’s head of education Andreas Schleicher, argues there is also plenty of evidence to say that “poverty need not be destiny”.

There are school systems where many more disadvantaged children do well.

n countries such as Singapore, Japan and Finland, the test results of the poorest 20% are higher than the richest 20% in the Slovak Republic, Uruguay, Brazil and Bulgaria.

The UK does quite well on this measure, with the median point for UK students being above the wealthiest 20% in Italy and not far behind those similarly advantaged students in Spain.

“It shows that students from very similar backgrounds can have very different outcomes,” says Mr Schleicher.

He says it’s a cause for optimism that some countries have made sure that “excellent teaching” is available for rich and poor pupils.

The study also found other factors associated with disadvantaged pupils defying the odds, including in Vietnam and China.

One pattern that emerged strongly was the importance of the social profile of the school they attended.

In many countries, disadvantaged students tend to be clustered together in schools with other similarly disadvantaged students.

If this can be prevented, the study shows that disadvantaged students taught in schools with a wealthier intake tend to have much higher results.

More places, fewer choices

But the research also shows how easily inequality can be absorbed into education systems.

“A rising tide doesn’t automatically lift all boats,” says Mr Schleicher.

Numbers going into university have increased – but that doesn’t necessarily make it a fairer system.

In Singapore, many going to university will be the first in their families to get a degree. It’s an example of social mobility and widening doors.

But in Italy, wealthier families have been much more likely to benefit from extra university places, widening the education gap.

In terms of “equity”, Italy has been going backwards, says Mr Schleicher.

There are also generational divides.

In the US, looking at people between 26 and 65, the older age groups are much more likely than the younger ones to have advanced further in education than their parents.

You can see educational mobility withering through the more recent decades.

Social division

The big picture is the struggle to kick-start social mobility in Western democracies.

A report earlier this year from the OECD showed that in the UK, social mobility was so frozen that it would take five generations for poorer families to reach the average income.

“Meritocracy is the big promise of our democracies, and social mobility is the truth test for meritocracy,” says Mr Schleicher.

“So, yes, I think we need to worry if social mobility is limited or slowing down.”

He says the slowdown is not simply a case of there being many more people with higher qualifications competing with each other, because the demand for graduates and skilled workers has increased at least as rapidly.

Instead he warns of a system in which social division becomes embedded.

“Lower social mobility and higher income inequality tend to go together,” he says.

As the wealthiest families accelerate even further ahead, it’s likely to even further narrow the chances for “talented yet underprivileged individuals” who are being left behind.

“It’s a worry, because it shows our education systems have not been able to moderate social inequality. Instead social inequality has grown,” says Mr Schleicher.


By : Sean Coughlan
Date : October 31, 2018
Source : BBC

Posted in Education, Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Data deficit means we’re in the dark about the digital divide


Digital concerns underpin many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Gender equality, good health, quality education, industry innovation, smart and sustainable cities: these all require strong information and communications technology systems to become a reality.

For all of this to happen, developing countries will have to overcome the “digital divide”. This refers to the gap between those who are connected – first to voice and now to Internet services – and those who aren’t.

But there’s a problem. We simply don’t have the data in developing countries, and in global statistics, to know what the status quo is or whether the digital divide is being closed. So we don’t know if information and communications technologies are contributing to the achievement of the SDG targets.

There is some supply side data provided by operators and collected by regulators. This is fed into the UN statistical system. It’s then used as the basis of multiple digital indices that now exist. But this has many limitations for policy or planning in developing and emerging economies.

For example, it can’t be used to measure several basic indicators – like gender, age and income levels – in the predominantly prepaid mobile markets of the Global South.

The AfterAccess Survey, which was run across 16 countries in the Global South in 2017, fills some of these data gaps. The survey tells us who has access to and uses mobile phones for what purposes. It also reveals data about Internet users and non-users, and the reasons that people aren’t online – usually, because Internet enabled devices are too expensive.

All this allows us to compare digital indicators from a range of countries and to see patterns among countries. It shows us that in large populations like Nigeria, India and Bangladesh, irrespective of their distribution of wealth its a struggle to get people connected.

It enables better comparisons on outcomes between countries with similar size economies. We can also compare ICT policy outcomes in the countries that were surveyed.

The findings offer a useful guide for policymakers. This is because the survey is nationally representative. It unmasks the inequalities in the national aggregations. This allows policymakers to see beyond the descriptive statistics to identifying the determinants – like education and income – of Internet access and use.

These perspectives underscore the fact that addressing digital inequality isn’t a technology problem. It’s a classical development challenge.

Key findings

As the world moves from simple voice services and devices to more complex Internet-based services, the issues of digital inequality become more complex than just connectivity. More comprehensive indicators and data modelling is required to understand issues of inclusion and exclusion, and what factors are driving them.

The After Access survey provides the only representative insights into who is on the Web, what they do, who is not and what prevents them from getting online. These were some of the key findings:

In the seven African countries surveyed, individuals have an average of two SIM cards (which are captured in the supply side data as two subscribers). There are two likely reasons for this. The first is that it allows people to get a signal when there is not one for their primary provider. Secondly, they have another SIM to make cheaper calls to speak to people on other networks, or if it’s a data card, to get a promotional package, such as a “free” social networking time with a new card.

Mobile phone penetration and Internet penetration across the globe is broadly aligned with Gross National Income per capita. Broadly speaking, countries with richer people on average are more connected than poorer countries.

But our findings also suggest interesting variations.

Overall, the five Latin American countries surveyed, together with South Africa, have the highest mobile phone penetration rates. But South Africa has a lower Internet penetration rate than any of the Latin America countries. This includes those with lower gross national incomes.

Myanmar and Cambodia have much higher Internet penetration rates than African and Asian countries with similar gross national income rates. They also have higher rates than their larger gross national income counterparts, India and Nigeria.

Genuine redress

These indicators, and other data collected in the After Access survey, can be used to provide evidence that can help policymakers and planners and assess the impact of policy outcomes.

They can confirm – or challenge – general assumptions about relations such as gender; or about the relationship between economic growth and Internet penetration. They can also clarify thinking about what the biggest challenges are to getting people online.

The affordability and human development challenge is far more difficult to solve than the infrastructure deficit with which development banks and governments’ are preoccupied. In many countries networks cover between 60 and 80% of the population. Yet there is less than the 20% Internet-connected critical mass required to see the network effects associated with economic growth and development.

And even where enabling environments that are conducive to investment have been created for the extension of networks, our survey data illustrate how the socially and economically marginalised are unable to harness the Internet to enhance their social and economic well-being.

The data available show that besides affordability, human development –- particularly education and the resulting income –- are the primary determinants of access, intensity of use and the use of the Internet for production; not only consumption.

Policymakers need to extend their lenses to the development of relevant local content and applications in local languages. These are all important stimulants to getting people online if countries hope the harness the benefits of the Internet for all their citizens.


By : Alisson Gillwald
Date : November 1, 2018
Source : The Conversation

Posted in Internet, Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

What I’m Working On: Health Inequalities among Older Adults


Sociologist Tyson Brown studies social mechanisms that lead to different health outcomes

Assistant professor of sociology Tyson H. Brown focuses on how social factors affect population health. Brown is also the director of the Center on Health & Society. His new work investigates why older adults get sick at different rates.

He discussed his work recently with Duke Today. Here are excerpts:

Hello professor. What are you working on?

My research focuses on how social inequality gets under the skin, with particular attention to racial disparities in health. We know that African-Americans live sicker and shorter lives compared to whites. I’m interested in figuring out why that’s the case. Specifically, my work aims to identify the mechanisms underlying racial inequalities in health among older adults.

Why do you care about this issue?

Health disparities along racial lines result in unnecessary suffering, premature mortality, and excess economic costs of over $300 billion annually. In order to improve minority health and promote population health equity, researchers and policy makers need a better understanding of how social factors shape health.

Why focus on older adults?

Older adults in general, and older racial minorities in particular, represent a growing segment of the population. Also, studying population health in later life provides a unique opportunity for understanding the cumulative impact of racial inequalities across individuals’ lives. We find that disparities in health are particularly pronounced in middle and later life as a result of the accumulation of economic and social advantages for some groups, and disadvantages for others.

Like what?

Many older African Americans have endured decades of overt and subtle forms of discrimination in a variety of settings such as educational, criminal justice, and health care systems, as well as in job, credit, and housing markets. As a result, African Americans have lower levels of education, income, and wealth than whites. African Americans also experience elevated exposure to chronic stressors and financial strains, and they’re more likely to live in unhealthy neighborhoods characterized by high levels of crime and limited options for healthy foods, recreational resources, and quality housing.

This all relates back to health and health inequalities?

Yes, population health is a mirror that reflects societal arrangements. My research illustrates how social conditions affect biological processes and ultimately lead to racial disparities in health. For example, a study I’m currently working on examines the extent to which social factors contribute to racial disparities in a range of health outcomes. Results from the study show that racial inequalities in an array of social factors—e.g., education, income, wealth, chronic and neighborhood stressors, financial strains, and perceived discrimination—collectively account for approximately 75% of the health gap between African Americans and Whites.

And how does this advance what is already known?

By formally testing the role of socioeconomic and psychosocial factors, my work points to underlying mechanisms of inequality such as unequal exposure to economic hardships and stressors. This information improves our understanding of how health inequalities are produced and maintained, as well as how they can potentially be addressed.

So ultimately, your findings could help shape policy debate?

Absolutely—my research shows that socioeconomic inequalities and stress processes contribute to racial disparities in health, and suggests that policies and interventions targeting both economic inequality and heightened exposure to stressors faced by African Americans would go a long way toward ameliorating health disparities.

What’s a big idea for attacking this?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that social and economic policies are health policies. Moving the needle on health disparities could take the form of any number of bold cost-effective, race-neutral policies. A few that come to mind are child trust account (or baby bonds), a federal jobs guarantee, criminal justice reform and enforcement of the fair housing act. These policies would reverse the rising tides of inequality, disproportionately benefiting communities of color while also improving the health of the US population as a whole.

Those really are bold actions. It sounds like you’re saying this wouldn’t work in incremental pieces.

We have a good deal of data showing that incremental approaches, which have largely focused on biomedical and behavioral interventions, have not appreciably reduced the racial health gap. Achieving population health equity will require fundamental changes that improve social conditions and opportunities for good health among the most disadvantaged groups.

That requires a lot of political will.

Indeed, but I’m an optimist. Just as social and economic policies have led to the health inequalities we see today, they can also play an important role in achieving health equity.


Date : October 26, 2018
Source : Duke

Posted in Health, Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

The migrant caravan is a practical and political reaction to Mexico’s futile attempts at dissuasion


Mexico’s resort to riot police and tear gas is part of a wider effort to scare migrants into returning to Central America. But push factors like extreme violence and grinding poverty weigh far more in the balance than shows of dissuasive violence, writes Alejandra Díaz de Leon (LSE Department of Sociology).

A migrant caravan made up of approximately 2,000 Hondurans (including women, children, and families) is currently making its way towards the United States after entering Mexico through Guatemala. The intention of most of these migrants is to walk across Mexico to the US-Mexico border and apply for asylum in the United States. Since the caravan set off, president Trump has tweeted his opposition and threatened both Honduras and Guatemala with sanctions if they were to allow the caravan to cross their borders.

The Mexican government responded by sending riot police to the border to prevent migrants from crossing. The images of black-clad security forces using their shields against mothers and babies were shocking and disturbing. They also teargassed the group before ultimately allowing them through.

As more and more people joined the caravan, the group moved into Tapachula, a town in the southern state of Chiapas, before travelling north into Oaxaca. It is expected to continue on towards the United States unless Mexico takes drastic steps to stop it.

The role of Mexico in controlling Central American migration

The “clash” between the Mexican government and this caravan of Hondurans fleeing poverty, instability, corruption, and violence illustrates one of the current tensions between undocumented migrants and states worldwide.

On one side we find desperate but determined people willing to keep pushing forward in an attempt to improve their own and their families’ lives. On the other we find governments attempting to dissuade them from moving by intensifying the costs of migrating, usually by making their experience more dangerous and expensive.

The Mexican government used riot police and threats of violence in the hope of frightening migrants into returning to their home country. But the caravan’s desire to press forward shows that this was a miscalculation. Although this represents the state’s most public act of deterrence to date, it is not the first time that Mexico has tried to make the journey north more dangerous for Central American migrants.

On the contrary, Mexico’s southern border has seen a steady increase in checkpoints, detention centres, and guards. At times, Mexico has been responsible for deporting more Central American migrants than the United States.

Dissuasive violence versus overwhelming push factors

However, my conversations with thousands of migrants over the years have taught me that these deterrence strategies never work. Many migrants are aware of the violence in Mexico, and they know that they might be killed, disappeared, robbed, or injured, yet they still choose to leave.

As Jairo, a 20-year-old migrant from Tela in Honduras, told me in southern Mexico in 2016:

“In Honduras you have to buy everything: food, protection, healthcare. We were starving there. We were scared. The gangs wouldn’t leave us alone. I didn’t want to come to Mexico. I was pushed.”

Blockading roads, building walls, and increasing the number checkpoints only forces migrants to take more secretive and dangerous routes, which in turn increases their likelihood of experiencing violence.

Activists and academics have demonstrated repeatedly that every time Mexico makes migration more difficult, violence against migrants increases. But still Central American migrants continue to flee their hometowns. As another migrant told me:

“Of course, we know it is dangerous, but you have to understand us… Take me for example. I knew that if I stayed in San Pedro Sula [in Honduras], I would be killed by the gangs. If I left for the United States, I might make it and survive.”

Putting obstacles and dangers in the path of migrants leaving desperate situations doesn’t work; they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The caravan as a practical and political reaction to mistreatment in Mexico

The caravan itself is a practical reaction to the way migrants have been treated in Mexico for years. Travelling in a large group with activists and journalists provides support and security. The caravan decreases monetary and physical costs because migrants are less exposed to criminal or official violence. It precludes the need to employ a “coyote”, or people smuggler.

But migrant caravans are also political. Walking over 3,000 km across Mexican territory with only their backpacks, their children, and their chants, members of the caravan remind us that they are human, that they are victims of violence in Mexico, and that they are fleeing violence and poverty at home.

This visibility of the migrant caravan – aided in part by Donald Trump’s tweets and statements – has forced a discussion on how undocumented migrants are treated in Mexico and what role the country should play in future.

A vital first step for both the Mexican government and the Trump administration would be to recognise that dissuasion doesn’t work.


Alejandra Díaz de Leon holds a PhD in Sociology and an MA in Human Rights from the University of Essex. She is currently a Research Officer at LSE for the project “Human Rights, Human Remains: Forensic Humanitarianism and the Politics of the Grave”. She is interested in human rights, solidarity, and on the creation of bonds, trust, and cooperation among strangers during contexts of violence and uncertainty. Her research focuses in particular on Central American transit migrants through Mexico and in the United States. Alejandra has been a fellow at the Center for US-Mexican Studies (USMEX) at the University of California, San Diego, and a visiting researcher at UC MEXUS, at the University of California, Riverside.


By : Alejandra Diaz De Leon
Date : November 1, 2018
Source : LSE

The migrant caravan is a practical and political reaction to Mexico’s futile attempts at dissuasion

Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

What would a society designed for well-being look like?


Economic justice goes a long way to improving mental health up and down the socioeconomic ladder.

In early June of this year, the back-to-back suicides of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, coupled with a new report revealing a more than 25 percent rise in U.S. suicides since 2000, prompted—again—a national discussion on suicide prevention, depression, and the need for improved treatment. Some have called for the development of new antidepressants, noting the lack of efficacy in current medical therapies. But developing better drugs buys into the mainstream notion that the collection of human experiences called “mental illness” is primarily physiological in nature, caused by a “broken” brain.

This notion is misguided and distracting at best, deadly at worst. Research has shown that, to the contrary, economic inequality could be a significant contributor to mental illness. Greater disparities in wealth and income are associated with increased status anxiety and stress at all levels of the socioeconomic ladder. In the United States, poverty has a negative impact on children’s development and can contribute to social, emotional, and cognitive impairment. A society designed to meet everyone’s needs could help prevent many of these problems before they start.

To address the dramatic increase in mental and emotional distress in the U.S., we must move beyond a focus on the individual and think of well-being as a social issue. Both the World Health Organization and the United Nations have made statements in the past decade that mental health is a social indicator, requiring “social, as well as individual, solutions.” Indeed, WHO Europe stated in 2009 that “[a] focus on social justice may provide an important corrective to what has been seen as a growing overemphasis on individual pathology.”

The UN’s independent adviser Dainius Pūras reported in 2017 that “mental health policies and services are in crisis—not a crisis of chemical imbalances, but of power imbalances,” and that decision-making is controlled by “biomedical gatekeepers,” whose outdated methods “perpetuate stigma and discrimination.” Our economic system is a fundamental aspect of our social environment, and the side effects of neoliberal capitalism are contributing to mass malaise.

In The Spirit Level, epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard G. Wilkinson show a close correlation between income inequality and rates of mental illness in 12 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries. The more unequal the country, the higher the prevalence of mental illness. Of the 12 countries measured on the book’s mental illness scatter chart, the United States sits alone in the top right corner—the most unequal and the most mentally ill.

The seminal Adverse Childhood Experiences Study revealed that repeated childhood trauma results in both physical and mental negative health outcomes in adulthood. Economic hardship is the most common form of childhood trauma in the U.S.—one of the richest countries in the world. And the likelihood of experiencing other forms of childhood trauma—such as living through divorce, death of a parent or guardian, a parent or guardian in prison, various forms of violence, and living with anyone abusing alcohol or drugs—also increases with poverty.

Clearly, many of those suffering mental and emotional distress are actually having a rational response to a sick society and an unjust economy. This revelation doesn’t reduce the suffering, but it completely changes the paradigm of mental health and how we choose to move forward to optimize human well-being.

Instead of focusing only on piecemeal solutions for various forms of social ills, we must consider that the real and lasting solution is a new economy designed for all people, not only for the ruling corporate elite. This new economy must be based on principles and strategies that contribute to human well-being, such as family-friendly policies, meaningful and democratic work, and community wealth-building activities to minimize the widening income gap and reduce poverty.

The seeds of human well-being are sown during pregnancy and the early years of childhood. Research shows that mothers who are able to stay home longer (at least six months) with their infants are less likely to experience depressive symptoms, which contributes to greater familial well-being. Yet in the United States, one-quarter of new mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth, and only 13 percent of workers have access to paid leave. A new economy would recognize and value the care of children in the same way it values other work, provide options for flexible and part-time work, and, thus, enable parents to spend formative time with their young children—resulting in optimized well-being for the whole family.

In his book Lost Connections, journalist Johann Hari lifts up meaningful work and worker cooperatives as an “unexpected solution” to depression. “We spend most of our waking time working—and 87 percent of us feel either disengaged or enraged by our jobs,” Hari writes.

A lack of control in the workplace is particularly detrimental to workers’ well-being, which is a direct result of our hierarchical, military-influenced way of working in most organizations. Worker cooperatives, a building block of the solidarity economy, extend democracy to the workplace, providing employee ownership and control. When workers participate in the mission and governance of their workplace, it creates meaning, which contributes to greater well-being. While more research is needed, Hari writes, “it seems fair … to assume that a spread of cooperatives would have an antidepressant effect.”

Worker cooperatives also contribute to minimizing income inequality through low employee income ratios and wealth-building through ownership—and can provide a way out of poverty for workers from marginalized groups. In an Upstream podcast interview, activist scholar Jessica Gordon Nembhard says, “We have a racialized capitalist system that believes that only a certain group and number of people should get ahead and that nobody else deserves to … I got excited about co-ops because I saw [them] as a place to start for people who are left behind.”

A concrete example of this is the Cleveland Model, in which a city’s anchor institutions, such as hospitals and universities, commit to purchasing goods and services from local, large-scale worker cooperatives, thus building community wealth and reducing poverty.

The worker cooperative is one of several ways to democratize wealth and create economic justice. The Democracy Collaborative lists dozens of strategies and models to bring wealth back to the people on the website community-wealth.org. The list includes municipal enterprise, community land trusts, reclaiming the commons, impact investing, and local food systems. All these pieces of the new economy puzzle play a role in contributing to economic justice, which is inextricably intertwined with mental and emotional well-being.

In Lost Connections, Hari writes to his suffering teenage self: “You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met.” Mental and emotional distress are the canaries in the coal mine, where the coal mine is our corporate capitalist society. Perhaps if enough people recognize the clear connection between mental and emotional well-being and our socioeconomic environment, we can create a sense of urgency to move beyond corporate capitalism—toward a new economy designed to optimize human well-being and planetary health.

Our lives literally depend on it.


Tabita Green wrote this article for The Mental Health Issue, the Fall 2018 issue of YES! Magazine. Tabita is a worker-owner at New Digital Cooperative, a digital communications firm based in northeast Iowa, and a new economy advocate. Follow her on Twitter @tabitag.


By            :               Tabita Green

Date         :               October 4, 2018

Source     :               OpenDemocracy



Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment
  • Youtube Channel