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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

Whose Side Are Asian-Americans On?


A proposal to integrate New York City’s top public high schools would be a boon to black and Latinx students—and a disaster for Asians.

Katherine Sanchez, a 16-year-old with curly hair and glasses, is unique among her peers at Stuyvesant, one of eight specialized high schools considered the “crown jewels” of New York City’s public education system. In seventh grade, when she found out about the entrance exam—a single three-hour test known as the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT—she enrolled in a local prep school on the weekends. During the summer before eighth grade, Sanchez upped that commitment to five days a week, spending four hours each day being taught to the test. “You’re not learning material that’s relevant,” Sanchez told me. “You’re like, ‘How can I do these questions as fast as possible? How can I get used to these questions?’”

Of course, other students at Stuy also spend years cramming for the SHSAT. But unlike the vast majority of them, Sanchez is Latina. In 2016, Stuyvesant’s school newspaper found that, in comparison to Asian students, black and Latinx students were more likely to start studying later and on their own. Even in prep school, Sanchez recalled being the only Latina in a majority-Bengali class. Aside from kids in the honors class, most of the students in her middle school in the Bronx hadn’t heard of the SHSAT or specialized high schools.

In fact, Sanchez was told that she was the first person from her middle school to get into Stuyvesant in over a decade. “I don’t know anyone from my school who takes the 2 uptown after 42nd Street,” Sanchez told me in August, as she gave me a tour of Castle Hill, the predominantly working-class Latinx and black neighborhood where she grew up. When pressed, she conceded that she had heard rumors of a freshman at Stuy who also lives in the Bronx.

Stuyvesant has been criticized in recent years because of one stark fact: almost no black or Latinx students attend. In the 2015-2016 school year, the student body was 74 percent Asian-American and 20 percent white. Only 3 percent of students were Latinx and even less—1 percent—were black. This school year, black and Latinx students made up only 10 percent of offered seats across all eight specialized high schools, despite making up nearly 70 percent of the city’s public school population overall.

Sanchez, whose parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic, is acutely aware of the disparity. She had rarely even gone into Manhattan before high school, let alone the posh neighborhood of Tribeca where Stuyvesant is located. Entering the school itself was a culture shock, especially when it was clear many of the students already knew each other. “Waiting on the bridge for the doors to open on the first day was so scary, just standing there,” Sanchez said. “Everyone was in clusters, but I knew nobody.”

In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed changing the admissions policies of the city’s specialized high schools in an effort to integrate them. Under de Blasio’s proposal, the SHSAT would be phased out over three years and eventually replaced with a system that automatically admits the top 7 percent of students from every middle school in the city, based on a combination of grades and state exam scores. He also wants to expand the Discovery Program, which sets aside a certain number of seats for low-income students. According to city officials, the impact of eliminating the test would be sweeping: When the new plan is fully implemented, 45 percent of offers would go to black and Latinx students.

In response, many in the city’s Asian-American community, which is represented in lopsided numbers in the city’s specialized high schools, rose in protest. Spurred mainly by New York’s vocal Chinese-American community and alumni groups, protesters amassed outside de Blasio’s office, chanting, “Keep the test!” They claimed that the move was racist, targeting a disadvantaged minority that historically has had little clout in New York politics compared to other minorities. Their protests were quickly plastered all over the news, adding yet another layer of racial tension to the effort to fix the most segregated school system in the country.

Though the plan did not pass muster with the state legislature, it created the opening for a summer of outrage from members of the Asian community, some of it fueled by legitimate grievances (a “profound sense of powerlessness” as Jiayang Fang put it in The New Yorker), some by resentment toward other minority groups. As Kenneth Chiu, president of the New York Asian American Democratic Club and one of the most outspoken leaders against de Blasio’s plan, told NY1: “He never had this problem when Stuyvesant was all white. He never had this problem when Stuyvesant was all Jewish. All of a sudden, they see one too many Chinese and they say, ‘Hey, it isn’t right.’”

The outrage surrounding De Blasio’s plan also prompted some difficult questions: If racial integration is essential to educational equality, as many education experts believe, then are Asian-Americans an obstacle to that equality? Is the scramble for opportunity the zero-sum game that Asian activists make it out to be? And, more broadly, where do Asian-Americans fit in this city’s minority politics?

From a young age, Amy Lam knew that specialized high schools were the path she was expected to take. “I didn’t have much of a choice,” said Lam, a 17-year-old senior at Brooklyn Tech. She started preparing for the SHSAT, which tests students on English and math, in sixth grade, two full years before the test is usually taken. She attended a free program that she was accepted into in the Upper West Side, but her mother felt that wasn’t enough, so she enrolled Lam into a second, paid program in Chinatown. At that point, Lam was going to test prep every weekday after school for two hours. On Saturdays, she went to both prep classes, studying from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Lam grew up in a public housing complex in Chelsea. When her parents moved to New York City from China in the 1990s, they first worked as fruit vendors in Chinatown. Her mother, who speaks mostly Cantonese, is now a home attendant.

As we sat in the one-room office of New York’s Chinese Progressive Association, where Lam interned this summer to help register voters, she belied the stereotype of the personality-less Asian student who is interested in nothing but her studies. She was quietly confident, well-spoken, and fully aware of the politics surrounding the school she attends. She had already thought about what she might do with her life, saying that her dream college was Georgetown and that she was interested in pursuing a law career.

In Lam’s mother’s eyes, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science were the gold standard, while Brooklyn Tech was a safety school. What about other public high schools? “When I was researching high schools I would be like, ‘Hey mom there’s this good high school that’s not specialized,’” Lam said. “And she’d be like ‘Oh do you want that to be your other safety?’”

This intense focus on specialized high schools is common for New York’s Asian immigrant community. “My mom mostly talked to Asian-American moms,” Lam said. “She met them either at my test prep place, even on WeChat, and pretty much all they talked about on there was ‘Oh my son went to Bronx Science.’”

This do-or-die mentality is partly a product of New York’s labyrinthine public school system. The SHSAT offers a bright, simple path for the city’s poor Asian immigrant population, many of whom face language barriers and a dearth of accessible information. And in many of these immigrants’ ancestral countries in East Asia and South Asia, rigorous test prep is a cultural norm.

“A lot of newly arrived Asian immigrants have this erroneous idea that there are three public schools that are good and then there’s the abyss,” explained Amy Hsin, a professor of sociology at CUNY and a member of the city’s school diversity advisory group. “And we have these test prep companies who are feeding off of that fear. You see these immigrant families who don’t have a lot of money spending enormous amounts of money prepping these children to test to get into these schools.”

This deep investment is evident in the numbers: In addition to dominating Stuyvesant, Asians comprise 62 percent of the student body at Bronx Science, and 61 percent at Brooklyn Tech. New York City’s public school population itself is 16 percent Asian. (White students are also overrepresented, garnering 27 percent of offers to specialized high schools this year, despite the fact that they make up 15 percent of the city’s students.) Their outsized presence makes them wary of change, particularly since de Blasio didn’t offer Asian-American communities any kind of recompense for a proposal that would disproportionately affect them. They would just have to take the hit.

Asian-American community groups were blindsided by the mayor, whose office failed to consult them before the proposal went public. Shino Tanikawa, a school integration advocate, told me that de Blasio’s proposal was part of a depressingly familiar pattern of Asian-Americans either being lumped in with white people or brushed aside. Tanikawa agreed that the admissions system needs to be reformed, but pointed out that for de Blasio “to not even talk to any Asian community leaders before he made the announcement, it’s disrespectful. It’s another example of, what about us, do we not exist?”

Richard Carranza, New York City’s new school chancellor, made matters worse when he bluntly told a local news organization, “I just don’t buy into the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools.” And by failing to get buy-in from New York’s Asian-American community, de Blasio undermined his own project. “Those people are needed,” Mae Lee, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, told me, referring to the mainly Chinese-American contingent that is rallying against de Blasio’s plan. “We need to draw those people in more and it’s not being done.”

It didn’t help that it was easy to read de Blasio’s announcement as a cynical political move. He campaigned on integrating specialized high schools in 2013, but he let the issue languish until this summer. De Blasio has often said that his hands are tied because reforming the admissions system needs approval by the state legislature, but he also announced it less than a month before the end of the legislative session, meaning that it was almost surely going to be shunted to next year—which is exactly what ended up happening. And if he wanted to, de Blasio could re-designate five of the specialized high schools and change their admissions policies on his own.

Furthermore, the focus on specialized high schools, which make up only 6 percent of the city’s entire public high school system, fails to address the greater, systemic problem of school segregation throughout the city. “It really is a challenging issue because it ends up being a debate about a small number of schools that you can’t really have without opening up a much bigger questions about screening,” said Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation who focuses on integration policy in New York. “I’m hopeful that a year from now we can look back and say this is just one of multiple fronts that the administration has been looking at to tackle segregation.” Addressing just a few high schools out of an entire K-12 system is, in many ways, a distraction from the bigger issues.

Still, the fact remains that specialized high schools are in dire need of integration. Unless New York gets rid of elite schools altogether, which some advocates have in fact proposed, it will have to diversify them in some way. This inevitably means that Asian-Americans will have to figure out where they fit into this new reality—and, perhaps, reassess their political priorities when it comes to their kids and New York City’s school system.

Sanchez took me to a small park in Castle Hill not far from where she grew up, before she moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Morris Park with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and her three siblings. Sanchez now finally has her own bedroom, an exciting development that she told me she is definitely “still not over.” When we first started speaking, Sanchez was a little nervous, but quickly opened up about her experiences. Despite her criticisms of New York’s school system, Sanchez cheerfully pointed out all the things she loves about Stuyvesant—her peers and teachers, the fact that Tribeca is “really nice.” She told me that she wants to go to Wesleyan, but is worried about burdening her mother with the cost of tuition—a whole other educational system they’ll have to navigate.

The test’s proponents claim that the SHSAT is the only truly meritocratic method of admitting students into specialized schools, and that getting rid of it will compromise these schools’ academic integrity. This is despite the fact that the test itself has been subject to very little evaluation. In August, the education news site Chalkbeat obtained through a public records request a 2013 study from the mayor’s office that de Blasio declined to release, showing that the SHSAT is a strong predictor of academic achievement. Yet outside experts told Chalkbeat that the study didn’t answer the question of whether alternative admissions methods would admit just as strong or even better students.

Hsin, the sociology professor, told me, “If you were to put aside any concerns about goals of diversity at all and you just wanted to come up with mechanism for identifying the most talented individuals to be admitted to specialized high schools, you would never come up with the admissions policy you have now.” Grades, which are repeated measures over time, are considered better indicators of academic acumen. It’s also been shown that they are better than standardized test scores when it comes to predicting success for black and Latinx students.

And if you put aside the evidence—or lack thereof—regarding the effectiveness of the test, defending the status quo means defending the idea that admitting black and Latinx students would bring down the quality of the student body, as New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones has pointed out.

This racist principle is baked into the history of the admissions policy itself. The original bill that mandated the use of a single standardized test was passed in 1971 by state legislators in order to preempt moves by the city to try to make the specialized schools more diverse. According to Politico, state legislators at the time argued that the bill would “protect the current status and quality of specialized academic high schools in New York City.”

Sanchez told me that many of her peers at Stuyvesant have been talking about the mayor’s proposal since it came out. Common remarks that she’s heard include things like, “People aren’t being accepted because they aren’t smart” and “Stuy is ruined.” I asked her how she feels when she hears those responses. Sanchez paused for a beat, then said, “I think it’s just insensitive to think that way.”

Asians in America have long sat at the messy crux where minority politics and education meet. They are often the poster-children of conservative attempts to roll back affirmative action and integration, despite being some of these policies’ biggest beneficiaries. The model minority myth—the idea that Asians are successful because they have better values and work harder than other minorities—is pervasive, and often used as a cudgel by whites against black and Latinx Americans for their supposedly wayward values and lax worth ethic.

The sight of Asian-Americans marching against integration efforts in New York City plays into these storylines. It is why Donald Trump’s Justice Department is siding with Asian-American students challenging affirmative action programs at Harvard, which they say discriminate against them by privileging less qualified students.

How did they reach this point? For one, because most of the Asian adult population are immigrants, they lack a lived understanding of America’s racial history. Asians have been excluded by this country’s racist immigration policies (see: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), but they have also benefited from the loosening of immigration laws in 1965 that brought in more highly educated Asian immigrants. Those trends are set to accelerate: The foreign-born population in the U.S. is at a record high thanks to Asians, according to new Census data, and more Asians with college degrees are expected to emigrate to the country in coming years.

There is also the glaring fact that Asian-Americans—who hail from a vast continent composed of different cultures and ethnicities—are far from a unified group. In fact, a survey by AAPI Data, a policy research site, shows that the Asian-American opposition to affirmative action is almost entirely driven by Chinese-Americans.

Historically, Chinese-Americans have been on both sides of the civil rights divide. OiYan Poon, a professor at Colorado State University, noted two examples that should have resonance for Asian-Americans involved in the ongoing controversies surrounding minority rights and education. First was the case of Gong Lum, a Chinese immigrant who lived in the Jim Crow South in the 1920s. When Lum’s daughter was placed in a colored school, he sued, trying to get his daughter into the local white school. Lum lost the case in Supreme Court, but the battle he chose to fight—securing the privileges of whiteness for his daughter, rather than against a racist system—is instructive. “You can imagine how that case could have been a different possibility,” Poon pointed out. “It could have been Brown vs. Board of Education. Instead Gong Lum argued, ‘We want to be white.’”

Poon juxtaposed this approach with the 1974 Supreme Court case Lau v. Nichols, in which Chinese students who weren’t fluent in English had been recently integrated into the San Francisco Unified School District, which wasn’t providing them with English language instruction. The parents of Kinney Kinmon Lau, along with other non-English-speaking Chinese parents, argued that their Fourteenth Amendment rights were being violated since their children did not have equal educational opportunities. They won the case and secured the right to supplemental language education for non-English speaking minorities across the board. In collaboration with the Latinx community, Poon explained, the Chinese community was able to “push for systemic transformation and totally new possibilities.”

In New York today, members of the Asian community have lined up behind a system that results in blatant racial disparities. And they are doing so without examining the costs this system extracts, alongside the clear benefits it provides to a select few. The SHSAT effectively functions as a tax on poor Asian immigrants, both in terms of the actual dollars spent on prep courses as well as the years of childhood spent studying for a test that has little real-world relevance. “Thirteen- and 14-year olds don’t want to spend a lot of their sixth and seventh grade locked up in a classroom on weekends preparing for this dumb test,” Jade Wong, a daughter of Chinese immigrants and a senior at Brooklyn Tech, told me.

Lam said that when her mother found out about de Blasio’s plan, even she acknowledged that “maybe now certain students can focus more on their grades in middle school, focus into getting into a high school they would actually like to go, that they won’t have to study hours and hours to get into.” Potter, the education policy researcher, pointed out that in Brooklyn’s 15th District, which is going through a similar debate about integration and screening, she found that even advocates of screening recognized that the system felt broken. “If we started with this premise around specialized high schools,” Potter said, “we would find many folks in the Asian American community for whom that would resonate.”

In a broader sense, these specialized schools not only fail the black and Latinx community, but cannot even serve the vast bulk of the disadvantaged Asian-American community. Forgotten in the debate are the Asian children who are turned away; the ones who get in, but then struggle with mental health issues; the ones who would have flourished in different or more diverse schools.

Despite media headlines that might indicate otherwise, the city’s Asian-American community—which, again, includes an impossible multitude of ethnicities and immigrant experiences—is far from unified in opposition to the mayor’s plan. In July, a group of Asian-American alumni from specialized high schools published an op-ed that called for reform of the admissions process, writing, “Asian Americans ought to stand in solidarity with all marginalized communities by advocating for equity in the educational opportunities and outcomes of all New York City students.” That same week, Asian-Pacific American community groups released a statement arguing that “diverse and inclusive school environments are beneficial to all students” and that the city needs to “address inequities in education across Pre-K through 12th grade and examine current processes and admission policies.”

Barring action from politicians, Asian parents will also have to be convinced that there are alternative paths to success in this country, and that the binary of “test or no test” is failing all minorities in one way or another. As Lam put it to me, “It would benefit parents to know that it doesn’t have to be this way.”


By            :               Clio Chang

Date         :               September 24, 2018

Source     :               The New Republic


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

China Must Solve Urban-Rural Divide to Solve Income Inequality


On Sept. 20, the International Monetary Fund  painted a stark portrait of income inequality in China, with officials writing in a blog post that “More than two decades of spectacular economic growth in China have raised incomes dramatically and lifted millions of people out of poverty. But growth hasn’t benefited all segments of the population equally. In fact, China has moved from being moderately unequal in 1990 to being one of the world’s most unequal countries.”

The IMF’s statistics show that the post-tax, post-transfer Gini Index – with 0 indicating absolute equal income distribution while 100 indicates total unequal income distribution – has risen by about 15 points since 1990 to hit about 50 of the 100 scale in 2015.

That surge makes China stand out in two regards. First, the indicator is calculated after taxes and transfers – meaning it represents the income distribution of the country after everything the government has done to try to narrow the gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots. Second, the unrelenting rise in income inequality in China outpaces the average of five ASEAN countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – as well as the average for the OECD, comprising 36 countries including many of the world’s most advanced countries but also emerging countries like Mexico, Chile and Turkey.

The IMF attributes a significant part of the rise in income inequality in China to its urban-rural divide, which for example is exhibited in lower educational attainment in the rural areas. One inference flowing from such a result might be that the rural areas won’t benefit as much from an increase in jobs that require higher skills even though such changes in labor market opportunities are made accessible for those in the rural areas.

As indicated in the OECD’s 2017 economic survey of China, income inequality in the rural areas in China is consistently higher than that in the urban areas. This oft-neglected aspect of the rural-urban divide can be illustrated by comparing the ratio of disposable income of the top 20 percent over that of the bottom 20 percent of the rural areas against the same ratio of the urban areas. The higher the ratio goes, the more income inequality there is.

In 2005 and 2010, the ratio was higher than 7 in rural areas but lower than 6 in urban areas. In 2015, the ratio rose to over 8 in the rural areas and fell to slightly above 5 in the urban areas. One interpretation is that not only is income inequality a bigger problem in the rural areas than in the urban areas but the problem is also getting bigger and bigger.

To shrink the growing gulf between rich and the poor, China thus needs not only more progressive tax and transfer policies but also policies that can significantly alter the urban-rural dynamics. Despite Beijing’s apparent efforts to slow the rise in income inequality by raising the minimum wage along with the minimum threshold for income taxes, the IMF warned “inequality is likely to rise further without additional policy changes.”

One idea the IMF floated in the blog post is to make the tax and transfer system more progressive, i.e. those who earn more and have more will be asked to pay more. “China could rely more on the personal income tax and less on regressive consumption taxes,” the IMF notes. “The design of personal income taxes and social security taxes could be made more progressive. And there is also room to further increase spending on social services, especially in rural areas, reducing inequality even more.”

The OECD, in discussing measures to generate more tax revenues in its 2017 economic survey of China, has offered a glimpse of what can be done: “Potential sources of revenue include a more progressive personal income tax, and more comprehensive taxation of income beyond wages (including rent and other types of income) as well as a recurrent tax on immovable property and an inheritance tax. There is also ample room to raise environmental taxes. A fairer tax system would help reduce income and wealth inequalities and make growth more inclusive”.

The big picture is clear. Based on what the IMF and the OECD say, if China wants to tackle income inequality, a more progressive tax-and-transfer system will be needed – more tax revenue will need to be raised, and the revenue will need to be used to fund more expenditures to bolster social protection. As shown by the Asian Development Bank, China’s social protection expenditures have been hovering around 5 percent of GDP since 2008 and rose to 6.5 percent in 2012, only to fall back to 4.2 percent in 2013.

The income inequality fix seems straightforward but no doubt it’s easier said than done. Those who live in China’s megacities in contrast with those living in small rural villages appear to be living in parallel universes. In order to take on the urban-rural divide, how about tax the rich in the urban areas a lot more and at the same time spend on the poor in the rural areas a lot more? That would make the tax-and-transfer system more progressive, but to start with, any change to China’s tax system would draw criticism. Some would consider any tax cut as too timid while others would consider any tax increase too risky.

But even if the barriers of inertia to fiscal policy changes could be overcome, are all obstacles blocking China’s possible very long march toward less income inequality cleared? How to figure that out anyway?

If an unprecedented bridging of the urban-rural divide could be done, there might be hope for economic justice. However, it’s a long and winding road to even just develop substantial longitudinal data to explore a topic like this further. To illustrate the point, this is how researchers including Thomas Piketty talked about the needs for reliable data about China: “An income tax has been in place since 1980, but until recently no detailed tax statistics were available, so that scholars had to rely on household surveys based upon self-reported information.”

They have embarked on this journey to develop useful data for informative analysis. But given the starting point there will be such a daunting amount of work to be done, not the same but in spirit analogous to tackling the urban-rural divide in China.


Thaddeus Hwong is an Associate Professor at York University, Canada. Hwong (@policyquests) aspires to contribute to our understanding of advocacy and mobilization for redistribution through progressive taxation and public expenditures.


By            :               Thaddeus Wong

Date         :               October 3, 2018

Source     :               Asian Sentinel


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

The danger of rising income inequalities


Inequality is “the defining challenge of our time,” former US President Obama said in 2013. Last week at a conference in Kigali Rwanda, participants revisited these words to expound on the danger of rising inequalities, which were said to be opening Africa to new vulnerabilities, including possible domination. Like a nagging pain that keeps on recurring, income inequality remains a major challenge in our time.

Many African countries, including Kenya, form the leading pack of countries with the highest income disparity. In spite of the fact that this is a serious economic issue in the country’s endeavour for sustained stability for economic progress, it is virtually never addressed.

Yet we know that although inequality manifests physically, it also does the same in the digital space where those who control online content influence behaviour and actions.

It is perhaps why the issues of social justice as a mitigating factor of inequality are never brought to the fore. At the Kigali conference, Prof. Laura Czerniewicz of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, University of Cape Town, said in her presentation that what happens online shapes and augments what happens in the physical world; power dynamics online echo, refract and reshape global socio-cultural dynamics; in a knowledge society, what counts as valid legitimate knowledge is increasingly determined online (if its not online it does not exist), and the material world is produced and reinforced by online language, content and algorithms.

Prof. Czerniewicz was reinforcing why Africa needs Nancy Fraser’s concept of “participatory parity” that seeks to address disparity. It does so through arrangements, which enable all to participate in, and be represented, as equals in the inextricably interconnected virtual and material worlds. In reality this never happens since the creators of content shape the global socio-cultural dynamics.

The tragedy is the fact that Africa, a major consumer of online content, contributes less than one percent of the content and there is no where to validate such content for information hungry, online dependent citizens. New language translation algorithms are being developed sometimes without the input of the native speakers.

Africa has opened herself to serious manipulation by those who control content across platforms. The solution is not running away from online but to reflect on the past and think about a future without the culture. Prof. Czerniewicz warned that the algorithms whose products we have come to love are not neutral.

They are designed by humans with existing biases and assumptions, reflect existing beliefs, are built on existing educational practices and have become engines of value risking exacerbating and accelerating inequalities and privilege.

The emerging digital platform economy is yet to be understood. Although some of these digital platforms are mega companies, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Salesforce, Alibaba and Uber their disruption especially on matters taxation and redefinition of corporate structure remain a thorny issue across the world.

These persistent disruptions are coming as the world ushers in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In it, we Africa shall either leapfrog or falter into oblivion, and that is perhaps why at the conference, we had a lively mock debate and the motion was “This House believes Africa has nothing to fear from a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and should seize the opportunity it represents.

”In the end, the motion was defeated owing to the fact that the continent may enter into new age of exploitation by western enterprises in control of these frightening new technologies. However, there must be a concerted African strategy to encourage growth of innovations from the continent and become participants rather than just consumers of Western technologies

Bottom line; Africa needs to invest in education and build human resource capacity to comprehensively deal with income inequalities as a mitigation measure for the emerging radical changes on how we socialize, work, compete for the share of profits and create value in the economy.

In the absence of this, Africa remains vulnerable to manipulation by others for years to come. Africa must therefore discard AU’s Vision 2063 and leverage on SDGs to make leaders accountable soon and not when they are dead.


Bitange Ndemo is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.


By            :               Bitange Ndemo

Date         :               October 7, 2018

Source     :               The New Times


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

The human instinct to embrace inequality


Some of the world’s democracies have little difficulty introducing systems that are specifically designed to be unequal.


A SECRETLY stupendously rich man falls in love with a poor girl. His mother declares her a gold-digger. Much gnashing of teeth ensues. Beyond its simple romcom plot, however, the film Crazy Rich Asians has a less palatable aspect to its story: inequality and our apparent acceptance of it. For all the indigestible wealth on awkward display, the film attracted much praise and positive interest from critics and audiences alike, despite it being so far removed from the hoi polloi.

As far back as October 2013, then-US President Barack Obama called rising inequality and the lack of upward mobility in society “the defining challenge of our time”. More recently, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was even more blunt in a parliamentary speech. “We must discourage people from flaunting their social advantages,” he said. “We should frown upon those who go for ostentatious displays of wealth and status, or worse, look down on others less well-off and privileged.”

Social imbalance and inequality is a problem that continues to plague human society in the 21st century. And the gulf between the haves and have-nots cannot be starker than in Asia. According to a BBC news article, the Asia-Pacific is now home to the greatest number of millionaires and billionaires in the world, yet it also hosts about two-thirds of the global working poor. The region’s income Gini coefficient, a number that measures inequality from 0 (most equal) to 1 (most unequal), rose from 0.37 to 0.48 between 1990 and 2014. In 2017, 79 per cent of the wealth created in China went to its top 1 per cent, who now hold almost half of the country’s accumulated wealth.


The bedevilment of inequality manifests itself in today’s intellectual heroes and political rock stars. A mere 25 years ago, Thomas Piketty and his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century would have been branded “communist” for recommending that governments adopt a global tax on wealth – to prevent soaring inequality contributing to economic or political instability – and banned in many a country. Similarly, just 15 years ago, Bernie Sanders’s socialist election platform would not have posed a challenge to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

Instead, Piketty has been anointed to celebrity status and politicians railing against social inequality are lauded as progressive. Income inequality is no longer a tired shibboleth trotted out by hippy socialists. That is because ever-increasing inequality has fostered a greater distrust of politicians, governments and corporate leaders, whose promises of better times ahead seem never to materialise. In extreme cases, this has resulted in populism and the embracing of demagogues.

1,888 years ago, Roman Emperors kept the common people in check by providing entertainment in the form of gladiatorial contests and chariot races, and distributing free bread. The act of hurling loaves into the heaving masses is, however, no longer an option for the governing class. So in its place, politicians feed the voting public a diet of commitments to affordable medical care, housing and education, assuring them of rising incomes and “decent paying jobs” for the “middle class”.



One would have thought that amid all this hand-wringing about inequality, humans would naturally reject measures or initiatives that derogate from the fundamental principle of egalitarianism. There is evidence to suggest the contrary.

The economies of some of the most enlightened and democratic countries appear to have little difficulty introducing systems that are specifically designed to be unequal. Take, for instance, dual-class shares, in which holders of a special class of shares have a larger number of votes per share. All the major stock exchanges embrace dual-class shares as a necessary component of the market. No politician in a democratically elected government of today would dare to suggest such a system of electoral voting; yet a clearly differentiated and class-based voting system is seen as defensible, even justifiable, in profit-driven companies.

In our modern age where governments struggle to control information circulation and sharing, almost a quarter of the world’s population live under an authoritarian regime, absolute monarch or military government without even the basic right to vote. Significantly, a good majority of this 25 per cent exhibit little overt ambition to change the status quo. Another 12 per cent of the people in the world continue to accept the imposition of a caste system. Unsurprisingly, many of the countries where these occur have very high levels of income inequality.

The issue does not seem to be one of simple indifference. On the contrary, our species seems to have an unhealthy, almost primordial, attraction to inequality and celebrating it. Like the proverbial moth drawn to fire, our modern and informed society seems entranced by enshrining differentiations, class and inequality, or at least not wrestling against them. Think about the success of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Real Housewives of New York, and the constant fascination with toppled politicians’ wives and their treasure troves of luxury goodies.

Perhaps Pope Francis expressed it best in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” when he wrote: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

All may not be lost. That the conversation about inequality continues and occupies such a significant part of our current narrative is a sure sign that the issue remains in focus. Maybe our present-day obsession with how the one-percenters live, fed by constant Internet updates, and the constant refrain about inequality, will ultimately see lasting adjustments to society that allow the “Top One” to co-exist peacefully with the middle class without any significant ructions. One can always be hopeful. After all, Rachel and Nick did get engaged in Crazy Rich Asians.


By : Derek Loh
Date : September 4, 2018
Source : Business Times

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