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Why the media is a key dimension of global inequality

 

Every day, much of humanity now holds in its hands the means to connect and be connected across the world: to family, entertainment and the broadcasts of corporations, states and, increasingly, terrorist organisations such as Islamic State.

This connected world has major implications for social progress and global justice, but so too do the media and information infrastructures on which that world depends.

The project of “networking the world” is more than two centuries old.

While it has always been the project of states, it has increasingly become the preserve of some of the world’s largest corporations including Facebook, Google and, less well known in the West, China’s Tencent and Baidu.

Profit, freedom and inequality

Just as economic models rooted in markets and consumption are expanding into ever more world regions and intruding into ever more domains of everyday life, so corporate logics are colonising media and digital platforms.

Take education as one example: concerns are developing regarding school learning materials increasingly provided not by the state but by commercial media companies such as Apple and Google.

More recently, Facebook faced civil society opposition in India when it sought to introduce its Free Basics platform as a default means of internet access for less affluent populations.

However, the same move has gone unopposed in African countries facing greater resource challenges.

Market forces have appropriated the design, regulation and pricing of the platforms we use to connect, portray the world around us, express our political allegiances and even forge our visions for the future (as explored, for instance, in tech evangelist Kevin Kelly’s work).

Profound inequalities

Particularly in the Global North but also the Global South, the information networks and communication protocols that underlie media infrastructures are designed and operated by private, corporate entities.

Direct technical authority over networks and protocols gives these entities an authority that is inherently regulatory.

Global platform companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple – each of which occupies a dominant market position globally – enjoy correspondingly stronger and more pervasive regulatory power. Yet these platforms have so far been driven by only one goal: profit.

The story of expanding global media networks is often told as if they spread freedom everywhere, liberally and evenly. But when we ask freedom for whom, the tale gets more complex.

There are profound inequalities in basic media access within nations and among continents. While global elites may be better connected everywhere, the same is not true of those who work for them. Media systems offer tremendous communication resources to people who can function in Western languages, are able-bodied and have the necessary buying power.

Unfortunately, in Colombia, a home internet connection costs 20% (US$48) of the minimum wage (US$217/month), putting it out of reach for a domestic worker.

Justina, a full-time domestic worker in the city of Barranquilla, told us in a recent interview that she must instead buy a $1 Tigo prepaid card at the corner store that gives her access to precarious internet for only 48 hours at at time.

The inequalities are even greater in media production. Even if a smartphone gives migrants an image of the country they hope to reach, they will most likely lack the ability to influence how their arrival will be represented.

Our media representations of the world’s problems are drawn from a very narrow pool of perspectives. Subsequently, our media systems showcase certain voices while marginalising others, especially people of colour, differently abled people, migrants, women and girls.

From Hollywood, where 96.6% of all directors are male and only 7% of films are racially balanced, to digital platforms where elites find new ways to gain a following, the media shows us a world as lived only by a few. The public conversation about access needs to consider how opportunities for content creation and visibility can be shared more widely.

It is a myth that rural communities, Indigenous people and the Global South are not interested in media and the digital world, but sadly our current media infrastructures carry little – if any – input from these large sections of humanity.

What if media infrastructure and digital platforms were designed with communities’ diverse languages, needs and resources in mind?

The results have the potential to be transformative, as when the Talea de Castro Indigenous community in southern Mexico designed Rhizomatica Administration Interface (RAI), a graphic interface for a local cellphone network responsive to local information needs, languages and modes of communication.

Much more often, however, the algorithmic mechanisms that shape what is available to users of digital platforms are driven exclusively by an advertising logic that undermines diversity and reproduces the social capital of those with power.

Two principles for reform

Media and information regulation shows a more subtle, but equally powerful inequality. National and multinational regulatory bodies from the mass media era are struggling to adapt in the age of smartphones and tablets.

Content delivery’s increasing shift to mobile devices gives corporations, not states, the dominant influence over what can be watched, when and by whom. Consequently, it is corporations, not regulators, that now set the parameters of what can be received on what device, and by what means.

The problem is that the regulation of media and digital platforms is too important to cede to a few powerful organisations that make decisions, implement policy and design online architectures behind closed doors. Instead, transparency and greater civic participation should be the guiding principles of internet governance, policy and regulatory frameworks.

Crucial to this is the internet’s capacity for surveillance – not just when we buy goods and services online, but also in ordinary social interaction.

The increasing dependence of all communication flows gives corporate networks the ability to use and reuse the resulting data to make algorithmic discriminations between consumers and citizens.

In many parts of the world and for large parts of the population, everyday life routinely involves online access to a wide variety of purveyors of news, information and popular culture, as well as search engines, social networking platforms and other content aggregators that seek to help users find, organise and make sense of it all.

While access to these resources may be offered at no financial cost to users on an advertiser-supported basis, consumers often pay a price in the form of the automated collection of information about their personal reading, viewing and listening habits. This information can be used for surveillance and censorship, or to target advertising and suggest content more likely to appeal to each user.

Such surveillance has so far been largely beyond public regulation, yet this new ability to deeply modulate how the social world appears to us has not escaped national governments’ notice, for example in China, India and the United States.

It is undeniable that the media’s rapidly changing infrastructure offers huge opportunities for those campaigning for social progress to connect, act and challenge the significant inequalities that underlie media systems themselves.

We propose two principles to guide this expanding struggle.

The first is that media cannot effectively contribute to social progress until opportunities for access and participation in the production and development of media content are more widely shared. The second is that media infrastructure is a common good whose governance and design should be much more open to democratic engagement than currently.

Ignore these principles, and the world’s visions of social progress will be less effective and far less diverse. Start to take these principles seriously, and the global struggle for social justice becomes both deeper and more open to the hopes of populations long ignored.

 

By: Nick Couldry and Clemencia Rodriguez
Date: November 28, 2016
Source: The Conversation
https://theconversation.com/why-the-media-is-a-key-dimension-of-global-inequality-69084

 

Nick Couldry Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory, London School of Economics and Political Science
Clemencia Rodriguez, Professor of Media Studies, Temple University

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Inequality Among Women Is Crucial to Understanding Hillary’s Loss

 

Working-class women who voted for Trump tell us a lot about feminism’s relationship to class politics.

Attempts to explain what the hell happened on Tuesday have been coming fast and furious. Hillary Clinton was touted by her supporters as the most qualified candidate ever to run for president. How could she have possibly lost to a buffoon who is not only a political novice but also a despicable bully, nasty racist, world-class grifter, and deranged sex criminal?

Racism was certainly an important factor. A slew of studies have found that Trump supporters rack up high scores on measures of racial resentment. Sexism, too, is part of the story. Hillary Clinton was subjected to a nonstop barrage of ugly misogynist attacks by Trump, his supporters, and users of social media. No wonder the gender gap—24 points—was the largest in the history of presidential elections. And if you still question whether racism and misogyny played a significant role in this election, the many frightening acts of violence and harassment aimed at women and people of color that have occurred in the wake of Trump’s victory should quell any remaining doubts.

But as is the case with every election, Tuesday’s outcome was multi-causal. I would like to identify an additional culprit: economic inequality, or more specifically, economic inequality among women. Women of color supported Clinton by wide margins–understandably so, because the Democrats have historically cared a lot more about their interests than the Republicans have.White women, however, flocked to Trump by a substantial margin and were crucial to his victory. Yet not all white women supported Trump: There was a yawning class divide in their vote. One widely used proxy for the working class is adults who lack a college degree. And while white women who are college-educated supported Hillary over Trump by 6 points, their white, non–college educated counterparts chose Trump by a margin of 28 points. That added up to a cavernous class gap among this group—34 points, 10 points more than that record-setting gender gap.

Class differences among women are an all but taboo subject. But scholars such as Leslie McCall have found that economic inequality among women is just as large, and has been growing just as fast, as economic inequality among men.This economic divide among women has created one of the most significant fault lines in contemporary feminism. That’s because professional-class women, who have reaped a disproportionate share of feminism’s gains, have dominated the feminist movement, and the social distance between them and their less privileged sisters is wide and growing wider. In the decades since the dawn of the second wave, educated women gained access to high-status jobs, but working-class women experienced declining wages and (because of the rise of divorce and single parenthood among the working class) shouldered an increasingly heavy burden of care. Yet mainstream feminist groups and pundits have consistently stressed the social and cultural issues that are most important to affluent women, while marginalizing the economic concerns of the female masses.

The class divisions between women came to a head in the 2016 election, when Big Feminism failed women, big-time. Mainstream feminists sold women a bill of goods, arguing that the election of a woman president would improve the lot of women as a class. Echoing Sheryl Sandberg’s dubious thesis, they claimed that leadership by women will as a matter of course produce gains for all women—though actually, the social science evidence for this claim is mixed at best. There was also a lot of talk about how having a woman president would “normalize” female power.

But if you’re a woman living paycheck to paycheck and worried sick over the ever-diminishing economic prospects for you and your children, you’re unlikely to be heavily invested in whether some lady centimillionaire will shatter the ultimate glass ceiling. Exacerbating the problem is that Clinton, the person whom feminists blithely assumed that working-class women would deeply identify with (because after all, didn’t they?) was such a painfully flawed candidate. In addition to a political record littered with betrayals of women, people of color, labor, and other key constituencies, she showed arrogance and terrible judgment by giving the Wall Street speeches and setting up her own State Department e-mail server. That was gross political malpractice.

Some of Clinton’s policy proposals were strong, especially her plans for paid family leave and expanded child care. But Clinton never found a way to craft a compelling message that persuaded people that she cared about people like them. It’s telling that she seemed far more relaxed and comfortable making speeches to Wall Street plutocrats than she ever was on a campaign trail. Also problematic was her campaign slogan, the fangurl-ish “I’m With Her.” Why not something more inclusive and democratic, like, say “She’s With Us”? In addition, in this moment of high populism, her many appearances with glitzy celebrities like Lena Dunham and Katy Perry did not help.

Indeed, Clinton’s failings as a candidate are among the reasons I’m not so sure that voter sexism determined the outcome of the election (though it surely played a role). It’s more likely that what ultimately did her in was not her gender but her failure to connect with voters. It’s easy to imagine other Democratic women, most notably the populist Democratic firebrand Elizabeth Warren, killing it this election. Unlike Hillary, Warren has the virtue of not being one of the architects of the failed policies of the past (NAFTA, Wall Street deregulation, etc.) that helped create the profound economic dislocation that so many working-class voters have suffered.

The destruction that Bill Clinton’s policies wrought in now-depressed rural areas in battleground states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania came back to haunt Hillary. The residents of those regions, who are largely white and working class, have been ravaged by the abandonment of major industries and the social and economic ills that followed in its wake: record low levels of labor-force participation, downward mobility, drug epidemics, and more. In his reporting from Rust Belt cities in southwestern Ohio and eastern Kentucky, the journalist Alec MacGillis has described “the general aura of decline that hangs over towns in which medical-supply stores and pawn shops dominate decrepit main streets, and Victorians stand crumbling, unoccupied.” The social and economic unraveling in these left-behind places is particularly acutely felt when compared to America’s coastal cities, which are soaring ahead. Rising regional inequality was surely one of the driving factors in this election, as it was for Brexit.

In these white working-class communities, it is the women who have experienced some of the worst hardships. You may have heard of that famous studythat showed that showed an unprecedented decline in longevity among white Americans who lack college degrees. But most media reports missed a crucial point: As the statistician Andrew Gelman pointed out, “Since 2005, mortality rates have increased among women in this group but not men.” And in addition to economic insecurity and rising mortality rates, working-class women have suffered from another indignity: invisibility. During the campaign, there was a blizzard of articles about the concerns of elite Republican women and white working-class men, but practically nothing about female members of the working class. Tamara Draut, one of the few journalists who bothered to talk to working-class women, zeroed in on the pain they feel about their marginalization:

In my dozens of interviews with working class women across the country, a common refrain has echoed: They feel invisible in our politics, our economy and our culture. They feel that our political leaders don’t care about their struggles or their aspirations—from the daily grind of balancing work and caregiving to the dream of giving their children a better future through college, without saddling them with crippling debt.

Since the election on Tuesday, all over social media and the mainstream media, liberals have been issuing hysterical denunciations of the white working class. But their tantrums over the “deplorables” will only help feed the monster of right-wing populist backlash. As Alec MacGillis tweeted, “Can’t overstate how much anti-big media scorn’s driving this [support for Trump].” The white working class is keenly aware that liberal elites despise them, thank you very much. And one thing elitist liberals overlook is that the white working-class racism they rightly abhor is itself exacerbated by a failing economy (studies have shown that racism flourishes during bad economic times).

If we want to end this nightmare and defeat Trumpism once and for all, we need to figure out how to win these voters back. It’s not like we have a choice. Working-class whites are approximately one-third of the electorate. The Democrats will not be able to win national elections without peeling off more of their votes. Obviously, progressives should never make appeals to these voters’ racism and sexism (leave that to the Republicans). But we do have at least one powerful basis for common ground: economics.

White working-class women appear to be more open than men are to progressive appeals (62 percent of them voted for Trump, as opposed to 72 percent of their male counterparts). That suggests that the most promising path forward would be to agitate for a robust economic agenda focused on women’s needs: a $15 minimum wage, universal child care and pre-K, paid family leave, free college, and tough laws that crack down on wage theft and guarantee fair scheduling and equal pay for women. One of the strengths of such an agenda is that its appeal is hardly limited to women. In our brave new economy, increasing numbers of men now labor under the kinds of precarious working conditions—low wages, minimal benefits, little if any security—that have traditionally characterized women’s employment. Policies like these would help the men, too. They would not be not just righteous, but politically pragmatic.

But it’s not only the Democratic Party that is badly in need of reform. The feminist movement, too, needs to reorient itself. Feminists would be well-advised to ease up on pop culture navel-gazing and corporate pseudo-feminist drivel like Lean In. They need to shift their central focus from the glass ceiling to the sticky floor, which, after all, is the place where most women dwell. And should feminism once again become a vibrant bottom-up mass movement instead of a top-down elite concern, there’s no telling how far it could go.

By: Kathleen Geier
Date: November 11, 2016
Source: The Nation
https://www.thenation.com/article/inequality-between-women-is-crucial-to-understanding-hillarys-loss/

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She has written for The Washington Monthly, Salon, Reuters, and other publications.

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What Supermarkets Reveal About Inequality

 

By 2050, the United States is expected to be roughly 46% white, 30% Hispanic, and 12% black, according to Rice University’s Hobby Center for the Study of Texas.

Meanwhile Texas’ own demographics are ahead of the curve, clocking in at 45% white, 38% Hispanic, and 12% black back in 2010.

But despite that diversity, historically, sociologists and others who study inequality have focused largely on disparities between just two groups, whites and blacks.

A new study co-written by Kinder Institute researchers and published in the journal Race and Social Problems suggests that that method is likely outdated, given the shifting demographics of the country. Too often, the discussion leaves out the huge, and growing, Hispanic population group.

The typical black-white way of studying inequality may have “outlived its relevance” and needs to be reassessed, write Kinder Institute Research Fellow Heather O’Connell, Rice University Associate Sociology Professor Jenifer Bratter and Lester King, a researcher with the Houston Sustainability Indicators Project at Rice University in the paper titled “Community Resources in a Diverse City: Supermarket Location and Emerging Racial Hierarchies.”

Focusing on access to supermarkets in Houston, the researchers assessed how Houston’s large Hispanic population fit into the better-documented black-white disparities.

Houston’s demographic transformation provided the perfect testing ground. The city transitioned “from an essentially biracial Southern city into the single most ethnically and culturally diverse large metropolitan region in the nation,” as the Kinder Houston Area Survey puts it. The city is roughly 44% Hispanic, 26% white, 23% black, and 6% Asian, according to the latest census estimates.

Supermarket access has consistently served as a “symbol of neighborhood quality and community-investment,” the report explains. Others agree. The Houston Grocery Access Task Force, convened by the city as a public-private response to inequalities, has also highlighted supermarkets’ connections to community health, housing values, and employment opportunities.

“Many communities that are underserved by supermarkets also lack other important amenities and services needed to attract and retain retail investment, such as sidewalks, lighting, and good transportation networks,” a 2012 report from the task force concluded.

In their analysis, the Rice University researchers focused on large grocery stores that had a payroll of at least 50 workers, chain name recognition, and at least $2 million in annual sales. That approach often excludes smaller stores and ethnic markets, they acknowledged, but was consistent with efforts to examine whether an area was receiving significant external investment.

They found that white-black disparities persisted when it came to supermarket access, “even after accounting for local differences in economic composition.”

“Increasing racial (and) ethnic diversity, even in Houston, is not erasing the social consequences of race in our society,” said O’Connell.

But the report also found a more detailed breakdown of disadvantage in what it described as a “tri-racial system.”

Using data from the American Community Survey, the 2010 census and 2010 business listings of big-name supermarkets, the researchers categorized neighborhoods by the racial/ethnic majority in each areas, as well as the second-largest racial or ethnic group. They would up with pairings like white-Asian or Hispanic-black.

Overall, roughly half of Houston’s block groups are within a half-mile of a supermarket. But, because of clustering, they’re not evenly spread throughout the city. “This clustering leaves some areas of the city with relatively less investment, particularly when comparing the southern and northeastern portions of the city with the northwestern corner of the city,” the authors explain.

That’s where the neighborhood categories come in. The most consistent predictor of a neighborhood not having access to a supermarket is the size of its black population. Communities that were majority white with Asians as the second-most populous group were the most likely to have a supermarket within walking distance. They were followed by Hispanic majority neighborhoods that had a sizable Asian population, then by neighborhoods with no majority.

The researchers identified these three types of neighborhoods as the most advantaged in terms of supermarket access. At the bottom of the list were black-Hispanic, white-black, and black-white communities.

After controlling for median income, population and land size, intersection density, percentage of people with a college degree, and the concentration of retail jobs, the researchers found that 80% of neighborhoods with a majority of white residents followed by Asian residents were expected to have a supermarket within one half-mile, compared to only 30% of neighborhoods with a majority of black residents followed by white residents.

In the middle, the researchers found a third tier of stratification for largely Hispanic communities. The findings also point to substantial differences even among majority white spaces. So, while a neighborhood dominated by white and Asian populations is most likely to have a supermarket nearby, a white-majority neighborhood where black residents made up the second largest group is one of the least likely to have a supermarket within a half-mile.

“What this tri-racial system tells us is that social stratification is happening along multiple racial and ethnic lines and to somewhat differing degrees depending on the group,” said O’Connell.

By: Leah Binkovitz
Date: November 28, 2016
Source: Rivard Report
https://therivardreport.com/what-supermarkets-reveal-about-inequality/

 This story was originally published by The Kinder Institute for Urban Research, a multi-disciplinary “think-and-do tank” housed on the Rice University campus in central Houston, focusing on urban issues in Houston, the American Sun Belt, and around the world.

Leah Binkovitz is a staff writer for the Kinder Institute and its Urban Edge blog. She previously covered Fort Bend County for the Houston Chronicle. Before that, she was a journalism fellow in Washington, D.C., where she reported for the Washington Post and NPR. Binkovitz earned her bachelor’s degree from University of California — Berkeley and her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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How Inequality Found a Political Voice

 

MILAN – It took a long time for widening inequality to have an impact on politics, as it suddenly has done in recent years. Now that it is a central issue, national economic priorities will need to shift substantially to create more equitable, inclusive economies and societies. If they do not, people could embrace explosive alternatives to their current governments, such as the populist movements now sweeping many countries.

Political leaders often speak of growth patterns that unfairly distribute the benefits of growth; but then they do relatively little about it when they are in power. When countries go down the path of non-inclusive growth patterns, it usually results in disrespect for expertise, disillusionment with the political system and shared cultural values, and even greater social fragmentation and polarization.

Acknowledging the importance of how economic benefits are distributed is of course not new. In developing countries, economic exclusion and extreme inequality have always been unconducive to long-term high-growth patterns. Under these conditions, pro-growth policies are politically unsustainable, and they are ultimately disrupted by political dislocations, social unrest, or even violence.

In the United States, rising inequality has been a fact of life at least since the 1970s, when the relatively equitable distribution of economic benefits from the early post-World War II era started to become skewed. In the late 1990s, when digital technologies began to automate and disintermediate more routine jobs, the shift toward higher wealth and income inequality became turbocharged.

Globalization played a role. In the 20 years before the 2008 financial crisis, manufacturing employment in the US rapidly declined in every sector except pharmaceuticals, even as added value in manufacturing rose. Net jobs loss was kept roughly at zero only because employment in services increased.

In fact, much of the added value in manufacturing actually comes from services such as product design, research and development, and marketing. So, if we account for this value-chain composition, the decline in manufacturing – the production of tangible goods – is even more pronounced.

Economists have been tracking these trends for some time. Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist David Autor and his colleagues have carefully documented the impact of globalization and labor-saving digital technologies on routine jobs. More recently, French economist Thomas Piketty’s international bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, dramatically widened our awareness of wealth inequality and described possible underlying forces driving it. The brilliant, award-winning young economists Raj Chetty and Emmanuel Saez have enriched the discussion with new research. And I have written about some of the structural economic shifts associated with these problems.

Eventually, journalists picked up on these trends, too, and it would now be hard to find anyone who has not heard of the “1%” – shorthand for those at the top of the global wealth and income scales. Many people now worry about a bifurcated society: a thriving global class of elites at the top and a stressed-out class comprising everyone else. Still, despite these long trends, the political and policy status quo remained largely unchallenged until 2008.

To understand why it took politics so long to catch up to economic realities, we should look at incentives and ideology. With respect to incentives, politicians have not been given a good enough reason to address unequal distribution patterns. The US has relatively weak campaign-finance limits, so corporations and wealthy individuals – neither of which generally prioritizes income redistribution – have contributed a disproportionate share to politicians’ campaign war chests.

Ideologically, many people are simply suspicious of expansive government. They recognize inequality as a problem, and in principle they support government policies that provide high-quality education and health-care services, but they do not trust politicians or bureaucrats. In their eyes, governments are inefficient and self-interested at best, and dictatorial and oppressive at worst.

All of this began to change with the rise of digital technologies and the Internet, but especially with the advent of social media. As US President Barack Obama showed in the 2008 election cycle – followed by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the current cycle – it is now possible to finance a very expensive campaign without “big money.”

As a result, there is a growing disconnect between big money and political incentives; and while money is still a part of the political process, influence itself no longer belongs exclusively to corporations and wealthy individuals. Social-media platforms now enable large groups of people to mobilize in ways reminiscent of mass political movements in earlier eras. Such platforms may have reduced the cost of political organizing, and thus candidates’ overall dependence on money, while providing an efficient alternative fund-raising channel.

This new reality is here to stay, and, regardless of who wins the US election this year, anyone who is unhappy with high inequality will have a voice, the ability to finance it, and the power to affect policymaking. So, too, will other groups that focus on similar issues, such as environmental sustainability, which has not been a major focus in the current US presidential campaign (the three debates between the candidates included no discussion of climate change, for example), but surely will be in the future.

All told, digital technology is shuffling economic structures and rebalancing power relationships in the world’s democracies – even in institutions once thought to be dominated by money and wealth.

A large, newly influential constituency should be welcomed. But it cannot be a substitute for wise leadership, and its existence does not guarantee prudent policies. As political priorities continue to rebalance, we will need to devise creative solutions to solve our hardest problems, and to prevent populist misrule. One hopes that this is the course we are on now.

 

Michael Spence, a Nobel laureate in economics, is Professor of Economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Academic Board Chairman of the Asia Global Institute in Hong Kong, and Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on New Growth Models. He was the chairman of the independent Commission on Growth and Development, an international body that from 2006-2010 analyzed opportunities for global economic growth, and is the author of The Next Convergence – The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World.

 

By:                   Michael Spence

Date:                October 28, 2016

Source:            Project Syndicate

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/technology-and-mobilization-against-inequality-by-michael-spence-2016-10

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Inequalities exacerbate climate impacts on poor

 

Evidence is increasing that climate change is taking the largest toll on poor and vulnerable people, and these impacts are largely caused by inequalities that increase the risks from climate hazards, according to a new report launched by the United Nations.

The World Economic and Social Survey 2016: Climate Change Resilience—an Opportunity for Reducing Inequalities (#WESS2016), found that governments can play a significant role in reducing the risks of climate change to vulnerable populations. Through transformative policies,  the report shows that governments could address the root causes of inequalities and build climate change resilience.

While there is considerable anecdotal evidence that the poor and the vulnerable suffer greater harm from climate-related disasters, the report determined that much of the harm is not by accident, but that it is due to the failure of governments to close the development gaps that leave large population groups at risk.

In the past 20 years, 4.2 billion people have been affected by weather-related disasters, including a significant loss of lives. Developing countries are the most affected by climate change impacts. Low-income countries suffered the greatest losses, including economic costs estimated at 5 per cent of GDP.

“Sadly, the people at greater risk from climate hazards are the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized who, in many cases, have been excluded from socioeconomic progress,” noted United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the report. “We have no time to waste—and a great deal to gain—when it comes to addressing the socioeconomic inequalities that deepen poverty and leave people behind.”

The report argues that while climate adaptation and resilience are overshadowed by mitigation in climate discussions, they are vital for addressing climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Structural inequalities increase vulnerability

Families living in poverty systematically occupy the least desirable land to damage from climate hazards, such as mud slides, periods of abnormally hot water, water contamination and flooding. Climate change has the potential to worsen their situation and thereby worsen pre-existent inequalities. The report shows that structural inequalities increase the exposure of vulnerable groups to climate hazards.

According to the latest data, 11 per cent of the world’s population lived in a low-elevation coastal zone in 2000. Many of them were poor and compelled to live in floodplains because they lacked the resources to live in safer areas. The data also underscores that in many countries in South and East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, many people have no other option than to erect their dwellings on precarious hill slopes.

The report also found a larger concentration of poor and marginalized groups in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid aridity zones which cover about 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface. About 29 per cent of the World’s population live in those areas and are facing additional challenges owing to climate change.

Different forms of inequality, moreover, render some groups of people more vulnerable than others to damage from climate hazards. In Mumbai, India, for example, the houses of poorer families required repeated repairs to secure them against flood damage, and the cumulative cost of those repairs consumed a greater proportion of their income than for richer populations.

As a result of 2005 Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in the United States, the report found that multiple inequalities defined by income, race and education were major factors that increased the exposure and vulnerability of people, predominantly low-income African Americans, to hurricanes. It found that it was more difficult for the members of this specific population group to cope and recover during and after the hurricane.

Transformative policies for addressing root causes

According to the report, building resilience to climate change provides an opportunity to focus resources on reducing long entrenched inequalities that make people disproportionately vulnerable to climate hazards. The best climate adaptation policies, the report states, are good development policies that strengthen people’s capacity to cope with and adapt to climate hazards in the present and in the medium term.

Looking ahead, the report recommends the use of improved access to climate projections, modern information and communications technologies, and geographical information systems to strengthen national capacity to assess impacts of climate hazards and policy options statistically.

The report voices a concern that international resources to support climate change resilience are insufficient. At last year’s Paris climate conference, COP21, countries committed to setting a goal of at least US$ 100 billion per year for climate change mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries. However, adaptation costs alone range from $70 billion to $100 billion per year by 2050 in the developing countries and these figures are likely to underestimate real costs.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for transformative policies to deliver on our collective promise to build a life of dignity for all on a cleaner, greener planet. “The challenges are enormous, but the world possesses the know-how, tools and wealth needed to build a climate-resilient future—a future free from poverty, hunger, discrimination and injustice,” stressed the Secretary-General, noting the importance of the enabling policy environment as well as the support of the international community.

 

Date:        October 3, 2016

Source:    The United Nations

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/10/report-inequalities-exacerbate-climate-impacts-on-poor/

 

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How Social benefits for the Less Privileged Can reduce Racial Differences in Bullying Among Youth

 

Bullying – the repeated exposure to negative actions by one or more individuals over an extended period of time – has received increasing attention over recent years. Research shows that nearly 28% of sixth to twelfth grade students in the United States have experienced bullying, and approximately 30% of young people admit to engaging in one or more forms of this behavior.

For both bullies and victims, bullying along with other kinds of maltreatment can leave social and biological scars well beyond childhood. Maltreatment during early stages of the life-course can have lasting emotional effects that lead to substance abuse disorders during adulthood, because maltreated and bullied children often suffer from mental health disorders, anxiety, and depression. Victims of bullying are also at an increased risk of gun violence, severe assaults, crime, incarceration, and thoughts of suicide.

Addressing the Problem

Recently a number of anti-bullying organizations and advocates have announced plans to address different forms of bullying. For example, during the London 2016 Founders Forum this past June, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, implored technology companies to address issues of cyberbullying among children. In doing so, he established a taskforce “to develop a new, positive strategy to combat bullying.” How effective will this approach prove to be? Although technological checks on cyberbullying may reduce exposure to negative barrages online, the offline lives and personalities of bullying victims may not improve. What is more, this is a narrow approach to the issues, because bullying among school peers may be a response to the broader interpersonal and structural conditions that youth experience. Conditions of poverty and inequality may encourage bullying as one factor among many that place children at risk for adverse outcomes as adults. A broader approach to bullying might start by recognizing that social policies aimed at lessening economic hardship affect the prevalence of this behavior.

New Research on Social Conditions that Promote Bullying

My colleagues and I investigated how neighborhood disadvantage, cumulative disadvantage, and enlistment in a variety of needs-based social programs operated to accentuate or to alleviate the risk of bullying among American adolescents after the Great Recession of 2009-10. By extending Elijah Anderson’s concept of a “code of the street” to schools, we probe whether hyper-masculine behaviors that facilitate violence in economically distressed areas encourage classroom bullying too. In addition, we test whether social programs that mollify poverty and inequality attenuate the risk of bullying, thereby neutralizing classroom codes that are framed around economic resources and material goods.

Our research supports a number of conclusions, starting with the conclusion that bullies are severely disadvantaged. Not only are bullies more likely to reside in disadvantaged neighborhoods – residential locations that contain a number of disorders and reduced levels of social cohesion – but bullies are also exposed to higher levels of cumulative disadvantage – domestic violence, parental incarceration, and frayed parent-child relationships.

Economic deprivation hurts children and facilitates educational inequality. Adolescents are significantly more likely to have a parent contacted by school officials about any problems if they live in homes under constant threat of deprivation but are not enrolled in any social programs. Furthermore, these youth are more likely to repeat a grade if they reside in disadvantaged neighborhoods or experience cumulative disadvantage.

Overall, the families of bullies are enrolled in more needs-based social programs than families of non-bullies. This makes sense because adolescents are significantly more likely to bully if they come from families where parents often find it hard to cover the basics like food or housing. Nevertheless, adolescents from similarly needy families are more likely to engage in bullying if their families are NOT enrolled in social assistance programs that offer health insurance, temporary welfare assistance, and food subsidies via school lunches, Food Stamps, or supplemental nutrition for women and infants.

A key finding is that social programs that ameliorate economic hardship have the capacity to upend racial differences in bullying. Overall, Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks are significantly more likely to bully than non-Hispanic whites, and this finding is particularly salient among adolescents who experience neighborhood and cumulative disadvantage, even after accounting for biases and mechanisms that select youth into disadvantaged communities and families. Yet, when we compared rates of bullying by race among adolescents who were identical in their likelihoods of familial participation in social programs, we found that both Black-white and Hispanic-white differences in bullying disappeared. This is an important finding because racial differences in bullying may reflect the stresses and strains of social disadvantage experienced by adolescents. Should codes of the street be adopted within classrooms, as a result of neighborhood and cumulative disadvantage, the consequences of such externalizing behaviors like bullying may impede the development and accumulation of human capital at the very moments when adolescents are transitioning to adulthood.

Moving beyond Cyber-Solutions

Ultimately, our research shows that government programs that reduce poverty and inequality have the potential to moderate racial differences in bullying – and might offer further remedies as well. Our findings are consistent with other research, such as that showing the potential of government programs to help children with incarcerated parents.

Clearly social benefits can ameliorate many ills, including bullying. However, the uneven economic recovery and cutbacks in social programs may converge to place more youth at risk of greater material hardships – and therefore spark more bullying. As policymakers and technology experts devise methods to prevent cyberbullying, they should realize that adequate social programs to ameliorate poverty and inequality might do even more to counter this scourge.

 

Read more in Bryan L. Sykes, Alex R. Piquero, and Jason P. Gioviano, “Code of the Classroom? Social Disadvantage and Bullying Among American Adolescents, U.S. 2011-2012.” Crime & Delinquency (online first, April 2016).

 

By:           Bryan L. Sykes (University of California, Irvine)

Source:    http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/brief/how-social-benefits-less-privileged-can-reduce-racial-differences-bullying-among-youth

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How State Welfare Rules Affect Low-Income Single Mothers Without Cash Incomes

 

As the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act marks its twentieth anniversary, researchers are still exploring the impact of this law, called “welfare reform.”  Although this law’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program helps some groups of poor people, it leaves others without any stable cash support. One group seriously at risk consists of low-income single mothers with children who end up with no incomes from either welfare or paid jobs. Researchers call them “economically disconnected.”

Why Should We Care?

Low-income mothers and children who have have no documented cash income of their own may be eligible for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, yet many do not get those benefits. This is a cause concern, because families suffer when they have no cash at all. And we can also ask whether these programs are sufficiently accessible to those in most need. Available data show that “take-up rates,” that is, use of benefits, fell to about 30 percent in 2009 for eligible families. In 1990, moreover, studies found that about ten percent of low-income women subsisted without any cash; but the proportion rose to more than 20 percent by 2010.

Such “disconnected mothers” with little or no income are among America’s most economically vulnerable people. They are more likely than other low-income single mothers to live in public housing as opposed to apartments, and they experience severe hardships, sometimes even going without food. Prior studies have identified a number of reasons why certain poor women become so cut off from both work and public cash assistance. Many find it hard to get or keep jobs, because they lack childcare or transportation, or because they have to care for an ill family member. Many of these women also suffer physical and mental health problems that prevent them from working; or they have few opportunities due to limited work experience, learning disabilities, and low levels of educational attainment.

Do State Welfare Push Women to the Margins?

Many, if not all, of these families appear to qualify financially for public benefits that could reduce their hardship, yet are not receiving any cash assistance. Why?  Although some very needy women may simply decide not to apply for benefits, many may make choices influenced by program rules that make them ineligible despite severe financial need. The 1996 welfare law prompted major changes in the delivery of welfare benefits across all U.S. states. All states must deal with fixed federal grants and are required to institute time limits for people to get cash benefits. Nevertheless, states have some flexibility in how they define welfare rules and allocate the funds. Consequently, variations in state rules and procedures can affect decisions by poor mothers about applying for and using temporary assistance benefits.

Very low benefit rates in certain states may discourage women from applying – and some states actively try to divert poor women into programs other than Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. State rules about time limits, sanctions, and exceptions can also influence how long women receive cash assistance. Some may leave or get pushed out of programs before they have jobs. Although shorter time limits for welfare are meant to prod women into jobs, in practice positive employment outcomes do not happen for many of these mothers.

Research by my associates and I focuses on how state welfare rules relate to the likelihood of poor women ending up without any income from work or welfare. We explored these issues using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation and the Welfare Rules Database covering the period from April 1996 to January 2007 – a decade of great change and variation in state welfare rules. In a way that protected personal information, the data analysis was conducted at the New York Census Research Data Center at Baruch College, a secure laboratory operated in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies.

Time Limits, Benefit Levels, and Diversion Programs

Our findings indicate that state Temporary Assistance rules do matter, helping to explain why very needy women do – or do not – end up severely marginalized, without any cash income.

Our strongest finding is that poor women who live in state with lower time limits for cash welfare assistance are more likely to end up disconnected, trying to survive without any cashincome. Because time limits are visible and easily understood, this is not surprising. Some poor women in these states may have collected welfare benefits for a period and simply reached the lifetime limit, losing eligibility. But others who could apply may be discouraged by the strict limit. Extending limits in states where they are very strict would not only allow very needy recipients to remain in the Temporary Assistance program longer; such a step might also encourage very needy women to apply when they actually are eligible. They might become less worried about losing eligibility for a time of future need. It is also possible that very strict limits signal a harsh administrative process, in which caseworkers tend to discourage needy mothers.

Two additional program rules also have a significant impact. States with more generous benefits tend to put poor women less at risk for becoming disconnected – and the higher benefit levels do not discourage employment.

On the other hand, states that try to divert needy women into programs that provide just short-term cash help rather than longer-term benefits tend to end up with more disconnected needy women trying to get by without any cash income. Furthermore, short-term diversion programs do not seem to help women find work. These programs may not function as intended.

For the foreseeable future, U.S. welfare programs are likely to remain in the hands of the states. Our research shows that specific state rules matter – and states that want to prevent the neediest women from falling into severe economic distress without any cash income, should start by reconsidering overly strict time limits for Temporary Assistance. Such limits can end up sending overly discouraging messages to women truly in need and potentially eligible for public help.

Read more in Andrea Hetling, Jinwoo Kwon, Correne Saunders, “The Relationship between State Welfare Rules and Economic Disconnection among Low-Income Single Mothers” Social Service Review 89, No. 14 (2015) 653-685. 

 

By            :               Andrea Hetling (Rutgers University)

Date         :               April 2016

Source     :               Scholars Strategy Network

http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/brief/how-state-welfare-rules-affect-low-income-single-mothers-without-cash-incomes

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Today’s Inequality Could Easily Become Tomorrow’s Catastrophe

 

Economic inequality is already a concern, but it could become a nightmare in the decades ahead, and I fear that we are not well equipped to deal with it.

Truly extreme gaps in income and wealth could arise from many causes. Consider just a few: Innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence, which are already making many jobs uncompetitive, could lead us into a world in which basic work with decent pay becomes impossible to find. An environmental disaster like global warming, pollution or disease could sharply reduce the ability of people of ordinary means to live in specific regions or entire countries.

Future wars using ever more highly destructive technology, including chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, could devastate vast populations. And it’s not out of the question that dire political changes, like the rise of racist or otherwise exclusionary social structures, could have terribly damaging consequences for less privileged people.

Of course, I dearly hope none of these things ever happen. But even if they are unlikely, as part of our progress to a better world, we should be thinking now of how we might address them.

The current presidential campaigns in the United States have not really touched on long-range issues like these. The campaigns have instead been focused primarily on short-term concerns, and on issues facing people of middle income instead of those in extreme poverty.

The private sector isn’t helping much, either. It has not gone very far in developing insurance or hedging markets to protect against these risks. That raises an important question: Can we depend on the benevolence of society to compensate and care for those who would lose out if dire events actually happened?

One way to judge the likely outcome is to look at what has happened in the past. In their new book “Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe” (Princeton 2016), Kenneth Scheve of Stanford and David Stasavage of New York University looked at 20 countries over two centuries to see how societies have responded to the less fortunate. Their primary finding may seem disheartening: Taxes on the rich generally have not gone up when inequality and economic hardship have increased.

Instead, they found that taxes tend to rise when warfare increases, largely “because war mobilization changed beliefs about tax fairness.” These tax changes were generally aimed at ensuring national survival, not correcting economic inequalities.

Professor Scheve and Professor Stasavage found that democratic countries have not consistently embraced more redistributive tax policies, and most people do not vote strictly in their narrow self-interest. As the right to vote broadened through the centuries, for example, and people without property began to vote, they did not consistently act to tax the rich. These findings run counter to a popular narrative. Recall that in 2012, Mitt Romney said that in a democracy, a candidate who offers tax breaks to the less well-off at the expense of the rich will win mass support “no matter what.” That claim does not appear to be supported by the historical record.

Instead, it appears that, for better or for worse, the majority of people share simple notions of entitlement and fairness. Professor Scheve, Professor Stasavage and their colleagues found that in 2014, when people in the United States were asked what marginal tax rates they would “most like to see” on family incomes of $375,000, the median answer was 30 percent, with the bulk of answers ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent. (The federal marginal tax rate for that income is 33 percent.)

This is consistent with my own survey results, which focused on inheritance taxes. In 1990, Maxim Boycko, then with a Moscow think tank, the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and I asked both New Yorkers and Muscovites: “In your opinion, what inheritance tax rate for really wealthy people do you think we should have?” The average answers in the two cities were virtually identical: 37 percent in New York, 39 percent in Moscow. Taxing around a third of wealth, more or less, seemed fair to people. And perhaps it is reasonable, in the abstract, yet what will we do in the future if this degree of taxation won’t produce enough revenue to meaningfully help the very poor as well as the sagging middle class?

Along with nine other economists, I contributed to a project that engaged in really long-term forecasting. The results appeared in a book edited by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta of the London School of Economics: “In 100 Years: Leading Economists Predict the Future,” (M.I.T., 2013). None of us expressed optimism that inequality would be corrected in the future, and none of us ventured that any major economic policy was likely to counteract recent trends.

For example, Angus Deaton of Princeton, commenting on what he called the “grotesque expansions in inequality of the past 30 years,” gave a pessimistic prediction: “Those who are doing well will organize to protect what they have, including in ways that benefit them at the expense of the majority. ” And Robert M. Solow of M.I.T. said, “We are not good at large-scale redistribution of income.” Both Professor Deaton and Professor Solow are fellow Nobel laureates.

No one seems to have an effective plan to deal with the possibility of much more severe inequality, should it develop. In the disturbing book “Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation,” (Oxford, 1983) Amartya Sen, a Harvard professor, documented an extraordinary thing: In each of four devastating famines in different parts of the world, there was enough food to keep everyone alive. The problem in each case was that the food was not shared adequately. Systems of privilege and entitlement permitted hoarding of food by people of status whose lives went on much as usual, except that they had to brush off starving beggars and would occasionally see dead bodies on the street.

Satyajit Ray’s 1973 movie “Distant Thunder” depicted one of those terrible episodes, the Bengal famine of 1942-43. Millions died, almost all from the lower echelons of society. Among the privileged classes, only the most moral seemed to find the situation troubling enough to help in a significant way.

Despite past failures, we should not lose hope in our ability to improve the world. In a recent column, I described ways in which society might change a deep-rooted sense of entitlement by radically broadening wage and job insurance. Such a program would be a start in getting us prepared to deal with some of the immense challenges that may lie ahead.

 

Robert J. Shiller is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale.

 

By           :              Robert J. Shiller

Date       :               August 26, 2016

Source    :              http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/upshot/todays-inequality-could-easily-become-tomorrows-catastrophe.html?_r=0

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For More Economic Diversity, Fix Income Inequality

 

The share of income claimed by the top 1, 5, and 10 percent of Americans has increased significantly since the 1970s. In addition, the United States has less upward mobility from one generation to the next than many European countries do, raising concerns about the nation’s commitment to equal opportunity. Access to higher education can play a role in countering these trends, and many colleges and universities are committed to access — but increasing income inequality is itself creating significant challenges for higher education.

A variety of factors have been blamed for the increasing income inequality. Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, economists at Harvard, argue that there is a shortage of the skills needed as a result of technological change, and so skilled workers are in high demand and earn more money, thereby increasing the income divide between those with and without skills.

Others suggest that income inequality has more to do with the power and ability of those with money to influence the political process for their own economic benefit. Government clearly plays a role, with decisions about monetary and fiscal policy — including federal and state tax and expenditure policies, responses to recession and unemployment, and policies toward unions and minimum-wage rates — all affecting the distribution of income.

Whatever the causes, access to higher education can contribute to reducing income inequality and to improving socioeconomic mobility from generation to generation. Current research suggests that having a four-year college degree increases lifetime earnings by about 65 percent over having only a high-school degree. And a greater supply of those with college degrees in the labor market would put downward pressure on the skills premium. Earning a college degree also makes it much more likely that someone born into the bottom income quintile will move into higher quintiles.

Yet educational attainment appears to be stalling, and college attendance is still determined too much by income and race. While 44 percent of whites and 59 percent of Asian-Americans ages 25 to 64 have a higher-education credential, only 28 percent of blacks, 20 percent of Hispanics, and 23 percent of Native Americans do. And 82 percent of students in the top third of the income distribution go to college, versus 54 percent in the bottom third. College completion has increased across all income levels since the 1960s, but the gap between those in the lowest quintile and the highest quintile has also grown.

Colleges can play a role in countering these trends by increasing the socioeconomic diversity of their student bodies, educating more students from low- and middle-income families. This includes the selective, private nonprofit colleges and universities, most of which have equal opportunity as part of their missions. Yet the trend of increasing income inequality is exacerbating the challenges facing these institutions, making it more difficult for them to recruit a more socioeconomically diverse student body.

This is because higher-income families have done quite well over the last three to four decades and are willing and able to pay a higher price for the type of education they desire for their children. Colleges compete for these students, responding to their demands for a variety of services, from small classes with talented faculty to turf fields, which pushes up costs. These students have also had significant resources invested in them from birth through high school, so they are attractive admissions candidates.

We know that many low- and middle-income students do get through high school with the skills and education needed to be admitted and do well at selective colleges. Talented low- and middle-income students are out there, but research has shown that too few are applying to and matriculating at top institutions.

While many colleges would like to attract and admit those students, their families’ incomes have lagged behind the top groups because of increased income inequality. That means that colleges committed to recruiting and educating a socioeconomically diverse student body have to find additional financial-aid resources to make it possible for these students to attend.

What if income inequality in the United States had remained at levels from the 1970s rather than increasing as it did over the following four decades? Using data for a group of very selective colleges and universities, I attempted to figure it out. My findings, which will be published in the forthcoming issue of Education Finance and Policy, suggest that if income inequality had not increased over the last four decades, there would have been significantly less pressure on institutions to increase spending to attract students from high-income families since their incomes would have increased by much less.

Because disadvantaged families’ incomes would have been higher, they would have needed significantly less financial aid to attend these colleges. Greater income equality over the last four decades would have resulted in lower increases in tuition, lower increases in costs, and lower increases in the need for financial aid. My research shows that tuition, costs, and financial aid all would have been lower by about 10 to 20 percent. While these estimates are rough, they suggest that rising income inequality has not been inconsequential in the challenges that we see facing many institutions and low- and middle-income families.

Colleges have been criticized for rising costs and rising tuition, and many experts believe these trends, along with the subsequent rise in financial aid, are unsustainable. But these are in part a result of increasing income inequality in America. The government is in the best position to directly address these trends, through macroeconomic, tax, and expenditure policies. Changes in minimum-wage policies and greater support for unions on the part of the government could also play a role.

At the same time, the government allocates significant resources to higher education, and those subsidies, grants, and special tax treatments should be more focused. Colleges would do more to improve low- and middle-income access if doing so was required to get government money.

Absent changes in policies, income inequality is likely to continue to increase in America. This will create additional challenges for institutions of higher education as we try to attract students from all family-income levels and contribute to economic opportunity under increasingly difficult circumstances.

Catharine Hill is the president of Vassar College.

 

By           :               Catherine Hill

Date       :               April 24, 2016

Source    :               http://www.chronicle.com/article/For-More-Economic-Diversity/236203?cid=rc_right

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

Multidimensional Inequality

 

Economic orthodoxy over the last six decades thought that the market mechanism would in time reduce economic inequality. This view was based on the 1955 paper by Simon Kuznets who argued that income inequality would first increase, then flatten out and in time decline through the process of market driven economic growth.

Now Thomas Piketty in his landmark study has provided new evidence to show that inequality of both wealth and income has been continuously increasing over the last three centuries.

Subsequently, the Oxfam Institute have come up with the famous estimate that the top one percent of the world’s population owns 50 percent of the world’s wealth while 99 percent of the world’s population owns the remaining 50 percent.

Income inequality in Pakistan has also been increasing sharply. My estimate, based on World Bank data adjusted for tax evasion, is that the richest 0.1 percent of Pakistan’s population (20,000 persons) has a monthly income of over Rs8,000,000 per person while the per person income of the poorest 60 percent of the population is about Rs6000 per month. Thus the income per month of the richest is 1300 times that of the poorest.

Piketty explains the increasing inequality in terms of his evidence that the rate of return on capital has been consistently much higher than the GDP growth rate so that over time the share of national income of the owners of capital assets continues to increase.

This is a plausible but only a proximate explanation of the inequality phenomenon. He has not explored the underlying factors rooted in the structure of capitalism. The fundamental design feature of this system is that some people own productive assets while others do not.

A related feature is that wages are usually less than the value of the products of labour and the capitalist can not only appropriate the difference in the form of profit but is impelled by competition to expand profits through reinvestment and technological change. Thus capital is essentially a social relation that is shaped by unequal power between the capitalist and the labourer.

Such a system of power would, therefore, have a structural tendency for increasing inequality between those who own productive assets and those who don’t, between those who have skills and those who don’t, between the powerful and the powerless.

In Pakistan the tendency of income inequality is based on a highly unequal distribution of productive assets. This is accentuated by a social structure and a form of governance that enlarges the power and income of the rich at the expense of the poor. There are five dimensions of this inequality.

First is the social, political and economic discrimination against women. This gives women relatively less access than men over productive assets, employment, education, judicial and police services.

The second dimension that reinforces inequality is that sections of society with religious identities different from those of the dominant sections are discriminated against in terms of employment, finance, upward social mobility, protection from violence against their persons and access over justice.

The third factor that exacerbates inequality is the system of public finance. In Western countries the tax system is progressive whereby a relatively high tax burden is placed on the rich and with the revenues so obtained the government undertakes public expenditure to provide services for the poor such as public education, health, transport and social protection.

In Pakistan by contrast due to the predominance of indirect rather than direct taxes, the poor bear a higher tax burden than the rich. Public expenditure is also loaded in favour of the rich: intra-city high speed corridors enable an increase in the speed of private vehicles but do little for those who walk to work; in public hospitals the poor patients are lying unattended in corridors while the influential patients get 5 star treatment in luxurious VIP rooms; and public sector educational institutions are concentrated in terms of both number and quality in the affluent areas.

The fourth is the spatial dimension. Those who live in remote areas have poorer access over markets, public services and infrastructure. This is a key factor in regional disparities in Pakistan. The latest UNDP study has shown that some districts in terms of per capita income are as affluent as developed countries while the backward districts fester at the level of Sub Saharan Africa.

I have argued elsewhere that regional disparities within the market system occur because regions with better infrastructure attract private investment and pull savings, educated and young persons from the backward areas, thereby making the developed regions even more attractive for future investment. This was called the process of Cumulative Circular Causation by Gunnar Myrdal.

Finally, markets in the rural areas are asymmetric with respect to the rich and poor. My research for the UNDP has shown that many rural markets are mediated by power. So that small farmers have to pay a higher price on their inputs and get a lower price on their output compared to large farmers. The evidence shows that the small farmers lose almost one third of their potential income to such asymmetric markets.

It is clear that the essential basis of high and growing inequality is the unequal distribution of productive assets. However, in Pakistan this process has been exacerbated by a configuration of social, cultural, power structures and associated government policy that has reinforced the market mechanism in accentuating income, gender and regional inequalities. New research, contrary to orthodox economics has shown that economic inequalities restrain economic growth itself.

In my humble opinion, what can be termed multidimensional inequalities also constrain the human potential of society, undermine democracy and create the possibility of violence. Time for a new economics and a new approach to public policy.

 

Dr. Akmal Hussain is a distinguished professor and dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Information Technology, University Lahore.

 

By           :               Dr. Akmal Hussain

Date       :               August 25, 2016

Source    :               https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/144998-Multidimensional-inequality

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