Why I Keep Harping on Inequalities

Because it is THE issue facing many societies today, with negative effects across the board, and yet, it is largely ignored:

“The incomes of the richest sections of society are soaring in the UK, China and India, and in most other countries as well. The poorest groups are seeing slow improvements at best, and often decline. Recent estimates indicate that at the current rate it will take more than 800 years for the bottom billion of the world population to achieve 10% of global income.

The UN general assembly began its 66th session last week. Many of the heads of state attending will no doubt report on their country’s progress towards the millennium development goals. They’re also likely to discuss the targets that will succeed the MDGs after 2015. However, there will almost certainly be a looming gap in these presentations: the rising inequalities between and within countries.

A year ago, coinciding with the UN MDG summit, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the MDG Achievement Fund released a report showing that the MDG targets largely overlooked inequality. Even in countries where there has been progress towards the MDGs, inequalities have grown. A Unicef study shows that only a third of the countries that have reduced national rates of child mortality have succeeded in reducing the gap between mortality rates in the richest and poorest households.

Inequality matters not just for those at the bottom. Highly unequal countries tend to grow more slowly, are more prone to conflict and have weaker civil societies. The much-cited study The Spirit Level found that across developed countries, crime, disease and environmental problems were exacerbated by inequality. Such ill effects in society made everyone worse off, even the middle classes.”

And yet, reducing poverty is essential to development and healthier societies:

“The meeting examined successful inequality reduction policies, sharing the lessons of a handful of countries that have defied the global trend. Thirteen countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, have narrowed the gap between the incomes of the poorest and wealthiest groups over the last decade. Similar positive trends have been seen in Malaysia, Thailand and in several African nations.

How was progress possible in these countries? Inequalities fell when governments expanded social protection programmes like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia. Minimum wage legislation and policies allowing more people to access secondary and higher education also contributed to success. Successful countries used progressive taxation or channelled mining and oil revenues to fund inequality-reducing programmes.”

These programs have been discussed at length in Just Give Money to the Poor.

The Visual Du Jour – It’s Lonely At… The Bottom??


I know, I know, everybody hates the GINI coefficient… but everybody uses the GINI coefficient. No index is perfect and this one is still pretty decent, so, here goes:

Obviously, the US ranks in the bottom half, along with countries such as Mexico, China, Madagascar and Mozambique. From the article:

“The U.S., in purple with a Gini coefficient of 0.450, ranks near the extreme end of the inequality scale. Looking for the other countries marked in purple gives you a quick sense of countries with comparable income inequality, and it’s an unflattering list: Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, Ecuador. A number are currently embroiled in or just emerging from deeply destabilizing conflicts, some of them linked to income inequality: Mexico, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Serbia.

Perhaps most damning is China, significantly more equal than the U.S. with a Gini coefficient of 0.415, where the severe income gap has been a source of worsening political instability for almost 20 years. Leagues ahead of the U.S. on income inequality is India, Gini coefficient 0.368, where outrage over corruption and income inequality recently inspired a protest movement that shook the world’s largest democracy. (The data for India is from 2004, however; income inequality has likely worsened since then.) Russia, which has seen three popular revolutions in the last century against the caviar-shoveling oligarchs who still run everything, is also less unequal than the U.S., at 0.422 Gini.”

But here is another view:


“Income inequality is more severe in the U.S. than it is in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. We’re on par with some of the world’s most troubled countries, and not far from the perpetual conflict zones of Latin American and Sub-Saharan Africa. Our income gap is also getting worse, having widened both in absolute and relative terms since the 1980s. It’s not a problem that the “Buffett rule” would solve on its own, but at least the U.S. political system is starting to acknowledge how serious things have become.”

And since we have all read The Spirit Level, we all know how bad inequalities are for society as a whole, on a variety of indicators of population well-being and health.

The Power of Status Imposition And Fundamentalist Religion

Early in my introduction class, I use a short film on the torture and murder of child designated as witches by Pentecostal priests in Nigeria. This is a perfect illustration of the way assigning statuses is a source of power as such statuses can involve stigmatization and marginalization. The latest issue of Al-Jazeera’s People and Power shows that a similar issue is present in Benin:

The root of this is the belief, perpetuated by religious leaders of all kinds, in the supernatural. This belief is based on the idea that natural events always have supernatural explanations. Natural causes are not considered.

The question is, of course, how is this different from this?

Fundamentalist Christianity is of the same nature as the belief in witchcraft (replace gays with witches and you have the preferred scapegoat): supernatural causes explain everything, especially adverse events. Some of the scenes of the video above are no different that faith healers shows and rituals.