The Killing Fields of Inequality

The Killing Fields of Inequality
Göran Therborn
University of Cambridge
University of Helsinki 11.9.2013
From Differences to Inequalities
• In pre-modern times there was no inequality
• There were differences, including between rich &
poor, or between rulers, noblemen, free subjects,
& slaves
• Like differences between young and old, men and
• In Europe & America inequality was discovered
by the Enlightenment & highlighted by the later
18th c. Atlantic revolutions
• Spread around the world by nationalist and
socialist currents
What is the difference betweren
difference & inequality?
• Dissimilarity
• No necessary commonality
• Given (by God, nature) or
chosen (style)
• Usually evaluation, but no
necessary normative state
• Socially onstructued
• Ancient human concept
• Dissimilarity
• Intrinsic commonality of units
• Normative concept : violation
of some equality
• Modern
Inequality in Early Modernity & in
20th c. Social Science
• Civic inequality vs. Equality before the law
• Inequality of opportunity vs. Meritocracy
– Sociology of social mobility
• Income/wealth inequality vs. ditto Equality
• Inequality of prestige, ”stratification”, accepted & studied
– Specialty of US sociology
• Differences of gender & race supported, ignored, or
– Until last 3rd of 20th century
• Differences of life & health expectancy, accepted or ignored
21st Century: A Wider Field of Inequalities
(late 20th c. legacy)
The Existential Challenge
– Feminism
– Anti-racism
– Modernity´s suppressed: Natives, handicapped, homosexuals
Questionings by new Moral philosophy
– J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (l971)
– A. Sen, Equality of What? (l979/80)
– A. Sen, The Idea of Justice (2009)
Vital Inequality & Findings of Epidemology
– Michael Marmot, The Status Syndrome (2004)
– Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level (2009)
The Global Concerns & Information Gathering of international organizations, in
particular by the UN family of organizations: UNDP, UNICEF, ILO, WHO, CEPAL
in Latin America, et al.
Multidimensionality of (In)Equality
(In)Equality of What?
• ”What is it like to be a human being?” (A. Sen)
• Human beings are organisms, bodies, susceptible to pain,
suffering & death, & capable of development & pleasure
• Humans are persons, existing, living their personal lives in
social contexts of meaning, of recognition, respect, & freedom
– or their opposites
• Human beings are actors with resources, & with aspirations &
aims, which can be attained or frustrated
Three Kinds of Inequality
De-Segregating inequality studies
• Vital (in)equality
Life chances of human organisms
– Mortality rates, life expectancy, health expectancy, birth weight, child growth
• Existential (In)equality
Capability of persons
– Allocations of personal autonomy, recognition & respect, & of their opposiyes
of heteronomy, denial, & humiliation
• Resource (in)equality:
Resources of social actors
– Bases, ”capitals”, to draw upon
• Income, wealth
• Culture, education
• Social contacts
• Power
– Access, to environmental resources & to opportunities
• Access to water, sanitation, health & care services
• Access to opportunities of mobility & change
How are inequalities produced?
• Four mechanisms
– Distanciation,
• running ahead, falling behind
– Exclusion
– Hierarchization
– Exploitation
• A’s superior position derives from B’s suffering,
oppression or from B’s labour
Inequality History & Its Future
• Vital Inequality
– Global equalization 1950-1990, stopped by AIDS in Africa & capitalism
in ex-USSR
– No national equalization in the 20th century (in probability terms)
• Existential Inequality
– After 1945 large-scale, but uneven & everywhere incomplete
equalization: decline of institiutionalized racism, patriarchy &
discrimination of indigenous peoples & homosexuals
• Resource inequality
– Income: Longterm global inequalization levelled off since l950s, on a
high plateu; absolute inter-country inequality still rising
– Rich countries national equalization until l980, then mostly but not
everywhere reversed
Access: mobility by structural change, but little change of social
fluidity; parental background shapes human life-chances
Consequences of inequality
• Death
– Somatic effects of psychic/social stress
• Ill-health
– 5 to 15 more years of illness
• Stunted lives
– Half of all Indian children are stunted (2 standard deviations shorter
for their age according to WHO median) , in some Indian states
women are currently shrinking
– Socio-cultural stunting & humiliation
• Wasted talent
• Social sundering
– Societies torn part, into distrust, fear, violence
• Economic squandering, by the privileged elite
• Anti-democracy, political dictat-ship
The killing fields of inequality
• The restotration of capitalism in the ex-Soviet Union: 4
million excess deaths in l990s
• In the central British government bureaucracy, death
follows exactly the office hierarchy, the lower you are,
the earlier you die
• Life expectancy of Americans without a college degree
is declining
• Finland: increasing life expectancy gap: at age 35: 12.5
years between top & bottom male quintiles (7.5 in
l988), about the same as national gap to Kazakhstan
– Age-standardized death rate among poorest fifth of
women 35-64 is increasing, as it is among the unemployed
Possibilities of Equality
Four mechanisms of equality
– Approximation: catching up, positive
– Inclusion
– De-hierarchization, organizational flattening
– Redistribution
The possibilities of capitalist income
redistribution. Gini coefficients
Market Income
Disposable income
Reduction of
inequality, %
Great Britain
The Historical Moment of Equality,
• 3 National Trajectories
– Western welfare state capitalism
– Northeast Asian national cohesion development
– Communism, in Europe & in East Asia
• Global Patterns
– Global income inequality stops rising
– Global vital equalization begins
– Global existential equalization starts
Causal forces
• Peak of central industrial capitalism, & of
industrial labour & industrial socialism
• Discredit of the 2 major inegalitarian political
forces of capitalism, rightwing
authoritarianism & rightwing liberalism
• Competition capitalism-communism
The turn to inequality
• Central de-industrialization & the
financialization of capitalism
• The weakening of labour in central capitalism
• The implosion of Communism
• The substitution of foreign capital
development for national social cohesion
• The return of neoliberal ideology, as the
cultural force of capital revenge
Inequality Is Not A Fate
• In Latin America economic, & other inequalities are
• 5 of the world´s 10 most competitive economies are
among the world’s least unequal countries,
– a Gini coeffient <31, incl. No 1 (Switzerland)
• Total economic inequality in the world is bending
– Though polarization between the richest & the poorest is
• Existiential equalization is continuing
– First Black US President
– Homosexual marriage is spreading
The Future: China & Asia will decide
• China has rapidly become one of the most
unequal countries of Asia, perhaps the most
unequal, diverging sharply from the once equally
successful Japanese-Korean path
– India has a similar high inequality
• But an ”olive-shaped” income distribution has
recently been stated as an official goal of Chinese
policy & Indian social policy is expanding
• The actual route taken by the big Asian countries
will affect the world

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