Ethnic inequalities in social mobility

Black and Asian Muslim children are less likely to get professional jobs, despite doing better at school, according to an official government report carried out by the Social Mobility Commission

This blog post summarizes this recent news article (December 2016) which can be used to highlight the extent of ethnic inequalities in social mobility – it obviously relates to education and ethnicity, but also research methods – showing a nice application of quantitative, positivist comparative methods.

In recent months, the low educational attainment of White British boys has gained significant attention. However, when it comes to the transition from education to employment, this group is less likely to be unemployed and to face social immobility than their female counterparts, black students and young Asian Muslims.”

White boys from poorer backgrounds perform badly throughout the education system and are the worst performers at primary and secondary school, the report said, and disadvantaged young people from white British backgrounds are the least likely to go to University.

Only one in 10 of the poorest go to university, compared to three in 10 for black Caribbean children, five in 10 for Bangladeshis and nearly seven in 10 for Chinese students on the lowest incomes.

Black children, despite starting school with the same level of maths and literacy as other ethnic groups, young black people also have the lowest outcomes in science, maths are the least likely ethnic group to achieve a good degree at university.

But after school, it is young women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds that are particularly affected. Despite succeeding throughout education and going to university, they are less likely to find top jobs and are paid less than women from other ethnic minorities, the report concluded.

Alan Milburn, the chair of the commission said: “The British social mobility promise is that hard work will be rewarded. This research suggests that promise is being broken for too many people in our society. Britain is a long way from having a level playing field of opportunity for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background.”

The report also showed the role of parents plays a large part in performance at school, as the more they engage, the better their children do, according to the research

Two of the more specific recommendations made by the commission are

  • Schools should avoid setting, particularly at primary level, and government should discourage schools from doing so.
  • Universities should implement widening participation initiatives that are tailored to the issues faced by poor white British students and address worrying drop-out and low achievement rates among black students

Related Posts 

Ethnic minorities face barriers to job opportunities and social mobility (Guardian article from 2014) – so nothing’s changes in the last two years!

Ethnicity and Educational Achievement – The role of Cultural Factors – you might like to consider the extent to which it’s cultural factors which explain these post-education differences?

The C.V. and Racism Experiment (scroll down to 2009) – alternatively – racism in society may have something to do with these differences – this experiment demonstrated how people with ‘ethnic’ sounding names are less likely to get a response from prospective employers when they send them their C.V.s



Company Bosses really don’t deserve their high incomes

The link between what bosses are paid and a company’s financial performance is “negligible”, according to new research summarized by this BBC news item (December 2016)

The median pay for chief executives at Britain’s 350 biggest companies was £1.9m in 2014 – a rise of 82% in 11 years – the study by Lancaster University Management School found.

However, performance as measured by return on capital invested was less than 1% during that period.

The study, commissioned by the investment association CFA UK  suggested that the metrics typically used to gauge company performance, such as total shareholder return and earnings per share growth were too short termist. Will Goodhart, head of CFA UK, said: “Too few of today’s popular approaches … genuinely align senior executives’ pay with the economic value that they create.”

Social Policy Responses .

Among the measures under consideration are requiring companies to publish pay ratios, which would show the gap in earnings between the chief executive and an average employee.

Shareholders could also be handed more powers to vote against bosses’ pay – although an earlier proposal to force companies to put workers on boards has been dropped by the government.


This 82% increase in CEO PAY (the top 0.01%) stands in contrast to an average 10% decline in real income since 2008 for the rest of us and so this is further evidence of increasing inequality in the U.K. So if the findings of the Spirit Level are true, this has done enormous harm to Britain over the past decade.

It is also evidence against the view that we live in a meritocratic society (against the basic Functionalist and New Right views of education)- if you can get yourself into that super-elite, it seems that you have the power to set your own bonus, irrespective of what you actually contribute.

This appears to be yet more evidence of the continued relevance of Marxist theory!


The Myth of Meritocracy and the Structure of Luck

This recent Thinking Allowed podcast summarises a recently published book –Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy by Robert H. Frank

success-and-luck-frankThe key message of the book is that almost everyone who succeeds (in education, or business for example) does so on merit – they are both hardworking and talented, but they are also lucky, and in recent years, social scientists have discovered that chance plays a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people imagine.

The book is thus a challenge to the rhetoric of meritocracy, and subverts the idea that people who succeed do so purely on their own hard work and effort, purely on their merit.

Frank provides his own personal example to illustrate the huge role that luck played in his own life – He had a heart attack while playing tennis, and had it not been for the lucky fact that an ambulance which had been called out for another nearby accident which had proved less serious than initially thought was could be diverted to him, he would have died.

Laurie Taylor, the presenter of Thinking Allowed, offers his example of a chance phone-call from a Radio 4 executive decades ago which kick-started his radio 4 career – they needed a talk show guest on a particular topi, and he just happened to be the person who was contacted at that time.

Frank says that if you remind people they’ve been lucky, they get angry, but if you ask them to recall situations in which they’ve been lucky in their lives.

The commentators agree that the rhetoric surrounding, or myth of meritocracy, is not as pronounced in the

The podcast then goes on to explore the idea that might be a ‘structure to luck’ – for example, it was much easier for those born in the 1970s to go to university because of the increased opportunities, while many of that (my!) generation’s parents and parents wouldn’t have been able to go even if they had the ability, because there were simply fewer universities, and so no where near as much opportunity.

Another example given is that working class kids are disadvantaged by the structure of luck where their schools are under-resourced compared to middle class kids have their paths smoothed by their access to cosmpolitan cultural and social capital.

Most people recognise that there is a structure to luck if you give them the example of being born of good parents in a country you can succeed if you are hard working; compared to being born in a country such as Somalia, for example.

Frank also points out that if you ask successful people to tell the story of how they became successful, and ask them to point to any examples where they were lucky, they can all point out several of these (however, if you just remind them that they are wealthy just because they are lucky, they resist the idea, so the info you get out of them depends on the tone in which you ask the questions!).

Despite all of the evidence that luck is crucial to success, in the U.S. at least there is a very persistent myth of the self-made man, the idea that those who have succeeded have made it entirely on their own efforts. (This is less common in Britain, where we are (apparently?) painfully aware of how social class limits some and empowers others).

The problem with this myth of the self-made man is that it gives the successful a sense of entitlement to keeping the fruits of their labour, and this is especially problematic given the recent emergence of what Frank calls the new ‘winner-takes all markets’ – we don’t have local markets anymore, what we increasingly have global markets where a few people can monopolise and perfect a good or service and then flog it to the masses.

Frank describes how, in a world increasingly dominated by winner-take-all markets, chance opportunities and trivial initial advantages often translate into much larger ones–and enormous income differences, thus over time the level of inequality increases.

Ultimately where these (neoliberal) myths come to shape political and economic policy, everyone suffers – tax policy has changed over the last 40 years in the US and UK which allows the wealthy to keep more of the returns on their wealth (part of the rationale being that they’ve earned it on their merits) – this means that less money gets re-invested in the public infrastructure, which ultimately harms everyone – rich and poor alike.

Frank uses the useful analogy of a Ferrari owner driving on a road with potholes compared to a Porsche owner driving on well-surfaced roads – the idea here is that if we forced the the super rich to pay higher taxes, they wouldn’t be as rich, but they’d be happier, just like the rest of us.

The book is in part a plea to the successful to remember and acknowledge the role which luck has played in their success, and to further recognise that they don’t deserve to keep such a high proportion of the fruits of their labour.



Frank argues, we could decrease the inequality driven by sheer luck by adopting simple, unintrusive policies that would free up trillions of dollars each year–more than enough to fix our crumbling infrastructure, expand healthcare coverage, fight global warming, and reduce poverty, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone.

NB – I haven’t actually read the book, so if you want more on possible policy solutions, I suggest you buy it –  I did pop out to Waterstones having listened to the podcast to buy it, but they didn’t have it in stock, I ended up spending an hour browsing and then buying two other books to add to the unread pile.

Commentary – Application to this year’s Apprentice 

It’s worth reflecting on just how applicable the above is to the latest winner of The Apprentice – Alana, yes she’s hard-working, yes she’s talented enough to perfect five cake recipes, but then again so are literally thousands of other people in the United Kingdom. Dare I suggest that if Alana wasn’t lucky enough to tick all of the following boxes, she would have been stuck on an average income for the rest of her life like all of the other hard working and talented professional bakers in the country:

Alana’s luck:

  1. She’s a rare combination of sexy and mumsy all rolled into one – just what a premium cakes business requires, and let’s face it, for £250k Sugar’s got a sweet deal on that image.
  2. The success of Bake-Off (and maybe it’s fragmentation) suggests there’s a huge market in baking to be tapped into. Sugar wouldn’t invest in something without a huge market potential.
  3. Her main brand-competition is clearly on the decline given her coke habit and her domestic violence victim status (unfortunate because of the physical and emotional scars, and more so because her public really don’t wanna have to think about that do they!)
  4. One of Alan’s side-kicks clearly identified with her throughout the process.
  5. Her parents were able to afford to build her her own personal kitchen in which to perfect her cake-recipes.
  6. Her uncle owns a restaurant which kick started her cake-sales business.

I mean come on, this is hardly success based on merit alone! In fairness to Alana, she probably knows it! 

Related Posts 

What is Postmodernism?

So what is this postmodernism of which many now speak?

No one agrees as to what is meant by the term except that ‘postmodernism’ represents some kind of reaction to or departure from ‘modernism’. Since the meaning of modernism is also very confused, the reaction or departure known as postmodernism is doubly so.

Terry Eagleton (a literary critic) defined postmodernism thus in 1987:

The typical postmodernist artefact is playful, self-ironizing and even schizoid; and that it reacts to the austere autonomy of high modernism by impudently embracing the language of commerce and the commodity. Its stance towards cultural tradition is one of irreverent pastiche, and its contrived depthlessness undermines all metaphysical solemnities, sometimes by a brutal aesthetics of squalor and shock.’

The editors of the architectural journal PRECIS (1987) see postmodernism as a legitimate reaction to the monotony of universal modernism’s vision of the world.

‘Generally perceived as positivistic, technocentric, and rationalistic, being about linear progress, absolute truths, rational planning of ideal social orders and the standardisation of knowledge and production. Postmodernism by way of contrast privileges heterogeneity and differences as liberative force in the redefinition of cultural discourse. Fragmentation, indeterminacy and intense distrust of all universal or totalising discourses are the hallmark of postmodernist thought.’

Examples of postmodernism include:

– The rediscovery of pragmatism in philosophy – Rorty (1979)

– New ideas about the philosophy of science – Kuhn (1962) and Feyerbrand (1975)

– Foucault’s focus on polymporhous correlations in place of simple or complex causality in history.

– New developments in maths emphasising indeterminacy – chaos theory a fractal geometry.

– the conercn for ‘the other’ in anthropology and politics.

What all of the above have in common is the a rejection of metanarratives (large scale theoretical interpretations purportedly of universal application.

Eagleton’s full description of postmodernism…

‘Post-modernism signals the death of such ‘metanarratives’ whose secretly terroristic function was to ground and legitimate the illusion of a ‘universal’ human history. We are now in the process of wakening from the nightmare of modernity, with it manipulative reason and fetish of the totality, into the laid-back pluralism of the post-modern, that heterogeneous rnage of life-styles and language games which has renounced the nostalgic urge to totalise and legitimate itself… Science and philosophy must jettison their grandiose metaphysical claims and view themselves more modestly as just another set of narratives’.

Source – David Harvey – The Condition of Postmodernity

NB – The above is simply paraphrased from David Harvey’s excellent book ‘The Condition of Postmodernity’.

Erich Fromm’s ‘Fear of Freedom’- A Summary

A summary of Erich Fromm‘s ‘Fear of Freedom’, first published in the UK in 1942

This book is an analysis of the ‘character structure of modern man’, a work in progress published because of the urgent needs of the times.

fear-of-freedomThe thesis of the book is that modern man, freed from the bonds of pre-individualistic society, which simultaneously gave him security and limited him, has not gained freedom in the positive sense of the realisation of his individual self.

Freedom, though it has brought him his independence and rationality, has isolated him, and made him anxious and powerless.

This isolation is unbearable and the alternatives he is confronted with are either to escape from the burden of this freedom into new dependencies and submission, or to advance to the full realisation of positive freedom which is based on the uniqueness and individuality of man.

Chapter One – Freedom: A Psychological Problem?

Modern European history seemed to be a process of men fighting oppression in the name of greater freedom for the individual – having conquered nature and religious authority and then established democracy, WW2 seemed to be the ultimate battle for freedom.

However, Fascism was established because so many people were willing to give up their freedom, and so many more indifferent, and both of these traits are widespread within the character structure of men within our own societies as well as Germany and Italy in the 1930s. So what is it about this character structure that predisposes so many to give up freedoms so easily?

Fascism took everyone by surprise because we thought man’s rational side (calculated self-interest) had won out – but Fascism relied on an appeal to the irrational (fear of the other/ the desire to oppress the weak) – forces we thought had died out.

Only a few pre-empted the passionate side of man’s nature bubbling below the surface – Nietzsche and Marx, but also Freud. Freud understood this at a more psychological level – and it is Freud who Fromm is going to draw on – Freud also showed us that the irrational elements of the unconscious could be understood rationally.

Fromm now gives us a background of Freud’s basic concept of man – that the individual has ‘dark passions’ and these need to be suppressed by society. This need for suppression creates culture – the more we suppress passions (wants), the more culture, but the higher the risk of neurosis, because the individual only has a certain propensity to cope with the suppression of his desires. The more freedom we allow man to do as he pleases, the less culture.

Fromm now points out that society (culture) also affects the passions – desires change with each generation – The desire for fame never existed in the Medieval period for example.

However, man also creates culture…. the urge for fame leads to Capitalism.

Fromm’s theory is against the view that unchecked passions make history, it is also against those which reject the role of the individual human.

He recognises that there is a human nature that is discoverable by psychology – it is not ultimately malleable, although it can adapt significantly to social change.

He now talks about static and dynamic adaptations – the former don’t shape our character, such as moving to a foreign country and eating with a knife and fork, the later do – such as a child’s emotional responses to abuse.

Next he deals with the question of human needs – numerous things are listed – basic human needs such as food etc., but also for sensuality, emotional security, and he includes a large section on the need for co-operation and to not be alone.

We need to work – however, we cannot choose the conditions under which we work – and these can shape our character – Whether as slaves or freemen, and also our position in the class structure influences greatly our experience of work.

We have a need to not be alone – even a hermit is connected by ideas. There are two reasons – firstly, in childhood we are dependent, and secondly if we didn’t belong we would be overwhelmed by our own insignificance.

The thesis of the book will be thus – Man has no choice but to unite himself with the world in the spontaneity of love and productive work or else to seek a kind of security by such ties with the world as destroys his freedom and the integrity of his individual self.

Chapter Two – The Emergence of the Individual and the Ambiguity of Freedom

The meaning of freedom changes as man’s awareness of himself as an independent being changes.

For most of human history, man saw himself as part of nature, one with it, but since the reformation a process of individuation has taken place.

Similarly when an individual is born they have no concept of themselves as a separate entity, but this gradually emerges as the child ages.

There are ties which happen before individuation, which (Fromm calls) primary ties, they restrict freedom but give security. These ties root an individual with clan and nature and with mother and give security, but once individuation has taken place man has a new task – to find security in new ways.

The emerging individualism (from child to adult) is a dialectical process:

On the one hand it involves increasing ”self strength’ – a sense of uniqueness, but societies have limits to how far this can be expressed.

Secondly, it involves increasing aloneness – the sense of individual self separate from society is experienced as anxiety. In this sense, the world is experienced as threatening and overwhelming. (In the pre-individualistic era when people did not reflect on their connections, this was not an issue.)

One response to this is submission, but this threatens one’s sense of integrity and leads to rebellion.

The other is to engage in spontaneous relations with fellow men and nature on the basis of love and productive work without eliminating the integration and strength of the total personality. This would allow for the further development of the self.

The basic problem is that society doe not allow for the individuated self to establish these free relations which are conducive to the harmonious development of the self and this leads to escape mechanisms.

Fromm now describes the dialectical process of man’s evolution to greater freedom through history – again stressing that now man has a greater sense of freedom, he cannot go back (now he is beyond religion) – It must be the case that man forges new productive relations in love otherwise submission and escapism and misery are the future.

Freedom from has not been balanced by freedom to realise positive stuff!

Chapter Three – Freedom in the age of the Reformation


In the Medieval period and the Renaissance the individual did not exist as such – man was bonded via the feudal structure and the church to his place in society, at least where the masses were concerned.

He describes the Renaissance in Italy as consisting of a small clique of wealthy individuals involved in a competitive struggle for power and wealth – these had individual freedom, but they used it to squeeze wealth from whoever they could. He describes renaissance men not as secure but as anxious and uncertain. Pursuing Fame he says is one way of ridding yourself of the insecurities of too much freedom.

P46 – He now turns to an analysis of the emergence of Protestantism and Calvinism in the Reformation – which he basically sees as a response to the burdens of too much freedom which came with the new middle classes in Northern Europe.

Fromm draws heavily on Tawney to describe the Medieval world view of the individual in relation to the economy. Up until the 14th century when most production was carried out through guilds, in essence production and retail were combined and carried out by small business men working in mutual co-operation with a high degree of localism. He argues that religious morality cam first – and there was a general consensus that the well-being of all, even the poor, as a unifying value. Wealth creation and trade were seen as ends to doing greater things, not ends in themselves – and private property was seen as a concession to human frailty, communism as ideal. In short there was suspicion of selfish motives to accumulate.

He now describes how some guilds became larger and some master craftsmen came to employ more and more journeymen and monopoly capitalism started to develop in the 15 and 16th centuries, with smaller guilds and craftsmen being squeezed, as were the peasantry as the dues on their land were gradually increased over the period. According to Fromm, time is seen as increasingly precious as a result, and efficiency starts to be seen as a central moral virtue. At the same time, the desire for wealth and material success became the all-absorbing passion.

This emergence of capitalism destroyed the old securities of the medieval social system – the individual was left alone, everything depended on his own effort, not on the security of his traditional system.

Each class, however, was affected in a different way… For the poor it meant increasing exploitation, the nobility, downward social mobility, most of the urban middle class the same, but a few rose up.

However, everyone experienced increasing insecurity and anxiety. Capital had now become a supra-personal force determining people’s economic activity and thereby their personal fate. It was now a partner which dictated economic organisation in accordance with its own needs.

He now describes the two other elements of capitalism (besides capital) which emerge at this time – mass markets, rather than local markets, where the producer has less of an idea of what is needed, and competition, rather than co-operation.

Captitalism also freed the individual to try his luck, to take risks, so it wasn’t all bad.

In summary – Capitalism created a world which was at the same time limitless and threatening. – It gave rise to a new feeling of freedom and independence but also to powerlessness and anxiety.

Lutheranism and Calvinism now stepped in to offer solutions to this unbearable insecurity.

He now argues that such ideas only became powerful because they fulfilled a deep psychological need of the time. (NB – Whether the ideas are true or not doesn’t matter here!).

Fromm now spends dozens of pages (which I haven’t read) discussing how Lutheranism moved away from established religious ideas.

One general point of analysis he makes is that we need to look at how anything someone says fits into their whole world-view to make sense of it – and that logical inconsistencies may be the result of the psychological traits within the individual. You need to understand their unconscious desires to understand their ideas – as was the case with Luther.

To cut a long story thought – Protestantism fitted in with the newly freed individuals – it was a doctrine which said you should feel anxious etc. because it was the result of original sin, and it also offers a solution – it’s down to you to prove that you’re one of God’s elect – and you do this through hard work – The values of Calvinism thus provide the character structure which led to the further development of capitalism. (He must’ve read Weber!)

Just for emphasis… this a dialectical analysis….!

Erich Fromm

Further chapters to follow

Donald Trump’s Political Appointments – TNCs to shape U.S. Social Policy?

Trump’s political appointments seem to illustrate an extreme neoliberal approach to politics – those who are successful at business are being placed into senior positions in the U.S. political system which will allow them more power to shape domestic and foreign policy.

Trump’s Appointments – Transnational Corporations to Shape U.S. Social Policy  

According to a recent Guardian article on Donald Trump’s political appointments he ‘has so far nominated a number of billionaires, three Goldman Sachs bankers and the chief executive of the world’s largest oil firm to senior positions…. His team [has been] dubbed the “team of billionaires”.

Trump’s (neoliberal) argument for these appointments is that the accumulation of wealth is a sign of success and that having internationally successful business people in positions of power to negotiate (or renegotiate) trade-deals will benefit the U.S. economy and the the American people.

Two of Trumps appointments demonstrate this neoliberal approach (and its problems) perfectly: his appointment (still prospective at time of writing) of the CEO of Exxon-Mobile to Secretary of State and the appointment of Steve Mnuchin to the position of treasury secretary

It is the selection of Exxon’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson which has caused the most controversy. Tillerson has a close relationship with Vladimir Putin and some years ago agreed a joint venture with Russia to drill for oil in Siberia and the North Sea, however this venture was shelved following sanctions against Russia when it annexed Crimea. As secretary of state, Tillerson (who has $250 million of Exxon stock) will be leading discussions on whether the US should maintain sanctions against Russia.

According to this article from the Daily Kos, Tillerman’s appointment would be a disaster for business ethics…

‘Rex Tillerson is exactly the man you would expect a man who rose to the top of the oil industry to be. He has no evident morals or concerns about the world that supersede a paycheck. His respect for his own nation ends when there is a business deal to be made somewhere else.’

Trump’s pick for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, is also a multimillionaire former Goldman Sachs banker who went on to be dubbed a “foreclosure king” for buying up distressed mortgages and evicting thousands of homeowners during the financial crisis.

Potential problems with Trump’s neoliberal agenda

  1. Increasing wealth and income inequality in the U.S. – With the transnational capitalist class now in direct control of U.S. domestic and foreign policy, there is every likelihood that the super rich will get richer while the income and wealth of the majority of U.S. citizens will stagnate or even go into reverse. Critics such as Warren (above) argue that Donald Trump has every intention of running Washington to benefit himself and his rich buddies”.
  2. Less respect for human rights globally. The appointment of Tillerson as Secretary of State and his close relations with the human-rights abuser Vladimir Putin suggests that the financial interests of the super-rich will trump (excuse the pun) issues such as respect for universal human rights – it’s more likely that the U.S. will turn a blind eye to dictators who trample on human rights, so long as there’s a profit to made for U.S. companies.
  3. More economic instability – The fact that Goldman Sachs executives now have greater say in shaping U.S. economic policy could mean more deregulation of financial markets and more instability in the global economy in the long run.
  4. Environmental decline – this is possibly the beginning of the end of life on planet earth as oil companies will almost certainly be given the green light to dig up the arctic.

Where can you use this in the A Level Sociology Course?

Unfortunately for those of you who haven’t been given the option of studying global development, this is just extension work, but if you are one of the fortunate few studying this most relevant and interesting topic – this info fits in as follows:

  • It’s a great example of current neoliberal policy (so neoliberalism is still very much relevant)
  • It demonstrates the increasing power of TNCs – yet how they need control over nation states to empower themselves.
  • It’s a great example of how the global super-class work – at a level above that of the nation state.



Sociology in the News – The Ageing Population and The Crisis in Social Care

A couple of not very pleasant news-items which relate to the problems of the ‘ageing population’:

The U.K. is on the brink of a social care crisis according to The Independent (November 2016) – with local authorities saying they could face a £2.6 billion funding gap by 2020.

According to The Guardian (December 2016), this is because funding has been slashed by 10%; there has been a 25% reduction in the number of people receiving help, and a third of all care homes face bankruptcy after cuts in the fees paid by local authorities.

All of this of course means that elderly people receive a lower quality of care, either in care-homes, or through reduced numbers of home-visits, but Age UK (Sept 2015) further calculates that up to a million people who have difficulties with basic activities such as getting dressed get no help at all.

All of this suggests that the problems of the ageing population are very much real, and given the present government’s neoliberal ideology, seem likely to get worse.




Sociological Perspectives on State Crime

You might like to read this post: What is State Crime? first of all!

The link between Poverty, Ethnic Conflict, Failed States and Crimes against Humanity

Take another look at Transparency Internationals Corruption Index and you’ll see there is  clear link between poverty and corruption, and war and conflict. Many of these countries are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, ethnic conflict, corruption and war which reinforce each other, and many of the worst state-crimes are done by nation states in times of civil-war.

According to Paul Collier, the problem starts with the fact that political leaders in developing countries don’t see politics in the same way that politicians in developed countries see politics – political office isn’t about public service – it is about getting as much money for yourself and the people that got you elected as possible. NB this is a rational response to gaining political power when the country is unstable and you don’t know how long you’re going to be in office for (because there are several other competitors who could potentially revolt against you).

In many cases, corruption will simply mean siphoning off public funds into private bank accounts, but the pursuit of profit by unethical governments can also mean harming citizens of countries – as with the Nigerian government allowing Shell to get away with polluting the Ogoni people’s lands in the Niger Delta, or the Ethiopian government displacing people when it leased an area the size of Wales to India.

In some other developing countries, political incumbents maintain power by the rule of terror – as is the case in many countries in Africa, most notably Zimbabwe and Sudan.
Such poor treatment of populations breeds the conditions for civil war and all of the various attendant war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as the recruitment of child soldiers and rape as a weapon of war, which go along with this. In extreme cases may result in terrorist organisations taking control – as in Afghanistan, Somalia and currently ISIS in Syria/ Iraq.


The problem with this view is that although there is a link between underdevelopment and state crime, some developed, or rapidly development nation states do appear very low down the corruption index – most notably Russia and China, two of the BRIC nations.

A Dependency Theorist (Marxist) Perspective on State Crime

From a Dependency point of view state crimes are not limited to developing countries. For a start, two of the greatest crimes in the history of humanity – Colonialism, which was basically the organised theft of resources through violence conquest, and slavery, were both a key part of the development of Capitalism in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The sheer brutality and death toll inflicted on the peoples of North and South America, Asia and Africa by the European colonisers was far worse than the suffering in the two World Wars or any war since.

Today, it is also clear that it isn’t just poor states which engage in state-crime. Take the USA for example – In 2003 it went to war in Iraq against UN conventions, and today it maintains Guantanamo Bay where it holds prisoners without trial. This view is explored in John Pilger’s excellent film ‘War on Democracy’ in which he points out that the USA, since the end of WW2 has been involved militarily in more than 50 countries, all of these illegal interventions. By international standards, the USA is one of the worst abusers of human rights in world history.

A further point here is that Western countries are happy to accept other states abusing human rights if they are either powerful or support Western interests (or both) – so we say nothing about the Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women or its public flogging of criminals, and nothing of China preventing freedom of speech.

In short, from a Dependency Perspective, state-crime against the powerless is a systematic part of development. It is a means whereby rich countries make themselves rich at the expense of poor ones, and rich people in both rich and poor countries, make themselves rich at the expense of the powerless.

Evaluation of the Dependency View

Functionalists argue that the laws put in place by Nation States represent the collective morality of the people, and that when the agents of the state (the police and the courts) police and punish criminal behaviour, this reinforces the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Thus Nation States and their agents of social control are the ‘good guys’, working to maintain law and order and punish those criminals who would disrupt this.

Moreover, Nation States with functioning governments are a crucial part of modern societies. In the SCLY3 Global Development Module we found that nearly all wealthy nations have massive public sectors where governments provides universal goods such as health care and education and to provide the infrastructure required for economic growth.

In short, Functionalism stresses that despite the history of Colonialism, the role of America in war crimes today, and the existence of some state crime in developed countries (the expenses scandal and institutionalised police racism in the UK for example) the average citizen comes to less harm with a stable state rather than without it and state crime isn’t really a significant problem in developed countries.

Globalisation, Global Criminal Networks and Crime


Anthony Giddens (1990) defines globalisation as ‘the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped be events occurring many miles away and vice versa.

David Held (1992) sees globalisation in terms of the greater interconnectedness of social life and social relationships throughout the world.

As a result of globalisation, what happens in one part of the world can quickly affect other parts of the world.

The globalisation of crime

One of the downsides of the increasing interconnectedness between societies is the increase in global crime – Manuel Castells (1998) argues that there is now a global criminal economy worth over one trillion per annum. Four of the major forms of global crime which he recognises include:

1. The drugs trade
2. People Trafficking
3. Cyber crimes
4. International Terrorism

Global Criminal Networks and The Global Criminal Economy

Global Criminal networks involve complex interconnections between a range of criminal networks which transcend national boundaries including the American Mafia, Columbian drug cartels, the Russian Mafia, Chinese Triads and the Sicilian Costa Nostra.
Global criminal networks have developed because of the growth of an information age in which knowledge as well as goods and people can move quickly and easily across national boundaries.
According to Misha Glenny (see below) these networks form a global criminal economy which accounts for 15% of global trade – (Misha Glenny, (2008) McMafia: Crime without Frontiers). In order of importance (in economic terms) the main crimes organised criminal gangs engage in are:

• Drug trafficking estimated – 8 % of world trade
• Money laundering estimated 2 – 5 % of global GDP.
• 4 – 5 million people trafficked each year = profits of up to US$9.5 billion

In addition these criminal networks also trade in weapons, pharmaceuticals, nuclear materials, body parts, metals, precious stones / natural resources, stolen cars, art, antiques, rare animals and counterfeit goods; they Provide and control illicit services, most notably, gambling and prostitution, they engage in cybercrime, robbery, kidnapping, extortion, corruption,and piracy, and finally there is also terrorism.

Misha Glenny: The role of organised Crime in Ex-Communist Countries

Glenny suggests that organised criminal gangs are especially important in facilitating the trade in illegal goods and service. Organised criminal gangs (basically the Mafia) have become especially influential in those areas of the world where there is weak rule of law (i.e. failed and transitional states), distrust of the state (i.e. Italy, and Mexico), Inaccessible terrain (i.e. Peru and Colombia), high levels of corruption, and easy access to weapons and access to Transnational networks.

One of the most significant criminal networks which impacts Europe operates from Bulgaria – a country which is a ‘Hub’ between the rich and poor parts of the world, and where the Mafia have held considerable power since the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s. Most of the drugs people take in the UK and many of the prostitutes British men sleep with have been shipped by the Bulgarian Mafia.
Evaluation of Glenny

Dick Hobbs and Colin Dunningham their 1990s ethnographic study examined how organised crime has expanded on the back of globalisation. They suggest that criminal organisations like the Mafia are not dominant, but most global crime operates through a glocal system – that is, there’s a global distribution network built from local connections. For example local growers of cannabis, deliver their product to a supply-chain feeding a global network of users. For example Columbian drug barons use glocal systems to deliver their product to the world.