The 2019 video below features Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs in a discussion of why there is so much poverty in America and what can be done about it.
While the discussion was before the 2020 elections, it’s still worth a watch because it’s quite rare to see such big names on the A-level sociology global development syllabus discussing something so specific.
The video is very watchable – split into two sections focussing on two questions:
Why is there so much poverty in America?
What can we do to reduce poverty in America?
Why is there so much poverty in America?
Approximately 38 million Americans, or 1 in 8 people live in poverty today.
Inequality is the highest it has been since the Great Depression in 1926.
America hasn’t always been so unequal – since the New Deal and up to the mid 1970s government policies worked effectively to reduce inequality in America
Inequality started to get worse under Reagan when he introduced neoliberal reforms. This initially meant tax cuts for the very rich.
More recently under Donald Trump there have been even more tax cuts for corporations and proposed cuts to benefits (for example restricting the number of people who are allowed food stamps). (NB I’m not sure whether these policies went through since Trump got voted out of power!)
The United States political system is now owned by Corporate interests who bankroll elections.
Tax havens are also mentioned as a problem – the often illegal means by which Corporations extract wealth from poorer countries.
We need to get rid of Trump and his pandering to ‘divide and rule’ racist attitudes in America.
What can we do about poverty in America?
Krugman and Sachs point to the fact that Capitalism isn’t the problem – Northern European countries can be socially just and capitalist.
What we need is ‘social democracy’ where the State regulates capitalism, rather (presumably) than neoliberalism).
They seem to think Denmark offers hope – it used to be very unequal in the 19th century and now is very equal.
We need to get rid of plutocracy in America – i.e. get rid of the amount of control Corporations have over the political system.
Young people are mentioned as the solution – they are more tolerant of diversity and less likely to vote for Trump.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is a very useful video for any student studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology.
It focuses on a specific issue relevant to the specification, that of inequality and development and you get to hear the views of two major economists on the issue.
TBH I was surprised at how similar their views are and how critical Sach’s was of Corporations and too little regulation, I had expected him to be a little less radical!
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have been the two global institutions most associated with pushing neoliberal policies onto developing countries since the 1980s, but a recent (2016) article posted to the IMF’s Financial Development newsletter points out that neoliberal policies have caused problems in several countries, suggesting that neoliberalism hasn’t been universally successful.
In this post I summarise the article, which should be a useful criticism of neoliberalism for students studying the Global Development option as part of A-level sociology.
The article starts off by defining neoliberalism as having two main aspects: increasing competition and an increased role of the state and then reminds us that policies designed to achieve these two things have been introduced in many countries since the 1980s:
Criticisms of Neoliberal policies
The report notes three problems:
There is a ‘broad group’ of countries where increased growth doesn’t seem to have brought about any other improvements!
Neoliberal policies increase inequality and the costs of this are prominent
Opening up developing countries to capital flows (liberalising!) seems to have had mixed benefits, depending on how liberalisation has taken place.
Where more investment is tangible, such as money being spent on infrastructure and people skills, there are broader benefits.
However, when it’s just speculative capital coming in (hot ‘debt’ money) this just seems to lead to pump but then a financial crises, and then no more growth.
Austerity policies don’t necessarily work
The report notes that governments with good track records of debt are better off maintaining a welfare state during periods of financial crisis – cutting welfare has adverse affects on spending, which harms a countries economic prospects – it’s better for states in some cases to ‘suck up the debt’.
The combination of huge capital inflows and austerity = more inequality
The report notes that the two together create a vicious loop which creates more inequality which in turn harms longer term growth of a country.
The report doesn’t dismiss liberalisation, but does note that some degree of state regulation could work in many countries – as was the case in Chile – often hailed as a great victory for neoliberalisation, but in fact that State did play something of a regulatory role!
In this TED talk, Dr Johannes Meier argues that Neoliberalism has become and orthodoxy, but now it has reached its expiration date…
This material should be of interest as a balanced critique of neoliberalism, which should be especially relevant to students studying the Global Development option for A-level sociology.
The current economic orthodoxy is one neoliberalism, the belief in free markets and unregulated trade, but this orthodoxy is reaching its expiration date.
Keynesianism used to be the dominant orthodoxy, but it started to switch in the late 1940s with Hayek’s neoliberal ideas, and by the 1980s neoliberalism was the norm, such that most people today have grown up with it.
However, today (2019 is the date of the talk) there are more and more signs that this orthodoxy is under threat – as neoliberalism is no longer productive, and Meier asks the question ‘what should business leaders do about this’?
What are the core philosophical beliefs of neoliberalism?
Homo-economics – individual people are economically rational and they strive to maximise their own utility
The right to compete is the backbone of liberty
The success of a nation is the sum of utlitiels, measured in GDP
The role of govenrment is to make sure that free-markets are protected, but not over regulated
Neoliberalism has been successful over the last 50 years
We have seen huge increases in GDP growth rates, increasing incomes, more employment, billions of people being lifted out of extreme policies and millions of millionnaires created.
Neoliberal ideas have extended beyond markets to labour, education and health policies for example – all of these areas are influenced by market based thinking (especially education, if you’re studying A-level sociology!)
Neoliberal ideas are also entrenched in the world of business and most governments in Western countries.
Three Criticisms of Neoliberalism
Meier draws on the tale of Hans Christian Anderson to suggest there are three flaws to neoliberalism that advocates of it dare not mention, but are obvious to a child!
Neoliberalism is an ‘Emperor with No Clothes’
The Rising Tide isn’t leading to Economic Justice
According to neoliberalism, freeing markets leads to enormous wealth creation and rising wealth overall will lift all boats – so that everyone gets richer, with more and more people being lifted out of poverty.
However, income inequality has also increased such that the top 8% of income earners now earn more than half of all income.
Wealth is worse – 1% own more than half of the world’s weath.
Where consumption is concerned – the richest billion consume 75%, and the poorest billion only consume 1% of our resources.
We thus have wealth and income divides which lead to economic and political tensions. Those who feel left behind no longer trust the narratives of the elites who have established neoliberal policies (and been the main beneficiaries of those policies).
Those who have not benefited from neoliberalism – the ones with no wealth, low incomes, no education or health care, are criticising neoliberalism with increasing vigour.
The tragedy of our commons and our Horizons
We are facing an existential crisis of tipping points where the climate is concerned.
It clearly isn’t true that if the developing nations embrace neoliberalism that they are going to develop as effectively as developing nations – because the planet cannot cope with the levels of resource extraction and consumption that would require to incorporate 8 billion people!
Human relationships are about more than transactional efficiency
Neoliberalism tends to turn relationships into transactions – and the imperative is then to make those relations more efficient.
We see this in the spread of automoation and AI – replacing humans with more efficient machines.
However, human relations are about more than efficiency. And if people think they have found the equation for friendship on Facebook or love on Tinder, thy are missing the essence of humanity.
More and more people are demanding that work be meaningful and that there is space for humanity, rather than it just being all about efficiency.
How do we survive beyond neoliberalism?
Meier proposes three basic rules business leaders should follow if they wish to survive the transition to beyond neoliberalism, which basically involved focusing on the ‘basics of good business’.
Listen to diverse voices
This may sound obvious but business leaders tend to exist in a bubble. This involves thinking beyond traditional metrics such as revenue growth as these don’t provide purpose or deeper meanings.
We need new narratives of belonging beyond homo economics
Reduce the fragility of the system
We have the warning signs – such as climate change. We need to focus on making businesses resilient and genuinly sustainable.
Here he seems to be criticising the fossil fuel industry and suggests a move to renewables is what we need.
Neoliberalism is too focused on the individual.
The system has emphasised individuals getting to a kind of certain wealth or income level, then they are safe to have a nice job and life, leaving too many behind in poverty
Personal individual development is seen as the opposite of community – the idea that we progress our careers at the expense of our families is toxic. Humans thrive better in community and solidarity.
Ee need to take a much broader view of public goods – he suggests we need much more state and business co-operation in providing public goods
Part of the difficulty with moving beyond neoliberalism is that we don’t know what will take over – there will probably be many different alternatives – hence why general principles for surviving change are required.
It will take courage to let go of our existing business models, but it is futile to cling to the old ones.
How successful has economic and social development in Kenya been since the year 2000?
This post has primarily been written for students studying the global development option for A-level sociology. The purpose of this post is to provide a specific example of a country which has, overall, experienced rapid and positive development over the last 20 years.
One of the key questions in this module is ‘what are the most effective strategies for development’ – one way of addressing this question is to explore further what development policies and initiatives have been applied in Kenya to promote positive development.
NB the purpose of this post is not to answer the question ‘why has Kenya developed economically and socially, but simply to provide a case study demonstrating the extent of the rapid progress according to many indicators of social and economic development.
Kenya in 2020: An Overview
Kenya is located in East Africa, with a population of just over 50 million people.
It is classified by the World Bank as a low to middle income country with a Gross National Income per capita of just over $1700.
Overall, Kenya has experienced positive economic and social development since the year 2000, as evidenced in the quadrupling of its GNI per capita during that time.
Social development has also been rapid: life expectancy has increased by 15 years since the year 2000, and both primary and secondary school enrolment ratios are significantly improved.
However, as some of the statistics below suggest there is still room for improvement and development challenges going forwards into the 2020s.
Kenyan Gross National Income per Capita as Quadrupled since the year 2000, from $400 to over $1700.
Kenya’s Debt as a percentage of its GNI has been relatively stable, and is currently low, at only 2.2% of GNI
Kenya’s Employment Ratio is high and has increased to 72.5% of the population
NB – this bucks the global trend of increasing levels of unemployment
Official Development Assistance to Kenya increased from $500 million in 2000 to $2.5 billion in 2018
This would suggest as far as Kenya is concerned that Aid has not retarded broader economic or social development.
Industrialisation and Urbanisation in Kenya
The breakdown of Kenya’s GDP is:
Agriculture – 34%
Industry – 17%
Services – 47%
Kenya’s major exports remain agricultural products:
In the year 2000 20% of Kenya’s population was rural, this has grown to 28% by 2020
Education Trends in Kenya
Secondary School Enrolment increased from 39% in 2000 to 57% (2010)
Tertiary Enrolment is currently at 9%
NB the World Bank data on enrolment ratios is sketchy, there appear to be several data gaps!
Life Expectancy Trends
Life expectancy at birth has increased from 50 to 66 years in the last 20 years
Health and Sanitation Trends
Approximately 4% of the population have HIV
X percent have access to clean water
Y percent have access to improved sanitation
Population and Birth Rate Trends
Kenya’s Population increased by 20 million between the year 2000 and 2020, from 30 million to 50 million
The Fertility Rate – decreased from 5.2 to 3.5 babies per woman
Contraceptive prevalence increased from 39 to 61%
The Infant mortality rate decreased from 99 per 1000 to 45 per thousand
Access to Technology Trends
Mobile phone access increased from 0.4 to 96%
Internet access increased from 0.3 to 22%
Kenya’s Peace levels, as measured by the Global Peace Index, have been up and down over the last decade, but have remained broadly stable over the 10 years since the index began.
Gender Equality Trends
Gender inequality seems to be a faltering point for Kenya. After some seemingly rapid progress in the last decade, gender equality has fallen back to almost the same level as in 2006.
Other notable development trends
Kenya has had a net migration of minus 50 000 per year in recent years, combined with an increase of money received from abroad.
Conclusion: Is Kenya A Development Success Story?
Based on the above statistics it is easy to conclude that, overall, Kenya has seen a great deal of positive economic and social development – especially based on the measurements of GNI growth, life expectancy and education.
However, there are some areas where no significant development appears to have taken place – peacefulness and gender equality seem to be struggling for example.
NB – this is only a very brief look at some of the general statistics, so keep in mind that there will be regional variations and that not everyone would have benefitted equally from any development that has taken place.
Also, i haven’t tried to look at why development has (or hasn’t on some indicators) taken place in Kenya, just the statistics!
Is the world becoming a better place to live? What do the latest trends in global development suggest?
How much progress has been made towards global development since the year 2000?
In this post I examine the global trends in development since the year 2000 according to key statistics from the World Bank, United Nations and other global institutions to try and answer the question: ‘do we live in a better world at the end of 2020 compared to 20 years ago?
I aim to produce a post like this every two years, to keep abreast of the latest trends in Development.
In this post I am focusing on whole world trends, or truly global statistics, so the very highest level of generalisation to provide an overview, in what you might call the Positivist tradition!
However, at the end of 2020 it is especially difficult to make judgements about the extent of development because of the impact of Coronavirus – we simply don’t know what the medium to long term consequences of this will be on global development.
The chances are that Coronavirus will impact the future development of regions, countries and communities within countries in very different ways, so now more than ever it will be important for students to try to qualify any generalisations about development suggested by the global statistics I am looking at below.
Key Indicators of Development
There is considerable debate over what the most valid indicators of development are, because definitions of ‘development’ vary widely. For this reason I include below several indicators of development, including:
The Human Development Index
Gross National Income (GNI) per capita
Extreme poverty statistics (those living on less than $1.90 a day)
National debt as a proportion of GNI
The employment ratio (the proportion of working age adults in employment)
The infant mortality rate
The adult literacy rate
Access to electricity
Peacefulness as measured by the Global Peace Index.
If you want to find out more about exactly what these indicators measure and some of their strengths and limitations you might like to read the following posts:
You can also find further information on some of the specific indicators by following some of the links from my Global Development Page.
Mixed Evidence of Global Development taking place since 2020
Some of the global indicators below suggest there has been significant economic and global development over the last 20 years, other indicators suggest there are significant challenges still facing us as a global population!
For example, the number of people living in extreme poverty has shrunk from nearly 30% of the population to less than 10% while Life Expectancy of females has increased from.
HOWEVER, these are just the global average statistics, and what you need to remember is that the averages will hide variations by country, and variations within countries. The later is especially important to consider – there are regions within some rapidly developing countries that are getting left behind. China and America are two good examples of this.
Some indicators suggest negative trends in development – such as increasing unemployment and increasing violence in some countries, and progress towards sustainable development seems slow.
The Human Development Index
The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index combines Gross National Income, Life Expectancy and Years of Education into one score.
Practically every country shows positive development having taken place since 1990, when HDI first started tracking.
The two countries with significant declines are Syria and Yemen, which have both unfortunately experienced serious conflicts in recent years.
The total external debt of the 120 low- and middle-income countries was $8.1 trillion at the end of 2019, equivalent to 26% of their Gross National Incomes.
Nearly 40 (1/3rd of) low- and middle-income countries had debts greater than 60% of their GNI, treble the amount which had such ratios in 2010.
About 10 low to middle income countries (9%) had debts exceeding 100% of their GNI, 30% up from the number of countries in 2010.
Depending on what you think the role of debt is in development, this could be seen as counter trend to development. Dependency theorists would certainly see the increasing debt levels of poorer countries in this way.
The proportion of working age adults (15+) in paid employment has declined from 61% in 2000 to 57% in 2020.
This seems to be a counter-trend to development, with what is effectively a 4% increase in unemployment over the last 20 years.
However, this does not take into account the fact that more 16-24 year olds may be in education for longer, increasing wages, the impact of huge numbers of women entering the labour market, or the billions of people who are subsistence workers or work informally, so this indicator is an especially challenging one to interpret in terms of what it tells us about development!
There has been radical progress made in improving the infant mortality rate over the last 20 years – it has reduced from 52.8 per thousand (0.5%) to 28.2 per thousand births (just under 0.3%).
However, the global average is brought down by the higher infant mortality rates in less developed countries, and there is significant room for improvement – in the UK and similarly developed countries, the Infant Mortality rate is only 5 per thousand (0.05%)!
The overall adult literacy rate (of both males and females) has increased from 80% in the year 2000 to 86% in 2020.
6% may not sound like much of an increase, but there is something of a generational factor at work here. One imagines that someone that was 40 in the year 2000 is probably not that likely to become literate by the time they are 60, which is going to be a lag on improving the numbers of people who can read and write.
Most of the improvement above will be due to the increasing numbers of children being taught to read and write at a young age, who then carry this through to adulthood.
Overall the world has become less peaceful since 2009, when Vision of Humanity first started its Global Peace Index.
Today there are 38 countries which are recored as having low to very low levels of peacefulness.
Trends in peacefulness are diverging (becoming further apart) – generally speaking those countries which were more peaceful in 2009 have become even more peaceful (mostly those in Europe), while those which were less peaceful have become even less peaceful (mainly in subsaharan Africa)
While many of the classic indicators of development such as GNI, health and education show signs of positive development, there are clearly challenges remaining – mainly around how to attain better employment levels, and the very serious problems of increasing conflict and how to develop sustainably.
Summary of a documentary on global inequalities and waste
This excellent 2018 documentary gives us a rare insight into the daily working lives of two men living in poverty, both making a living through trash, one in Kenya and the other in the United States.
It’s a really useful resource for gaining an insight into what the lived experience of poverty is like in these two very different countries, and for highlighting the extent of global inequalities.
Most of the documentary focuses on two men, and we get to hear a lot from them: details of their lives and their thoughts on poverty and inequality and what they would do to help overcome the problems of inequality.
We also here from a few experts and other people, but these take on a supporting role to the two main proponents (which is unusual for documentaries like this, but also welcome!
This is an excellent video to use to teach Global Development in A-level sociology, personally I would use it in the introductory lesson to the module.
Below i provide a brief summary of some of the key points of this documentary:
Sorting trash in Kenyan slum
After a brief introduction we get to see the first part the day of one guy in Kenya who works in waste management.
He gets up at 4.00 a.m and then spends several hours sorting through trash which is delivered from the nearby affluent suburbs and shopping areas. He sorts out food for his pigs and separates out any useful items which he can sell on.
There are a lot of people working sorting waste, many of them there because they have no other option. Many of them also eat waste food they find there.
Recycling cans in New York
The video now hops over to America where it follows another guy who also gets up at 4.00 a.m. to collect cans and bottles, which he then sorts to sell – there’s a good market in recycled containers it seams in New York – he can make $75 a day doing this.
We also get an insight into his life history – he used to be homeless, and he reminds us that many Americans are just one pay check away from falling into a similar situation.
Back in the slum
In this third section we see the guy in Kenya sorting out some of the cartons he’s found at the dump – he gets someone else to wash them and then he sells them on, making a daily income of $3-4 which is enough for him to feed his family, and lifts him above Kenya’s formal poverty line.
The U.S ‘Cultural Waste and Recycling Centres’
Back in the United States – we’re taken to a recycling centre, a community initiative that gives ‘canners’ support in their recycling endeavours – which plays a crucial part in helping them stay resilient.
The video also gets a bit more analytical at this point – there are 600 billionaires in the United States, but 40 million Americans live in poverty. But poverty is much worse in Kenya – it takes the average Kenyan 20 years to earn the annual salary of the average American.
There’s also a short interview with an anthropologist who reminds us that waste is cultural – a lot of things are only trash because we label them as such – and we take a trip to one guy’s museum of trash to drive the point home – he’s got thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good stuff he’s collected from what other people have thrown away!
Reflecting on Inequality
The documentary now highlights inequalities in the two countries – by taking a trip to the mall in Kenya – one gets the impression that the government there is investing more in malls for the wealth than in education and health for the poor.
In America we visit a guy who makes art from trash – one piece (which sold for a small fortune) adorns the wall of the one the most expensive apartments in New York – how’s that for irony.
in this section the two main men in the video give their views on inequality – both seem quite wise – neither think inequality is a good thing and would use our financial resources to give more enabling support to those in poverty, a leg up if you like to better help them help themselves.
Why do you think the video focuses on trash as a means of exploring inequality?
Have these two men found an effective solution (sorting and selling trash) to lift themselves out of poverty?
Do you agree with the two men in this video. Should our global resources be used to help the poor?
As we approach the end of 2020, there are almost 8 billion people on planet earth.
Trying to think in terms of billions of people is perhaps a little overwhelming, and maybe not that useful in helping us understand global differences and global inequalities.
A billion, (one thousand million) is so large a number that it’s maybe too abstract to help us understand the characteristics of our global population, it’s kind of easy to glaze over when talking and thinking in billions.
For example, if you look at the numbers of people on each continent, the figures are as follows:
4.8 billion from Asia
1.28 billion would be from Africa
800 million would be from Europe
720 million would be from Latin America & the Caribbean
400 million would be from North America
These numbers, presented in the billions and hundreds of millions aren’t that easy to comprehend – you kind of glaze over and switch off, it’s just because the numbers are so large we can’t relate to them that easily!
An easier way to compare these figures is to look at it in percentage terms, which is much easier for the human brain to understand:
Percentage of people on each continent:
60% in Asia
16% in Africa
10% in Europe
9% from Latin America & the Caribbean
5% from North America
With the percentages, we lose a bit of accuracy by rounding up or down, but for getting an overview it’s an easier starting point than the longer ‘billions and hundreds of millions’ figures above.
An even easier way to present an overview of global population characteristics is to imagine the world as 100 people, which is exactly the same as looking at the population in percentage terms, just a bit more ‘human’ and thus easier to relate to!
If the world were 100 People…
60 would be from Asia
16 would be from Africa
10 would be from Europe
9 would be from Latin America & the Caribbean
5 would be from North America
100 People: A World Portrait
There are a few versions of ‘the world as 100 people’ video – in which we are taken through how many people would live where, how many people would be what religion, how many have access to clean drinking water and so on.
However, although the most recent versions are dated 2019 and 2018, they both use the data from the 2016 project above: 100 people a world portrait – which also has it’s own (not as snazzy) video and sources (neither of the two more recent snazzier videos seem to think it’s even worth crediting where they got their information from, so I’m not going to link to them from here.
The Miniature Earth (Throwback)
I first came across the concept of the world as a 100 people back in 2010, through this miniature earth video.
IMO it’s a much better version, to the tune of ‘Mad World’ – just a shame it’s now dated and so not that useful, other than to compare to the 2016 statistics!
Brexit hasn’t been in the news much since Covid-19, but we’re still leaving the European Union in January 2020, which means we haven’t got long to get some trade-deals in place with several different countries.
The United States is one of the UK’s largest trade partners, with around $250 of trade between the countries every year.
We’ve actually been in trade negotiations with the United States since we knew there would be a Brexit in 2017, and we’ve just started up another round of talks, although a deal is apparently unlikely before the US elections in November 2020.
If we look back at the documents from the trade-talks since 2017, it seems that the US is pushing for the following:
The privatisation of the NHS and other public sector companies
Higher prices for US drugs companies
Protections for digital companies such as Facebook and Google
The UK has to accept ‘chlorinated chicken’
Oh, and they banned climate change from the talks too.
The trade talks so far have consisted of the US arguing for a pro free-market pro-Corporation agenda – a trade deal that allows large drug and digital companies more freedom to profit from our public services.
The fact that we haven’t caved into their demands yet suggests there is some resistance to the idea of too much neoliberalism, however, now that Brexit and a recession are looming, it will be interesting to see what kind of deal will be struck.
Especially since the NHS are now our heroes, this kind of deal might get some very negative publicity and mass resistance!
Global politics could get very interesting in the next few years!
If you’re and A-level sociology teacher, it might be a good time to switch to teaching the Global Development option!
Global Justice Now is a decentralized democratic global social movement which aims to challenge the powerful and create a more equal and just world.
It’s a great example of a small, politically oriented NGO (Non-governmental organisation) so makes a great study for that part of the Global Development module within A-level sociology.
Some of their current main campaigns include focusing on promoting Fair Trade that works for people and planet and the Freedom of movement for people (pro migration).
They have a strong anti-Corporate and anti-Trump agenda.
They organize several activities every year to highlight global social justice issues, which typically involve small protests and handing petitions to ministers expressing concern about generally neo-liberal policies.
They also produce a magazine full of leftist articles focusing on fair trade and the global south and organize occasional meetings around global social justice issues.
One of things to be critical of is how effective (or ineffective) this organisation is their budget is only £1.5 million a year, which is less than the annual salaries of most of the CEOs of the companies they criticise!
Still, it’s a good NGO case study and useful source of information to keep you up to date with global justice issues.
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