Are there really fewer covid-19 cases in poorer countries?

According to this New York Times heat map, Covid-19 cases seem to be much more prevalent per capita in developed countries compared to developing countries…

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The counts are especially high in America, Europe and South America doesn’t fair too well either.

But the count per capita is much lower in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Analysis from Brookings (source) shows the contrast much more starkly – People in developing countries make up 50% of the world’s population but account for only 2% of covid deaths.

The infographic below shows how many people die from covid (the circle) compared to the other main causes of death – if you look at the left hand side, they are generally poorer countries, on the right, generally richer countries…

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Are there really fewer covid cases and deaths in poorer countries?

Brookings suggests the different may not be as great as the statistics above suggest. Because….

  1. The different age profiles – Covid-19 affects the very old more severely – especially the over 70s – and to put it bluntly there are hardly any people aged over 70 in poorer countries, because of the lower life expectancy, whereas in developed countries have a more older age profile.
  2. Differences in detecting and reporting covid-19 as a cause of death. In developed countries we have much better detection capacity and it’s possible that Covid has been mis-recorded as a cause of death when really, because of co-morbidity, something else was really the cause. While in the developing world people may well be dying of (or with) covid-19 but it hasn’t been traced.

in short, remember that these covid-19 death statistics are a total social construction.

However, the statics may lack validity, but government responses the world over have been severe – and this social reaction has had very real negative consequences in rich and poor countries alike!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is mainly relevant to the global development health topic, but there are also some nice links here to the problems with official statistics.

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Anuta – A Case Study in Global Development

The Island of Anuta is one of the remotest places on Earth – part of the Soloman Islands, it is a 5-6 day sail from the Capital, with its nearest inhabited neighbouring island being over 50 KM away.

Boats may visit the island as infrequently as three times a year, so the islanders cannot rely on them for resources, they have to make use of what is available to them on the island and in the ocean surrounding.

Anuta is a very small island, with an area of only 0.4 square Kilometres, but with a population of around 300 it has one of the highest population densities on planet earth, similar to that of Bangladesh.

This island community should be of interest to any student studying the global development option for A-level sociology, as this case study illustrates many of the key themes of this module.

In terms of ‘economic development the inhabitants of Anuta are very undeveloped, they are money poor, but they seem to have a very high quality of life, almost idyllic.

At the very least this case study will make you question the advantages of western models of development, and the idea that advanced industrial economies are necessarily the most progressive.

Research studies on Anuta

The anthropologist Richard Feinberg has spent some time researching life on Anuta – he spent a year there in the early 1970s and returned more recently to make the film below, which is available on YouTube:

Bruce Parry also visited Anuta for several weeks as part of his Tribe documentary series, and if you can get hold of that from the BBC, it’s well worth a watch, although at time of writing this is more than a decade old already!

A summary of the video

The documentary starts on board the boat with the film makers and anthropologist talking through expectations.

When the boat first arrives at the island, one of the islanders comes aboard who Richard Feinberg knew from his previous visit (about a decade earlier) and they hug for about five minutes (quite unusual in itself by Western standards.

We first see the welcoming scene in which about three dozen people come out to meet – greeting by touching foreheads, quite a slow affair (again by Western standards)

We learn that population is becoming an issue – it has doubled in ten years, since the year 2000. People were even then starting to worry about their privacy, not so much the resources.

We now see the formal greetings with the chiefs – there is a hierarchical structure – based on ascribed status – if you can’t trace your lineage back to chief, you are not going to be a chief!

Anuta: emphasises compassion and equality

A core value in Anutan society is that of Aropa – which emphasises compassion for others and collaborative working and sharing.

One very tangible way this value manifests itself is through the equal sharing of finite resources – food for example is shared equally among all the islands inhabitants

There is a strong support structure on Anuta, the idea of someone being alone and unsupported is almost unheard of, something which is all too common in the west.

The entire crew of the ship is invited onto the island for a welcome feast – they get a full on welcome ceremony with dancing etc.

When you ask Anutans why they do something – there are two stock answers –

  1. Because it’s tradition
  2. Because it makes us happy

It’s worth nothing how different this is to the Western idea of doing something for the money, which often makes us miserable (Weber’s Instrumental logic!)

All of the islanders come out for the feast, and all 300 great the ship’s crew with a nose kiss, which ‘breaks down the individual personal bubble’.

Lots of the ship’s crew comment on how the way of being greeted was very emotional, with a total breaking down of barriers, and a real sense of unity being created between everyone.

Some historical context

They now go and visit with the Chief and he reflects on the past – he talks of previous famines, one in which people were forced to eat dirt to survive – he quips that since the arrival of the Christian Church there has been no famine as bad – so ‘our new God protects us better than the old gods.’

Feinberg also notes that the Christian teaching of ‘love thy neighbour’ fits in well with the Anuta value of Aropa – in that sense they were Christians before the Church got there!

Population and Environment

The Anutans seem to live a very sustainable life, recognising that everything the need comes from nature.

Despite their growing population they are not worried, at least that’s what the chief says.

The Anutans are self-sufficient for the most part – Fishing is the main activity, but they also hunt seabirds and grow food on the Island, the staple crop being Manioc

They are not entirely cut off in that they do use industrial technology to hunt and farm – steel fishing spears for example.

Some of the islanders also attend school off-island, and there is a monetary fund to pay for that, but not much detail is provided on this aspect of island life!

Interestingly, they have zoned out regions of the sea around the island which have extensive coral reefs, and they manage them sustainably, with bans on fishing in some of them for periods, to be harvested when the fish are bigger – kind of a natural sustainable management system!

Canoes

Canoes are treated as part of the family – trees on Anuta are scares, so when one is felled to make a canoe, it is a big deal.

We get to see one canoe which is over 100 years old and still used for fishing.

They are so important that if a canoe is damaged, a funeral is held, as if it were a dead relative.

Leaving Ceremony

There is an extensive leaving ceremony – in which they have a final tour of the island, and there is a group lamentation in which everyone weeps (a lot) as the guests leave.

We’re reminded that the Anutans, while very aware of the wider world, have made a choice to maintain their traditional culture as much as they can.

Anuta: Relevance to A-Level sociology

This case study can be used as a criticism of Modernisation Theory and Western Ideals of development more generally. Clearly the Anutans have a very traditional way of life, as expressed in their value of Aropa.

Aropa is quite like the collectivism mentioned in Rostow’s modernisation theory, but it is difficult to argue that this is ‘holding their culture’ back in anyway.

Of course there are challenges this community faces going forwards, and of course they benefit from modernisation in some ways (fish hooks) but it’s difficult to see how their becoming a fully fledged part of the modern capitalist industrial economy would benefit these islanders.

Sources

Anuta – wikipedia entry.

Is Globalization in Reverse?

in this post I consider some recent examples which seem to suggest that globalisation is going into reverse.

I also evaluate each of these pieces of evidence.

Personally, I’m not convinced that there is any strong evidence of a reversal in globalisation!

Brexit

At first sight, Brexit might seem to be evidence of anti-global attitudes, especially if you are of the opinion that Brexit was mainly people wanting more control over immigration into Britain – all the time Britain was in the EU, it had no control over its immigration policy.

This ties into a theory of Globalisation advanced in the 1990s by Adrian Wood – the idea that globalisation would benefit unskilled workers in less developed countries at the expense of unskilled workers in more developed countries – and it was primarily the less educated in Britain who voted for Brexit, suggesting this could be something of a backlash against globalisation.

However, it was mainly older people who voted for Brexit, the younger generations were more likely to vote against it and younger generations tend to have a more cosmopolitan worldview, and the Brexit vote only went through – nearly as many people voted against it as voted for it.

The Increasing Number of Boarder Walls

There are currently now 70 walls border walls between countries, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 there were only 15! (Source).

One of the best known examples is the wall between the United States and Mexico, which was one of Donald Trump’s main 2016 election pledges, and is still being built!

The total build cost of this particular wall is around $15 billion. (Source BBC)

The erection of giant border walls certainly seems to be some strong evidence of globalisation in reverse, as Nation States seek to prevent the free movement of people, and presumably they need the support of their populations (or at least around half of them) to be able to put these constructions in place.

HOWEVER, while walls will certainly deter some people, they do not stop everyone from crossing them – in fact it could be giving more power to organised gangs of people smugglers – the more difficult it is to cross a wall, the more likely people are to turn to ‘experts’ to help them get across, having to pay them $thousands of dollars for the privilege, and no refund if they’re not successful.

And where drugs are concerned, there’s even less evidence that walls are effective there – Mexican Drugs cartels just use very long tunnels these days for example!

Coronavirus – will result in countries seeking to localise supply chains

This BBC article summarises the views of a number of different professors of globalisation who seem to agree that Globalisation may have peaked in 2019 and that Covid-19 accelerate a trend towards less globalisation.

One the main points is that while Gloabalisation has brought many benefits (such as rapid economic growth) it has also brought increased risks, and the pandemic has highlighted this – it showed us how dependent we are on global supply chains for example and how quickly stocks of goods can run out when supply chains are disrupted.

It is thus possible that 2021 will see an acceleration of the trend towards the trend of manufacturing taking place closer to home rather than being spread out across huge global supply chains – as companies seek more security from disruption.

The problem with this is that it is ‘future thinking’ – we don’t know if this will actually be the case!

Sources

Find out More – You might like to watch this video: Globalisation: Is it in Reverse?

Relevance of this to A-level Sociology

Globalisation is an integral part of the subject, but especially relevant to the Global Development option for unit 2.

The idea of globalisation being in reverse is useful to criticise Optimist and Pessimist theories of globalisation especially.

The Sustainable Development Goals 2015 – 2030

In 2015, following the end of the 2000 -2015 Millennium Development Goals, all member states of the United Nations signed up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Sustainable Development Goals are part of this agenda, and they are much broader in scope than the original Millennium Development Goals and are more ambitious.

There are 17 Sustainable Development goals (which split into a further 169 targets):

Five main themes of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:

  • People – many of the goals focus on lifting people out poverty and hunger and providing a decent education for all
  • Planet – there is a lot more focus on protecting the environment compared to the original MDGs – for example with the ‘life under water’ goal.
  • Prosperity – there is a focus on improving lives through enterprise and innovation, linking into partnership below
  • Peace – the agenda recognises that there can be no effective development without peace.
  • Partnership – there is much more focus on the agenda for sustainable development being a partnership between developed and less developed countries than with the original MDGs.
NB – The most important goals?
Note how goals 7 and 8 from the MDGs are now a lot more prominent in the updated SusDev goals…

Tracking progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals

You can click on any of the goals on site linked above to find out about progress towards achieving them.

This link will take you to the progress towards goal 1, for example. The latest 2020 update doesn’t look promising. It notes that:

  • Even before the Pandemic, the rate of reducing the percentage of people in extreme poverty had slowed (it was around 14% in 2010, 8% in 2015 and just down to 7% in 2019.
  • With the Pandemic, another 50 million people will be pushed back into poverty, pushing that figure back up to 8%.

The Sustainable Development Goals: Peak Bureaucracy but little Progress?

One possible criticisms of the Sustainable Development Goals might be that there seems to be A LOT of organisations involved with being ‘partners’ for development, but not so much actual progress being made! Lots of talk, LOTS of words, LOTS of info and pretty colour coded targets, but not so much actual progress…?!?

About this post

This post was written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the Global Development Option in year two.

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Global Value Chains and Globalisation

The 2019 World Bank Development Report highlights the importance of ‘global value chains’ to helping poor countries develop.

Global trade has increased significantly since the 1990s and global value chains today account for more than 50% of global trade.

Those countries which have high levels of participation with Global Value Chains have generally developed more quickly than those countries which have limited or no participation with global value chains.

Vietnam would be a good example of a country that has increased its export links to GVCs over the last 30 years and has seen a corresponding rapid economic development.

What is a Global Value Chain?

The report defines a global value chain (GVC) as ‘the series of stages in the production of a product or service for sale to consumers. Each stage adds value, and at least two stages are in different countries.’

The bicycle is used as an example of a product with an extensive global value chain, with many countries being involved in the many stages of its production.

Global Value Chains and Development

Those countries which have moved from simply exporting agricultural goods to manufacturing parts for products such as bicycles have seen higher levels of economic growth since the 1990s:

What I find most interesting is this map here:

We see that those countries which are more involved with global manufacturing – China and India for example have seen the highest rates of economic growth

The negative consequences?

The report also has chapters on increasing inequalities which have emerged as a result of development through increasing manufacturing – GVC firms tend to be highly concentrated in only a few regions in every country, and women are less likely to be employed in managerial positions.

And there may also be some negative environmental consequences for countries more involved in global value chains.

Future challenges

The report suggests that recent technological innovations which bring manufacturing closer to the end-consumers of GVC products (3D printers) may mean that manufacturing for GVCs is no longer a viable path to development for poorer countries.

The limitations of this report

You have to question how objective this report is – it is from the World Bank, an organisation dedicated to increasing World Trade.

The report also doesn’t seem to acknowledge the problem of what happens to those countries which are ‘left behind’ or ‘left out’ of global value chains.

That map above kind of reminds me of an updated version of Wallersteins’ ‘three zones’ in his World Systems Theory – and in that theory, one country can only move up into a higher zone at the expense of another moving down – there always has to be one country (or regions within countries) at the bottom, or maybe even left out altogether, which seems to be the case here.

It might be that integrating into GVCs is a great way to develop for SOME people in some regions of some countries, but not necessarily even for the majority of people the world over.

It might even be the case that the expansion of GVS are the cause of more inequality and thus, despite increasing economic growth (which are very limited indicators of development) we actually have equal amounts of losers (or more) than we do winners from the expansion of GVCs.

Relevance of this report for Global Development within A-level sociology

  • This seems to be a good case for global optimism – those countries which get more involved in global trade
  • The map of countries seems to be a modified version of Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory‘s ‘Zones of Production’, although interpreted here in an entirely positive light!
  • This seems to be a positive example of increasing trade leading to positive development.
  • HOWEVER, you need to be critical of this report because of the biased source – the World Bank, which is pro-trade!

Sources/ citations

You can read the full report here.

A Covid vaccine for the rich, but not the poor?

Moderna is a BioTech company that has had some recent success with a covid-19 vaccine in clinical trials – vaccine mRNA 1273.

There’s a video about it here:

Moderna says it has the capacity to produce 1 billion shots of the vaccine in 2021 and has already sold most of those shots to rich governments, and stands to make an estimated $8 billion next year from the vaccine.

In one deal the US government has agreed to pay $1.5 billion for 100 million shots (pending agreement of emergency legislation in January). The U.S. also has the option to buy a further 500 million doses (it might take two shots per person to work, so that would cover most of the US population).

More recently Modern agreed a deal with the European Union for up to 160 million doses of the vaccine.

Poor countries set to miss out?

As this article from Global Justice Now points out most of this new vaccine has already been bought up by rich world government.

There doesn’t appear to be much hope that developing countries will gain access to this vaccine in 2021, given that those 1 billion shots the company can produce have already been reserved for richer countries.

The rich benefit

Global Justice Now also report (in the article linked above) that this new vaccine has been funded with nearly $2.5 billion of public money, but with governments paying at least another $8 billion on top of this, this really does seem to be a tidy profit for Moderna.

Moderna’s stock has been increasing ever since it started leaking news about positive progress being made on the vaccine, with two leading executives having cashed out shares and made $30 million each.

The stock continues to rise on the back of the deals being struck with western governments for courses of the vaccine. It has quintupled in value since it started work on the vaccine….

Relevance to global development

This topic is clearly relevant to health and development, and also several theories of development.

This is clearly an example of a Transnational Corporation playing a positive role in development – it is developing a vaccine that will help combat a global pandemic, but we need to go further….

This is also an argument against neoliberal theories of development – governments are very involved here – tax payers money has provided a seed fund for this company and it is governments agreeing to buy the vaccine.

Finally, this seems to support global pessimist theories of globalisation – it is governments with the money and thus people in rich countries who are initially going to benefit from this vaccine, the poor in poor countries are going to have to wait.

We don’t know yet how developing countries are going to pay for this vaccine – if they have to pay? Will it be donated, will it be funded with loans?

That remains to be seen, but for now it seems like it’s vaccines for the rich, nothing for the poor!

Economic and Social Development in Kenya since 2000

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.

Economic Trends

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

Development Aid

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:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kenya_Exports_Treemap_2017.svg”>Kenya Exports Treemap 2017

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%

Peacefulness Trends

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!

Sources

The Economic Consequences of Coronavirus (part 1)

what are the economic consequences of covid-19?

Coronavirus has had a negative effect on economic growth. Lockdown measures imposed by governments the world over have seen disruption to global supply chains, a decrease in international trade, an increase in unemployment, and a decrease in investment and global wealth in general.

Coronavirus has decreased global wealth

Probably the easiest way to summarise the economic consequences of coronavirus is to look at the impact it has had on Global Wealth, which I’ve already summarised in this blog post here.

Global Wealth has decreased by $8 trillion compared to where it was projected it would have been before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Personally I find this the most useful individual indicator, as it just takes one static gross snap shot figure and compares it with another, it’s very easy to understand.

Coronavirus has pushed most countries into recession

The latest data from the International Monetary Fund shows most countries with less than 0% GDP growth for 2020, so negative growth, that’s all countries in red below, accessed November 2020.

However, we need to look at a lot more figures to get a fuller picture.

Further reports emphasise the near universal negative consequences of Coronavirus:

This report (June 2020) by the World Bank predicts a 5% decrease in global GDP over the coming year, the largest decline since the 1870s, with all regions and countries showing significant cuts to their expected (pre-covid) economic growth rates.

The consequences of this economic slowdown which will be declining rates of investment, job losses and a corresponding decline in the rate social development in many developing countries.

Some sectors have been especially badly hit – the price of oil fell drastically with the Pandemic, but the agricultural sector has not been so badly effected. As a general rule, you might say that the less essential the sector, then the more it has been affected!

This report highlights that no country will escape the effects of Covid-19 unscathed, but China and Asia will probably fair better than the rest.

How Coronavirus Disrupted Global Supply Chains

The immediate impact of Coronavirus was a significant disruption to global supply chains, meaning that many global retailers struggled to maintain stocks of their products.

Supply chain problems also meant that manufacturers had to slow down or cease production of their products altogether, because they struggled to source raw materials.

Lockdown measures imposed in China in early 2020 were the main cause of this, because China is the world’s biggest manufacturer – it not only produces a lot of ‘end products’ (such as iPhones) but it also manufactures a lot of components that factories in other parts of the world need in the products they produce.

To find out more, this article by Bloomburg outlines how disruption to global supply chains impacted a variety of businesses all over the world – from watchmakers in Hong Kong to Lobster fishermen in New Zealand, it does a great job of highlighting the truly global effects of the Pandemic.

According to analysis of data on Tradeshift (a global supply platform) by the World Economic Forum global trade fell dramatically in February – April 2020. Chinese trade transactions fell by over 50% in March 2020, and the United States and Europe followed suit with a 26% drop in April, and a 17% drop after that.

The article suggests that as Chinese trade declined because of lockdown measures, global manufacturers struggled to source materials from other countries and so their production also slowed down.

What Coronavirus has revealed is that the world has become very dependent on China as the source of products – and when it goes into lockdown the rest of the world suffers.

The article further suggests that manufactures will probably look to diversify their supply bases in the future so as to be less dependent on China – and countries such as India, Vietnam and Mexico will probably be the main beneficiaries from this.

Another possible change might be more production in developed countries, further decentralising global supply networks,

So maybe the long term impact of globalisation will be a much more diverse form of economic globalisation (with China being less dominant) and maybe a reversal of the globalisation of manufacturing if we end up with more manufacturing taking place in developed countries?

The effects of Coronavirus on Transnational Corporations

A 2020 World Bank survey of Multinational Enterprises found that more than 90% had been negatively impacted by the Coronavirus Pandemic.

75% reported decreasing reliability of supply chains (meaning more difficulty in producing stuff) and decreasing worker productivity.

Half of MNEs surveyed have cut investment in developing countries by an average of 30% and 40% have reduced employment by an average of 16% – so overall that’s an average reducing of 15% investment and around 7% in employment.

The report (linked above) calls on governments to provide tax breaks to MNEs as well as more deregulation, so in other words more neoliberalisation, which is unsurprising coming from the World Bank.

Not all sectors have been affected equally

As has been reported widely, sectors of the economy associated with travel and leisure, such as the oil and aviation sectors have been affected very badly, with the number of flights taken being significantly reduced.

However, one sector which is doing better, with the hope of a vaccine coming soon, is the Pharmaceutical sector:

NB – these aren’t the only economic consequences of Coronavirus – I will cover the human cost in a separate post, in which I focus on the disruption to people’s working lives – the small enterprises struggling with lockdown measures, and how so many people are struggling to cope with reduced income and job losses.

Selected Sources

World Economic Forum: Here’s how global supply chains will change after COVID-19

Bloomburg: The Virus is interrupting Supply Chains

The Rich, The Poor and the Trash

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.

Final section

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.

Discussion Questions

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?

Visualising Global Wealth Inequalities

Global inequality is one of the core themes in the Global Development option within A-level sociology, and visual infographics are a useful way of making global inequalities easier to understand.

This post focuses on global wealth inequalities.

Details of how wealth is measured are included at the bottom of this post.

The Distribution of Wealth by Country

Global Private Household Wealth stood at $400 trillion in June 2020 according to Credit Suisse’s latest 2020 Global Wealth Report.

(This was almost 9% increase on the previous year, and continued a long term trend of increasing wealth over the last two decades.)

If this wealth were distributed evenly, each individual adult in the world would have a total net worth of almost $80 000. However, the distribution is far from equal!

The map below shows the median net private wealth per household in different countries in 2019, according to Credit Suisse.

From the figure we can see that generally:

  • North America, Western Europe and Australian households have an average wealth of over $100 000.
  • Brazil, China and Russia (three of the BRIC nations) have an average household wealth of between $25 000 to $100 000
  • Much of Asia and Latin American and North Africa have an average household wealth of between $5000 to $25 000
  • Most of Sub Saharan Africa and Afghanistan have an average household wealth of less than $5000.

NB – you can look at practically any map of any development indicator (health/ education/ peacefulness etc.) and you’ll find that poor health, low levels of education and high levels of conflict are correlated with low levels of wealth. There are some notable exceptions, but as a general rule, low levels of household wealth means poor social development!

(For example, one notable exception is the USA which is very wealthy but severely socially underdeveloped, possibly because of such high levels of relative poverty within the country)

Global Wealth by Country

The infographic below by Visual Capitalist (link below) shows us the amount of wealth per country:

Top wealthiest countries

Visual Capitalist also produced the following table:

RankCountryRegionTotal Wealth ($B, 2019)% Global Share
#1🇺🇸 United StatesNorth America$105,99029.4%
#2🇨🇳 ChinaChina$63,82717.7%
#3🇯🇵 JapanAsia-Pacific$24,9926.9%
#4🇩🇪 GermanyEurope$14,6604.1%
#5🇬🇧 United KingdomEurope$14,3414.0%
#6🇫🇷 FranceEurope$13,7293.8%
#7🇮🇳 IndiaIndia$12,6143.5%
#8🇮🇹 ItalyEurope$11,3583.1%
#9🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America$8,5732.4%
#10🇪🇸 SpainEurope$7,7722.2%
#11🇰🇷 South KoreaAsia-Pacific$7,3022.0%
#12🇦🇺 AustraliaAsia-Pacific$7,2022.0%
#13🇹🇼 TaiwanAsia-Pacific$4,0621.1%
#14🇨🇭 SwitzerlandEurope$3,8771.1%
#15🇳🇱 NetherlandsEurope$3,7191.0%
All Other Countries$56,58515.7%
Global Total$360,603100.0%
Top 15 wealthiest countries.

The above table is kind of useful, when you see that the USA controls almost a quarter of the world’s wealth, but with only around 4% of the world’s population, that alone can give you a sense of the inequality, especially when it’s leading China in P2 whose population is more than double that of the United States.

NB – What country wealth statistics don’t show is how equally (or unequally in the case of America) wealth is distributed in a country, which is something we will consider later.

The Global Wealth Pyramid

A second visualisation Credit Suisse Produce is the global wealth pyramid

The Global Wealth Pyramid

This pyramid shows us that:

  • The top 1% of the population, or just 52 million people (those worth more than $1 million) control 43.4% of the world’s wealth
  • The next 11.4%, or 590 million people (those worth from $100 000 to $1 million) control 40.5% o the world’s wealth
  • The next 34%, or 1.7 billion people (those worth from $10 000 to $100 000) control 14.7% of the world’s wealth
  • The poorest 53%, or 2.7 billion people (those worth less than $10 000) control only 1.4% of the world’s wealth.

The richest 1% own 43% of the world’s wealth

The visualisation below (courtesy of the global inequalities blog, link below) does a good of showing how few people control how much wealth, and how many people control so little:

Wealth controlled by Ultra High Net Worth Individuals

The graphic below zooms in closer on the very very wealthy. We see that those worth more than $30 million, just 0.002% of the world’s population control over 7% of the world’s wealth!

Definition of ‘Net Worth’ or Wealth

According to the Global Wealth Report, Net worth, or “wealth,” is the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, minus their debts.

This figure includes the net value of all the assets a household owns if sold and their private pension fund assets. The figure does not include any state entitlements/ benefits or state debts.

Discussion Question:

What is the best way to visualise global wealth inequalities?

Sources

  • Credit Suisse: Global Wealth Report 2020, linked above
  • Global Inequalities blog – does a nice job visualising some of the stats in the Credit Suisse Report. NB the stats above are from the 2019 report, but that’s not too long ago and I like them!
  • Visualcapitalist – produced the excellent football like visualisation of wealth inequalities by country!