Songs about Race and Injustice – Top Ten

Racial inequality and injustice are core themes within A level and degree-level Sociology, and there are a huge variety of songs across many genres which deal with such themes. The selection below deal with issues and concepts such as prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, Islamophobia, and many are critical of the nation state in perpetuating racial injustice through violence and moral panics.

The amount of such songs probably reflects the fact that their authors’ really aren’t being heard through regular channels, hence the musical outlet. Below are my top ten songs about race and injustice which can be used to illustrate various sociological themes. If you have any alternative suggestions about other songs which should be included please provide them in the comments.

10 – “War”, Bob Marley and the Wailers (Rastaman Vibration, 1976)

‘One Love’ and happy-spliff posters only represent a slither of Bob Marley’s philosophy – take a closer look at the lyrics of many of his songs and you’ll find a more serious political side to them  – the opening verse of ‘War’ illustrates this perfectly..

‘Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned –
Everywhere is war –
Me say war’

(Complete lyrics to Bob Marley’s War)

In later verses there’s a vision of globalisation based on human rights and international morality, and there seems to be a critique of the role which various nation states have played in preventing this from happening, a theme which you’ll find in some of his other songs such as ‘No Woman, No Cry”, which has precious little to do with romance btw.

9 – “Columbus”, Burning Spear (Hail H.I.M., 1980)

There’s not a great deal of sociological/ political content in ‘Columbus’ compared to some of the other songs on the list, but it does provide us with an unambiguous criticism of colonialism and reminds us that much of our history comes from a Eurocentric perspective.

‘Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar
Yes Jah

He’s saying that, he is the first one
Who discover Jamaica
I and I say that,
What about the Arawak Indians and the few Black man
Who were around here, before him’

8 – “Beds Are Burning”, Midnight Oil (Diesel and Dust, 1987)

This song protests the forcible removal of the Australian Aboriginal people, the Pintupi, from their western desert homeland, to the Northern Territories. During the 1950’s, the western desert was used for missile testing so the government forcibly relocated the Pintupi. Their land was not purchased from them and they received no compensation for their troubles.
The relocation didn’t just remove a people from their land; it also forcibly removed thousands of Aboriginal children from their parents, who were dispersed into separate government and religious institutions and foster care. They became known as “The Stolen Generation”.
‘The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back’
Midnight Oil performed this song at the close of the 2000 Sydney Olympic games to a world audience of billions of people, including Prime Minister John Howard. The entire band was dressed in black with the word “sorry” printed on their clothing because the Prime Minister refused to apologise on behalf of Australia to the Aboriginal Australians for how they were treated in the past 200 years.

7 – Fuck Tha Police, NWA (Straight Outa Compton, 1988)

A good candidate for the angriest of the songs on the list – but it is none the less an authentic account of perceived police racism in LA in the 1980s.

Selected Lyrics

‘Searching my car, looking for the product
Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics
You’d rather see, me in the pen
Than me and Lorenzo rolling in a Benz-o’

There’s not really too much to say about this one, other than it’s a useful, and classic, illustration of NWA applying labelling theory – there’s also some interesting mosh-pit action going on the 2014 live version above.

6 – Sonny’s Lettah, Linton Kwesi Johnson (Forces of Victory, 1979)

Sonny’s Lettah was written in protest of the so-called ‘Sus law’, which allowed police to detain people suspected of having “intent to commit an arrestable offence,” in England.  The story of Sonny is a condensation of various experiences gathered by Johnson into this one song.

The ‘lettah’ is written from a man to his mother explaining that he’s in prison – for defending a friend who was detained and beaten by the police for no apparent good reason.

‘Me and Jim stand up waiting pon a bus
not causing no fuss
when all on a sudden a police man
pull up
out jump 3 police man
De ‘ole a dem carrying baton

Ma Maa, meck a tell yu weh dem do to Jim
Ma Maa , meck a tell yu we dem do to him
Dem tump ‘im in ‘im belly
an’ it turn to jelly
Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im back
an ‘im rib get pop
Dem lick ‘im pon ‘im head
but it tuff like lead
Dem kick ‘im in ‘im seed
an it started to bleed

Ma Maa I just couldn’t just stan’ up
deh a no do nutten…’

In contrast to NWA, this is the most depressing song on the list, testimony maybe to the power of the narrative voice: the fact that it’s just one personalised (albeit hypothetically mish-mashed) case somehow has more of an emotional impact than many of the other songs which are more generalised and abstract.

5 – “Talk That”, Rival (Lord Rivz EP, 2011)

Written on the back of the London Riots, grime artist rival reminds us that there are literally hundreds of thousands of marginalised young people living in London who don’t identify with The City, the Olympic Park or Buckingham Palace – theirs is a life of blocked opportunity, crime and violence.

“A lot of people ask me why I speak so much violence, so much pain, so much rage,

That’s all I know”

4 – “Fortress Europe”, Asian Dub Foundation (Enemy of the Enemy, 2003)

A song dealing with asylum seekers – Asian Dub Foundation believe Britain’s boarders should remain open because Britain needs immigrants, with even illegal immigrants generating wealth. They also believe that the media making the link between asylum seekers and terrorism does not reflect the reality of most asylum seekers, i.e. most of them (near enough all of them in fact) are not terrorists.

‘Safe european homes built on wars
You don’t like the effect don’t produce the cause
The chip is in your head not on my shoulder
Total control just around the corner
Open up the floodgates time’s nearly up
Keep banging on the wall of fortress europe
Keep banging
Keep banging on the wall of fortress europe’

3. “Rong Radio Station”, Benjamin Zephaniah (Naked, 2006)

Deals with the role of the media in maintaining ideological control/ hegemony/ false consciousness. You have to watch it with the video – it adds another dimension!

‘For years I’ve been sedated
Now I think I’m educated
I’ve been listening to the rong radio station
and every time I felt ill, I took the same little white pill
I’ve been listening to the rong radio station,
When I started I was curious but then it got so serious
I was cool when I began but now I really hate Iran
And look at me now I wanna make friends with Pakistan
I wanna bomb Afghanistan’

2 “Terrorist”, Lowkey (Soundtrack to The Struggle, 2011)

Serves to remind us that while ‘terrorism’ is almost exclusively associated with Islamic Fundamentalism these days,  there are in fact many violent, politically motivated actions which maybe should be regarded as terrorism, but aren’t labelled as such.

Selected Lyrics

Tell me, what’s the bigger threat to human society
BAE Systems or home made IED’s
Remote controlled drones, killing off human lives
Or man with home made bomb committing suicide

If you look back over the past century, there are dozens of cases of western governments using violence to pursue their political goals – but when powerful organisations use smart-weapons to kill innocent people thousands of miles away, this is ‘legitimate force and collateral damage’, but when some Muslims do the same in the West, but with cruder home made weapons, they get labelled ‘terrorists’.

In versus two and three we get a nice historical overview of recent democratic regimes in developing countries which the West overthrew using military force, and in verse three a broader account of non-Islamic forms of terrorism.

1 – “Freestyle”, Akala (Fire in the Booth, 2011)

Eight minutes of freestyling by Akala, covering numerous sociological issues. Common themes in Akala’s songs  include war and conflict, racism, social injustice, and false consciousness – nicely illustrating many of the concepts developed by Marxist and Interactionist thought.

Selected Lyrics…

‘We can all fight our brothers over crumbs,

Harder to fight the one who makes guns’

NB Akala is very knowledgeable about the history of class and race relations in the UK – you should look at some of the videos with him talking/ being interviewed for an accessible introduction to this area of sociology.




Sociology in the News (3)

1. Yet more evidence of corporate criminals

From the USA here’s some further evidence of corporate criminality Federal regulators and states are finding fast food companies like Chipotle, McDonald’s and Papa John culpable of wage theft, worker intimidation and discrimination. A practice they say is “pervasive” in the industry.

Useful supporting evidence for the continued relevance of the Marxist perspective on crime – especially the ideas that all classes commit crime and that the harms caused by elite crime are extremely costly to society.

2. The continued relevance of structuralist Marxism

This article from The Guardian outlines how the decline of social housing and the increase in the private rental sector means that the government now pays almost £10 billion a year to private landlords through housing benefit, a figure which is twice as much as 10 years ago. It also cites research that suggests which outlines the benefits of social housing for the poor rather than leaving it to the private sector.

  • social housing would save the tax payer £1- 1.5 billion a year
  • The money would be circulated through local councils, rather than going to the rich, would further empower the poor.
  • There is generally more security of tenure in social housing than in private accommodation.

The author notes that ‘the move to private renting as social housing has been depleted is, and always has been, ideologically driven – social housing aims to meet an essential need while reinvesting the rent paid, whereas private renting merely enriches the lives of a small number of people’.

For A level sociology students this is a nice illustration of the continued relevance of aspects of Marxist theory (crudely applied) – The cheapest option for dealing with the problem of ‘housing the poor’ would be for the government to build and maintain ‘social housing’ – but instead the the state works outs the interests of the Bourgeois ahead of the general public by letting the council housing stock deplete and then paying more of our tax-payers money to these wealthy landlords, who provide housing for a higher fee than public bodies would be able to.

3. Latest UK income inequality statistics from The Guardian 

Full of nice summaries of income inequalities such as –

  • The top 10% of earners in Britain have salaries which are equal to more than the bottom 40% of earners combined
  • The median income for a single adult in the fifth decile is £17,600, but for a couple with two children it is £44,200

Personally, I shove this information in week one of the first year of sociology – Part of the intro lesson on social class, wealth and income inequality.

It’s lesson 2 or 3, can’t remember which, useful to dispel a few myths about average wealth, especially when you teach in Surrey (which is just about the most loathsome county in England).


Sociology in the News (2)

Application of sociology to a few recent news events.

1. The Death of the Duke of Westminster

Following the death of his father, the new Duke of Westminster has inherited a £9 bn fortune – making him the third richest person in Britain. This is clearly relevant to sociology in lots of ways –

Firstly, it’s a stark reminder of the staggering extent of inequality between the very wealthiest and the rest of us. If you want to fire up a sense of injustice – keep in mind that this wealth is unearned, this guy did absolutely nothing to earn it and thus in  no way deserves it by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. He now owns ‘half of London’ – people with properties in Mayfair will now be paying ‘ground rent’ to the Duke – just because there’s a law in place which says they have to pay him ground rent. (What was that Chambliss said about capitalism, private property and the law?)

Secondly, it’s a reminder that the law effectively applies differently to the rich compared to the rest of us – If the duke had  paid the standard 40% UK inheritance tax on his new unearned wealth, that would have given the British tax coffers a £3.5 bn boost – but instead the wealth is held in various trust funds, so the new Duke in effect paid 0% tax.

Thirdly, there’s the not insignificant fact of his sisters – the male Duke was third born, he get’s the wealth, not his two older sisters.

2. Reflections on Neoliberalism

Martin Jacque’s article on the death of neoliberalism is effectively a round up of recent news events and a convincing analysis of how they suggest that neoliberalism is no longer hegemonic (even citing Gramsci) and is actually in its death throws. (A brief introduction to neoliberalism here).

The author argues that there is a growing number of people and organisations actively seeking political solutions to neoliberal hypergloablism – that is the free movement of capital around the world. He cites the following (some are quite obvious examples others less so) as evidence –

  • Most importantly, neoliberalism has stopped bringing economic growth – we are still feeling the slowdown from the last crisis almost 10 years later.
  • Joint most importantly – the consequences of neoliberalism’s biggest failing – increasing inequality are becoming more and more evident.
  • Donald Trump’s increased political influence – he’s basically an anti-neoliberal economic nationalist
  • the vote for BREXIT
  • Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity
  • 48% of Americans now identify as working class, it was only 33% in 2000
  • The popularity of left-wing economists such as Pickerty, Ha-Joon Chang and Krugman (excuse spelling)

Jacques also notes that we don’t actually know what the alternative is yet, and the conservatives seem to be oblivious to it, but there is mounting evidence that neoliberalism as usual isn’t working.

3. The Olympics

Obviously anyone with any sense doesn’t define sport as newsworthy, but the mainstream media does and there’s been a real love-in with the Olympics over the past three weeks. Or to be more specific, the elitist upper-middle class media’s had a real love-in with the disproportionately privately-schooled Team GB.

Digging behind the rather shallow obsession with winning and league tables the Olympics actually offers us not only a painful reminder of the UK’s class divide, but also a nice illustration of the relevance of Giddens’ structuration theory – see ‘A Sociological Analysis of The Olympics’ for a few thoughts.

Meanwhile, the working classes remain sat on their sofas, eating crisps, getting fatter, being northern and just plain wrong. I’m fairly sure ITV’s switch off for an hour won’t make any difference.

Sociological Analysis of The Olympics

The British media love The Olympics, especially when ‘Team GB’ are so successful, but there’s a lot more to individual or even team success than just the individual athletes…Team GB’s success actually illustrates the relevance of Anthony Giddens’ concept of structuration, as well as the damaging effects of class-divide in the UK (despite ‘our’ success)

The Olympics and Structuration Theory 

(NB this is applying what Giddens’ actually meant by structuration, not how the concept has been over-simplified to the point of misrepresentation in every A level text book).

Structuration refers to the fact that structures enable individual action and are necessary to empower people, or necessary for people to realise their talents, or for people to ‘shine’ as individuals – there are several ways you can put it, and the concept stands against the postmodern ideas that there is no social structure any more and individuals are totally free agents).

While it obviously takes a lot of individual effort to be an Olympic athletes, there seemed to also be quite a lot of recognition of the fact that there is a lot of ‘structures’ in place behind these individual success – for example:

  • Lottery funding
  • The team of experts behind the athletes – coaches, physios, nutritionists
  • The years of planning, training and discipline building up to the Olympics

The idea that Olympic success is merely a story of individual success is clearly nonsense, and we could take the above further – in order for there to be an Olympics at all we need to have at least the following in place:

  • Nation States (or similar groupings which mean something to people)
  • Billion dollar infrastructure such as stadiums
  • A global communications network.

Having said all this, it’s unlikely that the ‘minions’ behind the successful athletes will see any real recognition – the chances are that it’s the individual athletes who’s stories will be told and the individual athletes who will receive honours. Thus is the dominance of the discourse of individualism.

The Olympics as an illustration of the class divide in the UK

‘There are more British Olympians who have a horsey relative named Portia than there are Olympians from working class backgrounds.’

Just a  hypothesis for you -a reasonable one based on the actual social class stats on GB Olympians – According to the Independent you are more than four times more likely to be a top GB Olympian if you were privately educated – they made up 28% of the UK’s Olympic squad, while only making up 7% of the UK population as a whole – NB that 28% is up from 21% since the London Games.

This has a lot to do with private schools providing access not only to expensive elite sports such as rowing and dressage, but also providing higher quality coaching and facilities for the more accessible sports.

If you look at the medal tables, people from comprehensive schools do just as well (near enough, proportionally) compared to people from private schools, suggesting that when they get the opportunity, there is equality.


It seems rational to suggest that if we could harness the full-talent pool of the United Kingdom by getting more of the 93% (non-independent) kids into the Olympics squad, then we’d win even more medals, rather than our nation being held-back by the elites?

NB – If you think this is bleak, then this pattern of independent school privilege is mirrored in both university entrance and access to the top professions such as medicine, journalism and law. Recent research from 2016 –

  • Three-quarters (74%) of the UK’s top judges went to a fee-paying school
  • Slightly more than half of leading print journalists and solicitors (51% each) attended fee-paying schools.

Of course you’re not told this in the mainstream media – the class inequality that probably limits our medal prospects and the same class inequality that probably makes our top professions less-dynamic (and certainly less-diverse) – which is probably a reflection of the fact that it is precisely those people (independently educated) who fail to report on such things – they tend to see their careers, and the Olympians’ success as mostly down to individual efforts and generally fail to tell us about the significance of structure and structuration.

P.S. I’m calling this post ‘Sociology in the News (2) – given that the Olympics dominated the news for half of August.





12 Facts about Gender Inequality

Evidence from Kat Banyard  (2010) The equality illusion– the truth about women and men today, Faber and Faber.


Today it is normal for women to worry about their looks. Girls have starkly different relationships to their bodies than boys – they put greater emphasis on how attractive their bodies are to others – for boys physical prowess – what he can actually achieve is more important than looks. Banyard cites the following evidence to support her view that women are more concerned about their looks than men –

1. 1.5 million people in the UK have an eating disorder – 90% of them women and girls

2. A survey conducted by Dove of 3000 women found that 90% of them wanted to change some aspect of their body with body weight and shape being the main concern.

3. One in four women has considered plastic surgery.

4. An analysis of animated cartoons shows that female characters are far more likely to be portrayed as physically attractive than male characters and those who are attractive are far more likely to be portrayed as intelligent, employed, happy, loving and involved in kissing and hugging.

5. In 2007 a survey of Brownies aged 7-10 were asked to describe ‘planet sad’ they spoke of it being inhabited by girls who were fat and bullied about their appearance.

6. A survey conducted in 2009 found that a quarter of girls thought it was more important to be beautiful than clever. –

7. The more mainstream media high school students watch,  the more they believe beauty is important according to the American Psychological Association.

8. The media furore over Susan Boyle was mainly because she didn’t conform to the female stereotype of beauty.

9. In 2009 the Bank of England held a seminar for its female employees called ‘dress for success’ – where they were informed, amongst other things, to ‘always wear make up’, there was no such equivalent for men

10. Some studies have shown that the more a girl monitors her appearance, the less satisfied she will be with her appearance.

11. Two thirds of women report having avoided activities such as going swimming or going to a party because they feel bad about their appearance while 16% of 15 -17 year olds have avoided going to school for the same reason.

12. One experiment found that female students performed worse in maths tests when wearing a swim suit compared to regular clothes while boy’s performance doesn’t decrease under the same conditions

Analysis – what Banyard actually thinks is wrong/ harmful about this situation…

‘The existence of a suffocating ideal of beauty has persisted and it has remained a gendered phenomenon. Women are judged on their ability to conform to a beauty ideal – there is a cultural pressure to manipulate their bodies to fit into a pre-existing ideal – to treat your body as an object that will be consumed by an observing public (This is known as objectification)

While some Feminists argue that the Feminine pursuit of beauty is simply a matter of choice – women freely choose to do it (Baumgardner) others (Jefferys) argue that the practise of beautification reflect and perpetuate gender inequalities – women put effort into displaying their femininity/ sexuality because they are relatively powerless – and those women that do engage in the practise of beautification perpetuate the idea that a woman’s value is in her beauty.

Millions of girls and women begin their days with beautification rituals because their sense of self hinges on the gaze of others. If your sense of self esteem depends on what you think others think of your appearance, can you really be said to have freedom of choice? Also, can you really say women are equal to men in this respect?

One of the reasons for the persistent problems of body image faced by females is that girls are taught from a very young age that their physical appearance is a reflection of their worth and value, and treated accordingly.

Wealth and Income inequality in the U.K.

Official statistics suggest that the richest 20% of the U.K. are 100 times wealthier than the poorest 20%; the richest fifth’s annual household income is 5 times greater than the poorest 20% of the U.K. Population, after benefit and taxes are taken into account.

This post provides two accessible ‘headline’ statistics on wealth and income inequality, courtesy of some excellent animated infographics, and then goes on to look at the original data sources and organisations who produce the data in more depth. The point of this post is to both provide and overview of wealth and income inequality in the United Kingdom and to provide some useful links to allow students to explore statistics on wealth and income inequalities in more depth.

Wealth and income inequalities are closely correlated with social class, although economic measurements are just one indicator of social class, which is a broader concept, also encompassing social and cultural capital (if we are going to use the latest social class survey – see here for an introduction to the concept of social class.

Wealth Inequality in the United Kingdom

  • The richest 20% are about 100 times richer than the poorest 20% –
  • If we represent the wealth of nation as £100 pounds, then the richest 20% have £60 out of every hundred, while the bottom 20% have only 60 pence.

The inequality briefing below provides an overview of how wealth is distributed in the UK. It compares how people think wealth should be distributed, what they think the actual wealth distribution is in the UK, and finally what the actual wealth distribution is.

What people think wealth distribution in the UK should be

Wealth Inequality UK 2015.png

How people think wealth is actually distributed in the UK

Wealth inequality UK.png

How wealth is actually distributed in the UK


Income Inequality in the U.K.

  • The bosses of Britain’s biggest companies earn 100 times more than the average wage.
  • It takes them just three days to earn what a Nurse earns in an entire year.

This video by the High Pay Centre summarises the situation in 2014

  • Brenda, nurse,  earns £12 an hour, the average wage in the U.K.
  • Brian, a chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest companies, earns £1200 an hour, 100 times what Brenda earns.
  • It takes Brian just three months to earn what Brenda will earn in her entire working life.
  • Brenda’s annual salary of £27 000 has hardly changed at all over the last decade, while the cost of living has increased.
  • Brian’s annual salary on the other hand has increased from 2.6 million to 4.3 million over the last decade.
  • If we redistributed the income of the U.K. on the same basis of the Netherlands, which would effectively involve reducing the income of the top 1% by a mere 25%, then 99% of us would be an average of £3000/ year better off.

Income inequality in the UK 2014

Income inequality U.K. 2014

A fairer income distribution, based on the Netherlands

A fairer income distribution, based on the Netherlands

Further Sources on Wealth and Income Inequalities

The sources below provide a more in-depth focus on the nature and extent of wealth and income inequalities in the United Kingdom today. Click on the links to explore them further!

Source 1 – The Office for National Statistics bi-annual ‘Wealth in Great Britain’ Survey

This link will take you to the latest 2014 report

  • The wealthiest 10% of households owned 45% of aggregate total wealth in July 2012 to June 2014.
  • The bottom 50% of households owned 9% of aggregate total wealth.
  • In 2012-14 the wealthiest 20% of households had 117 times more aggregate total wealth than the least wealthy 20% of households.
  • In comparison, the wealthiest 20% of households had 97 times more aggregate total wealth than the least wealthy 20% of households in July 2010 to June 2012.

  • The total net wealth of the lowest three decile households (30% of the U.K. population) is approximately £200 million.
  • The lowest decile have zero wealth, many such households will have net debt rather than assets.

Source 2 – The Office for National Statistics produces an annual report on ‘Household disposable income and inequality in the UK’

This is the report financial year ending 2016 with some of the main data summarised below…

  • Original household income (before cash benefits and direct taxes) for the richest fifth of households was around 12 times higher than the poorest fifth (£85,000 and £7,000 per year respectively)
  • Disposable household income (after cash benefits and direct taxes) for the richest fifth was 5 times higher than the poorest fifth (£62,400 and £12,500 per year respectively).
  • This shows us that, overall, cash benefits and direct taxes led to income being shared more equally between households

  • Over the past year, median disposable income for the poorest fifth of households rose by £700 (5.1%). In contrast the income of the richest fifth of households fell by £1,000 (1.9%) over the same period.
  • Looked at over the past decade, the incomes of the poorest fifth of households have increased by approximately 13%, while the incomes of richest fifth of households have fallen by approximately 3%.
Growth in median household disposable income, financial years 2008 – 2016

 Related Posts

Even more resources to explore wealth and poverty in more depth… 


Criticisms of Neoliberalism

The three country case studies below all suggest that although neoliberal policies might promote economic development in the long run, in the case of Chile at least, there are some significant negative consequences of this pathway to development.

  • Chile in the 1970s
  • Boliva in the the 1990s
  • India – Contemporary

NB – If you’re here for a blog post about Neoliberalism in India – please click here (I moved it!)


The following clip from ‘The Shock Doctrine’ outlines the ‘neoliberal experiment in Chile from 1973 onwards, the very first neoliberal experiment in development.

Following the overthrow Salvador Allende, the democratically elected but Socialist President, the American backed Dicator Augusto Pinochet implemented neoliberal economic reforms.

These were written for him by by a group of American economists known as ‘The Chicago school’, headed by Milton Freedman.

Examples of neoliberal policies reforms included the cutting of taxes on imports to 10% (previously Chile had the second most protected economy in the world) and the privatisation of state owned companies.

In the short term – the policies increased unemployment and inflation and inequality and human misery which led to massive social unrest which Pinochet oppressed violently killing tens of thousands of people.

However, 40 years later… Chile is one of Latin America’s leading economies.

Neoliberals might argue tens of thousands of lives is a price worth paying for rapid wealth creation

Neoliberalism in Bolivia 

This video clip from ‘The Corporation’ summarizes the case study of water privatization in Bolivia in the 1990s.

  • In the early 1990s, one local administrative area within Bolivia was forced to privatise the previously state owned water supply as part of a ‘Structural Adjustment Programme’
  • A Multinational took over running the water supply for a profit
  • The poorest people couldn’t afford to pay for water.
  • This led to massive protests which the government violently suppressed.
  • In this case the government eventually renationalised the water supply due to popular demand.
  • Did neoliberalism help development?
  • If you define progress as the right to clean water then no.
  • If you define it as increasing profit for European Transnationals then yes.

Neoliberalism in India 

Arundhati Roy notes that  ‘Trickle down hasn’t worked in India, but gush up certainly has’


She notes the following three ways in which the Elite in India Benefit from Neoliberal Policies

  • Corrupt government officials sign a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with a Corporation which privatises a chunk of publicly owned land, giving that corporation the right to use that land to establish a business – this either takes the form of mining the raw materials from under the land, or establishing a range of other projects such as Agribusinesses, Special Economic Zones, Dams, and even Formula One racing circuits.
  • Taxes are typically kept very low in these deals – often sow low in that local people see little of the financial benefit of the new business. This is especially true were mining is concerned. In 2005, for example, the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Jharkhand signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding with private corporations, turning over trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other minerals for a pittance – royalties (effectively taxes) ranged from 0.5% to 7%, with the companies allowed to keep up to 99% of the revenue gained from these resources. (Allowing people like Ambanni to build their 27 story houses, rather than the money being used for food for the majority of the Indian population.)
  • In a third strand of Neoliberal policy, companies are subjected to very little regulation. It seems that they are allowed to develop their projects without protecting the environment or paying any compensation to people who are negatively affected by these projects.


The Neoliberal Theory of Economic Development

According to neoliberalism big government and too much official development aid prevent economic and social development, while deregulation, privatisation and lowering taxation are required to achieve economic growth. This post outlines the neoliberal approach development and then briefly assesses the effectiveness of neoliberal policies.

What is Neoliberalsm?

Neoliberalism - The Dominant Ideology since Reagan and Thatcher
Neoliberalism – The Dominant Ideology since Reagan and Thatcher

While the usage of the term neoliberalism varies considerably, for the purpose of this post i use the term to refer to that set of economic policies which have become popular in economic development over the last 30 years (since the late 1980s) – namely increased privatisation, economic deregulation and lowering taxation.

Neoliberalism replaced modernisation theory as the official approach to development in the 1980s. It focuses on economic policies and institutions which are seen as holding back development because they limit the free market. The agreement by the World Bank and IMF that neoliberal policies were the best path to development is referred to as the Washington Consensus following a meeting in Washington by world leaders in 1989.

What prevents development?

Neoliberals argue that governments prevent development – When governments get too large they restrict the freedom of dynamic individuals who drive development forwards. Neoliberals argue that there is some pretty powerful evidence for this – Think of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, although these governments forced through industrialisation, they would not allow people enough freedom to bring about the kind of consumer culture (based on individual freedom of choice and expression) that emerged in Western Europe in the 1960s, so development stagnated in those countries because of governments having too much power. Similarly neoliberals argue that even in Capitalist countries where there is too much ‘red tape’ – or too many rules, regulations, taxes and so on, it’s harder to do business and so harder for economies to develop.

Neoliberals are also critical of the role of Western aid money – They point to the many corrupt African dictatorships which emerged in Africa in the 1960s -1980s – These were often propped up by aid money from Western governments and during this period billions of dollars were siphoned off into the pockets of government officials in those countries and not used for development at all.

How can countries develop?

Chile - The First Neoliberal Experiment
Chile – The First Neoliberal Experiment

Neoliberalism insists that developing countries remove obstacles to free market capitalism and allow capitalism to generate development. The argument is that, if allowed to work freely, capitalism will generate wealth which will trickle down to everyone. 

Another way of putting this is that neoliberals believe that private enterprise, or companies should take the lead in development. They believe that if governments promote a business friendly environment that encourages companies to invest and produce, then this will lead to exports which will encourage free trade. So encouraging ‘free’ trade is a central neoliberal strategy for development

The policies proposed are those that were first tried in Chile in the 1970s, then in Britain in the 1980s under Thatcher. They include:

  1. Deregulation – Removing restrictions on businesses and employers involved in world trade – In practice this means reducing tax on Corporate Profits, or reducing the amount of ‘red tape’ or formal rules by which companies have to abide – for example reducing health and safety regulations.

  1. Fewer protections for workers and the environment – For the former this means doing things like scrapping minimum wages, permanent contracts. This also means allowing companies the freedom to increasingly hire ‘flexible workers’ on short-term contracts.

  1. Privatisation – selling to private companies industries that had been owned and run by the state

  1. Cutting taxes – so the state plays less of a role in the economy

Neoliberalism and Structural Adjustment Programmes

Some countries willingly adopted these policies, believing they would work; others had them imposed on them as part of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). SAPs basically involves the World Bank or IMF agreeing a loan for a developing country (this might be to build roads/ hospitals/ industrialise/ mechanise agriculture/ build sewage systems/ schools etc.) as long as the country fulfills certain conditions. Since the 1980s these conditions have meant such things as deregulation and privatisation. 

Overall Criticisms of Neoliberalism12

  1. A report from the CEPR compared the period from 1960 to 1980, when most countries had more restrictive, inward looking economies to the period 1980 to 200 the period of neo liberalism and found that progress was greater before the 1980s on both economic and social grounds.

  1. Those countries that have adopted free market polices have developed more slowly on those countries that protected their economies

  1. Dependency theorists argue that neo-liberalism is merely a way to open up countries so they are more easily exploitable by Transnational Corporations. We will see this in the next handout!

  1. Transnational Corporations do not tend to invest in the poorest countries, only in LDCs and NICs

Global Development Revision Notes

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Global Development Revision Notes

 Global Development Notes Cover53 Pages of revision notes covering the following topics within global development:

  1. Globalisation
  2. Defining and measuring development
  3. Theories of development (Modernisation Theory etc)
  4. Aid, trade and development
  5. The role of organisations in development (TNCs etc)
  6. Industrialisation, urbanisation and development
  7. Employment, education and health as aspects of development
  8. Gender and development
  9. War, conflict and development
  10. Population growth and consumption
  11. The environment and sustainable development

1 – article on the failure of neo-liberalism

2 – review of a book on the problems neo-liberal policies caused in Bolivia in the late 1990s.

Related Posts

World Systems Theory

Further Reading

The Guardian -Neoliberalism’s Trade not Aid approach to development ignored past lessons

The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics – Guardian commentary (August 2016)

The reproduction of class inequality in education

This video explores the role of social and cultural in the process of the reproduction of class inequality.!/revisesociology/dpf4yejg

This video shows a hypothetical dialogue in which two middle class parents discuss how they might translate their material and cultural capital into educational advantage for their offspring, thereby reproducing class inequality.

material capital is basically money and resources,

cultural capital refers to the store of skills and knowledges middle class parents might have which give their children an advantage in life over working class children.

The reproduction of class inequality through education may be defined as the process whereby middle class children succeed in education and go on to get well-paid middle class jobs, and vice versa for working class children. As a result class inequality is carried on across the generations.

This was one of the first educational videos I ever uploaded to YouTube, but since the company decided to demonetize my account I am deleting everything from YouTube and bringing it to Dtube – a decetralised, blockchain based social media platform – get on the chain, I say!



Related Posts

Cultural Capital and Education – Extended Version