Dynamics of Inequalities in a Global Perspective

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The contribution in this introduction, and in this monograph issue of Current Sociology itself, is to explain how patterns of inequality associated with global capital have been reconfigured in different contexts and have historically produced varied
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  Current Sociology 1  –13© The Author(s) 2015Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/0011392115614752csi.sagepub.com CS Dynamics of inequalities in a global perspective: An introduction Vilna Bashi Treitler  City University of New York, USA Manuela Boatc ă University of Freiburg, Germany Abstract The contribution in this introduction, and in this monograph issue of Current Sociology   itself, is to explain how patterns of inequality associated with global capital have been reconfigured in different contexts and have historically produced varied results. The definition of global inequality used here transcends Euro- and US-centric models of linear development and comparisons of national income and its distribution to explain how complex socioeconomic hierarchies, including – but not limited to – class, reinforce inequalities among social groups around the globe. The editors trace contemporary patterns of inequality back to the history of imperial and colonial power so as to reintroduce into the scholarly dialogue on inequality a broader understanding of ascriptive hierarchies of race, gender, caste, and national citizenship and their relationship to colonial conquest, enslavement, and labor migrations as interrelated contexts of the global production and reproduction of inequality patterns. Keywords Capitalism, citizenship, development, gender, global inequalities, race Introduction When Eduardo Galeano wrote these words in the 25th Anniversary Edition of Open Veins of Latin America , he could have been writing about any part of what was consid-ered to be the ‘underdeveloped’ world: Corresponding author: Vilna Bashi Treitler, CUNY Graduate Center Sociology Program, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA. Email: vtreitler@gc.cuny.edu CSI 0010.1177/0011392115614752Current Sociology Bashi Treitler and Boatc ă research-article 2015 Editors’ introduction  by guest on December 6, 2015csi.sagepub.comDownloaded from   2  Current Sociology For those who see history as a competition, Latin America’s backwardness and poverty are merely the result of its failure. We lost; others won. But the winners happen to have won thanks to our losing: the history of Latin America’s underdevelopment is, as someone has said, an integral part of the history of world capitalism’s development. … Development develops inequality … (Galeano, 1997: 2–3) The social, political, and economic forces associated with the Eurocentrically con-structed notion of ‘development’ have shaped patterns of inequality associated with global capital for centuries, producing historically varied results that, broadly speaking, enriched the global North and impoverished the global South. But, in terms of press coverage as well as academic debates in the global North, global inequality is news. As recently as 2012, The Economist   still questioned whether inequality needed to be tackled at all, arguing that globalization and technical innovation had narrowed inequality glob-ally ( The Economist  , 2012). This monograph issue takes the opposite stance, making the dynamics of inequality its primary focus on at least two grounds. First, the gap between rich and poor has increased since the 1980s, especially in high-income countries such as the United States and Great Britain (a fact that the  Economist   article acknowledged). For example, there are more ‘Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWI)’ in London than anywhere else in the world – these are people whose net worth not including their pri-mary residence are upwards of US$30 million (Dorling, 2014). Why London? Because Great Britain has an even more lax tax system than the previously favored Switzerland (Dorling, 2014). Second, at the same time, income inequality decreased so significantly in parts of Latin America (which, together with the Caribbean, is still the world’s most unequal region) that headlines commending Latin America for putting the ‘Gini back in the bottle’ ( The Economist  , 2012) vied with those warning that the US is now more unequal than Latin America (Light, 2013).Attention to the rise in income inequalities in the global North more generally  prompted scholarly interest in global inequalities as a ‘new’ topic of social science. In an end of year report issued in 2014, the United Nations adviser Amina Mohamed of the World Economic Forum warned that increased inequality between the world’s richest and poorest people threatens to reduce both the sustainability of economic growth and weaken social cohesion and security, and called inequality ‘one of the key challenges of our time’ (World Economic Forum, 2015). At the 2014 World Economic Forum, Oxfam released a report according to which, in 2014, the richest 85 people on the planet owned as much as the poorest 50% (or 35 billion people) – down from 388 in 2010 (Oxfam, 2014; for the skeptical view, see The Economist  , 2015).However, framing global inequalities as a new phenomenon has been instrumental in obscuring the fact that a constant move toward polarization – i.e., toward the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer – has been characteristic of the capitalist world-economy throughout its history (Wallerstein, 1979). While this tendency is most visible at the global level, i.e., as a rise in inequalities between countries, the methodological national-ism inherent in the conventional analysis of social inequalities since the nineteenth cen-tury has made the nation-state the most common unit of analysis of inequality studies. Most dynamics of global inequalities thus go unnoticed. This monograph issue therefore starts from the premise that a shift in the unit of analysis from the nation-state to the by guest on December 6, 2015csi.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Bashi Treitler and Boatc  ă   3 world as a whole reveals different structural dynamics of inequality at the global level. Most importantly, such a methodological shift reveals that global inequalities are not a new phenomenon. Indeed, new forms of inequality still result from transregional pro-cesses that have been with us for more than five centuries. Yet transregional entangle-ments – involving intercontinental voluntary and involuntary migration (which includes the European trade in enslaved Africans) and the unequal economic exchange between shifting metropolitan and peripheral areas – shaped the inequality structures of both the former colonizing and the formerly colonized regions at least since the European expan-sion into the Americas (Boatcă, 2015). From the fifteenth century and into the twenty-first, today’s poorer nations were colonized, either by settlement or foreign administration. Colonization reorganized the colonized people’s cultures, economies, and political and social systems by marginalizing the indigenous, taking away their control of their land, extracting their labor and other local resources, and creating an international division of labor designed to stimulate the industrialization and enrichment of the colonizer and force the decline of native industries. Together, these actions caused the colonies’ under-development (McMichael, 2000).Many African and Latin American nations finally managed to overthrow their colo-nizers and regain decision-making control over their political and economic infrastruc-tures only in the mid-twentieth century. In 1960 alone, 17 new African nations joined the United Nations (UN), and new independent nations in the Caribbean, Africa, and Middle East increased the number of UN member nations by 50%, to 127 total (United Nations, n.d.). A period of optimism ensued, when the power and promise of newfound political sovereignty and economic independence seemed poised to catalyze economic prosperity, geographic security, and greater global equity. Even political and economically conserv-ative scholars and policymakers who subscribed to theories of modernization believed that newly independent nations could finally develop by going through stages traveled  by other more developed nations, until these former colonies would themselves reach a level of modernity in culture and economy generally understood to represent progress. Hope marked the new era of development – but that ‘development’ was meant to occur with economic ‘aid’ from the West, which is described as economic stimulation, but which comes with conditions set by lenders and enforced by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Thus did former colonies attempt to emerge from legacies that left their own cultures permanently changed, and where they struggle still to attain political legitimacy and economic sustainability in a world not of their own making (McMichael, 2000).The mid-twentieth-century promise of progress was left unfulfilled for most nations, despite their ardent attempts to implement strategies for development. Scholars named neocolonialism  the vestiges of domination that still reverberate in current political and economic relationships. Other scholars blame forces outside of the poor nation and  believe them to inhere in the relationships organizing the global economy so that the growth of more powerful nations occurs at the expense of the less powerful, and question whether significant economic progress is possible for poor nations seeking growth in this regime. Raúl Prebisch (1950) first denounced the international division of labor that reduced Latin America to a raw material producer for the industrial centers as the main reason for the region’s underdevelopment. André Gunder Frank (1967) later popularized by guest on December 6, 2015csi.sagepub.comDownloaded from   4  Current Sociology Latin American dependency theory  through his notion of ‘the development of underde-velopment’ and others like Samir Amin (1973, 1977) continued research in this tradition, applying it to countries in Latin America and Africa that must rely upon the export of agricultural goods and raw natural materials. In a more complex elaboration of similar themes, scholars focused upon dependent development theory  to explain why economic  progress may be possible for some, but comes at some cost (including rising domestic inequality, rapid urbanization, and other social and economic ills), and will not likely be achieved by governments that try to opt out of the world economy in a quest for eco-nomic isolationism as they attempt to avoid the downsides of participation in global capitalist markets (Evans, 1979).An even broader and longer-term view of the roots of inequality among nations and why inequality persists can be located in world-systems analysis . This approach draws on dependency theorists’ notions of development of underdevelopment and the center–  periphery structure of the global economy in order to argue that the historical system that ever since the European colonial expansion in the fifteenth century has been gradually incorporating all regions of the globe is a capitalist one. The international division of labor of this capitalist world-system relies upon the unequal distribution of profit to the benefit of core countries at the expense of peripheral ones. Immanuel Wallerstein (1974) and his followers argue that, as the system develops, the basic core–periphery division of labor is  being continually reproduced, while extreme polarization of the system is held in check  by countries of the semi-periphery as a middle stratum that is at the same time exploiter and exploited in the unequal exchange (see also Chase-Dunn and Grimes, 1995).Of course debates persist among the thinkers in these traditions. Theorists in the world-system tradition argue about the age, size, scope, cyclical nature, and uniqueness of the system’s political and economic organization, as well as the conditions under which a nation can develop (Chirot and Hall, 1982). Similarly, while the zenith of the dependency school may be in the past, its insights still represent an important corrective to naïve assumptions about the ease of achieving economic development in poorer nations (Chirot and Hall, 1982). Scholars who write and study in the academic subfield known as  political economy  (of which world-systems analysis is a part) are critical of the conventional ways that local and global economies are said to operate, but they do not routinely make central the ways that race and gender hierarchies play out in their analy-ses of domination, or centrally explain systematic global inequality. There are two major assumptions at play. First, there is a widespread belief that the global economy can be made equitable without reference to global hierarchies of domination like race and gen-der. Even those political economists who abandon the idea of the impersonal market and choose to foreground politics and ideology in market processes still presume that eco-nomics (and neither race nor gender) is the engine that drives nations and the world. Conventional economists point to modernization theories and development strategies;  political economists prove their belief in the possibilities of equality in markets by focus-ing on the poor functioning of market systems even while admonishing that abandon-ment of markets is unfeasible. A second (and perhaps related but not identical) assumption is that race and gender are both exogenous to the functioning of global and local markets.  Neither race nor gender have predictive value in macroeconomic analyses, seemingly, for economic models of neither the conventional nor the critical kind devote much energy by guest on December 6, 2015csi.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Bashi Treitler and Boatc  ă   5 to explaining why women and non-white peoples consistently fail to share in economic  profits so unequally distributed. The idea is that development economics, done right, is the great equalizer.While local variations exist, there is a global racial system organized by forces that keep races (however phenotypically, socially, or culturally defined) in a relatively stable  global racial hierarchy  that defines for each racial category the freedom they will feel from economic deprivation, its ability to hoard privilege, and its cultural or physical desirability. Race as a biological given does not exist; racial categories are imagined configurations of presumed physical difference that sort humans into groupings that are hierarchically arranged into superior dominants and those considered to be lesser. As socially constructed (i.e., fabricated in geographic space and historical time to meet iden-tifiable needs) as races are, they are used to determine the allocation of our world’s politi-cal, cultural, environmental, and economic resources – they are quite literally a matter of life and death, and as such are key components of the political economy of the globe. The racism that was used to carry out the colonial reorganization of indigenous societies worldwide has permanently transformed them and destroyed local cultures. But we do not speak here of historical artifacts; race and racism are central organizing tools of mod-ern society (Bashi Treitler, 2015; Bashi Treitler, 2013; Smedley and Smedley, 2011; Winant, 2002), capitalist accumulation (Miles, 1993), and even the building and consoli-dation of powerful nation-states (Marx, 1998). Racism survives, even past the era that witnessed successful struggles both to end colonialism in all its forms and mass mobili-zations to win equal rights for all races (Marx, 1998; Winant, 2002). Aníbal Quijano’s notion of the coloniality of power   (Quijano, 2000) addresses the interrelations between race, colonialism, and the political economy of global capitalism by conceiving of colo-niality as a situation of cultural, political, and economic domination that can be enforced in the absence of colonial administrations and is thus more durable than colonialism. At the same time, coloniality represents the carry-over of both racial hierarchies and the international division of labor produced during the time of direct or indirect colonial rule into post-independence times. Thus, the notion of coloniality of power captures the logic according to which today’s economic, political, and racial inequalities still largely mirror the power relations exerted before the presumed decolonization of the world in 1945.Migration is an important response to global inequality and the racialization that con-tinues to oppress nations in the global South. Scholarship that uses a migration systems  approach seeks to understand the dynamics of migration that involve the political, eco-nomic, cultural, and social context in which global migration takes place, as well as the dynamics of the migration streams generated (Kritz et al., 1992; Massey et al., 1998). Migration systems ‘fundamentally consist of countries that exchange relatively large numbers of migrants, [and] they are also characterized by certain feedback mechanisms that connect movements of people (immigrants, students, tourists, and employees) to concomitant flows of goods, capital, ideas, and information. Economic, cultural, and  political links form a network of relationships holding international migration systems together’ (Massey et al., 1998: 60). These systems are constellations of linked countries, where links srcinated in past eras of imperialism, colonialism, the trade in enslaved  persons and other commodified natural resources, and perhaps may be thought of as smaller configurations of world economic systems and world racial hierarchies. History by guest on December 6, 2015csi.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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