Poverty, Inequality, Modernity - 1 Capitalism, Colonialism and Divergence Global Inequality: Statistics Oxfam Report 2019: - assets of 26 richest people = assets of poorest 50% of global population - since global financial crisis, doubling of worlds billionaires
- Jeff Bezos wealth: 100 times the health budget of Ethiopia - 2017-18: new billionaire created every 2 days - UK: poorest 10% pay more tax than richest 10% (if you include VAT and other consumption taxes The history of modern inequality: two contemporary perspectives Kenneth Pomeranz (2000): after 1750, economies of north-west Europe and East Asia
diverge because of the formers access to coal reserves and New World products Niall Ferguson (2011): 500 year dominance of West over rest is explained by 6 killer apps Traditional notions of poverty before the rise of capitalist modernity Before onset of our modernity, poverty understood as immutable, absolute state transparent, to be responded to, not explained.
1. The poor you have with you always (The Bible: Matthew 26:11) 2. The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly, And ordered their estate. (Anglican hymn, c.1848) 3. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (The Bible: Matthew 19:24) 4. the earth shall be made a common treasury of livelihood to whole mankind (Gerrard Winstanley, 1649) So poverty a moral state (virtuous or evil, just or unjust)
- a transparent state (everyone knows what it is) Modern era: poverty morphs (19th and 20th centuries) Victorian society: deserving and undeserving poor the former could and should be helped, the latter seen as beyond all aid. Debates between laissez-faire and social interventionism: should states intervene in wages, rent, food prices or not? Birth of social investigation
Mid-20th century: poverty now understood as a set of social indicators (housing, education, nutrition, health, fertility, etc) to be analysed (economics, sociology, criminology, psychology), controlled, and intervened in by either private or public initiative. Summarizing: the shifts From poverty as a moral state (to be upheld or condemned) to poverty as an object of analysis, targeted interventions
From poverty as immutable and absolute to poverty as something which can be redefined constantly Criticisms of modern inequality: central themes The modern world: fundamentally unjust This injustice is grounded in capitalism, which according to its critics always divides society into grossly unequal classes linked through exploitation of labour
Social hierarchies (race, gender, caste) also determine who gets to control/create wealth, and who gets pummelled by it Capitalism and modernity are essentially uneven processes: they unify the world (no part of the world is outside capitalism) but also differentiate and divide it (they constantly generate inequality) Colonialism: the mechanism through which the inequalities of capitalism have historically been globalized How did colonialism generate global
inequality? Processes of conquest, war, genocide: - sub-humanization of entire swathes of worlds population (eg. Atlantic slavery; wiping out of indigenous populations; emergence of modern racism). Spread of capitalism across the world: colonial powers extracting land, labour, resources from the colonies and repurposing them for their own economic growth and expansion. At the same time, durable historical tension: the age of colonial conquest is also associated with liberal ideologies of improvement - colonialism often defended on the grounds that enlightened Western rule
would develop and civilize the backward parts of the world. - emergence of categories of progress and backwardness (as scientific descriptions of entire societies) Brussels World Fair, 1958: Colonial Exhibit Capitalism, Colonialism, Justification Capitalist economic growth in the industrializing world as a trigger for colonial expansion Colonialism in turn feeds the expansion of global capitalism
Economic growth becomes a justification for colonialism: so the inequality between industrialized and non-industrialized parts of the world are cited as proof that they need us to govern and develop them Colonialism thus develops a double rationale: a) self-interest, b) development and improvement of resources and lives of the colonized Development: defined as integration into global commodity networks, efficient exploitation of land and resources, introduction of habits of labour and enterprise.
Case Study: Colonialism in India (18th-20th century) Free Trade policies: tariff-free inflow of industrial manufactures from Britain, crippling many Indian industries esp. textile production Comparative advantage: India becomes exporter of cash crops, raw materials: cotton, tobacco, indigo, opium, tea. Land commandeered for this purpose; Indian agriculture gets integrated into global markets Railways: built in order to transport agricultural raw materials from interiors to ports for export
Famines: during food shortages, foodgrains allowed to travel freely out of affected areas to places where people can afford them Indentured labour: tens of millions of workers shipped across world to work in plantations and mines (Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, Ceylon, South Africa) on binding, punitive contracts (sometimes called a new kind of slavery) Conclusions On a global scale, the very indicators of development and progress (scientific advances, industrial
expansion, wealth creation) indissociably bound up with their opposites (mass poverty, inequality) This inequality became the basis for mass anti-colonial uprisings in the 20th century: based on the claim that national liberation would redress global imbalances, usher in a more equal world Yetinequality has continued to expand, inexorably. (Theme for tomorrow!)
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