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Malcolm Fairbrother Lecturer in Global Policy and Politics School of Geographical Sciences

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The Ambiguous Crisis of Global Economic Inequality: Contradictory National and International Trends? WUN Horizons in Human Geography Seminar Series November 11, 2008. Malcolm Fairbrother Lecturer in Global Policy and Politics School of Geographical Sciences University of Bristol.

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The Ambiguous Crisis ofGlobal Economic Inequality:Contradictory National and International Trends?WUN Horizons in Human Geography Seminar SeriesNovember 11, 2008

Malcolm Fairbrother

Lecturer in Global Policy and Politics

School of Geographical Sciences

University of Bristol

inequality a classic concern in the social sciences
Inequality: A Classic Concernin the Social Sciences
  • Marxism
  • sociology
  • economics
  • geography?
inequality the left leaning social science view
Inequality:The Left-Leaning Social Science View
  • pessimistic about reality, optimistic about theory
    • the rich get richer, the poor get poorer
  • even worse: globalisation and neoliberalism
    • a growing/impending crisis of global inequality??
growing inequality conservative responses
Growing Inequality:Conservative Responses
  • don’t talk about it
  • deny it’s a problem (esp. if poverty declining)
  • deny it’s occurring
  • attribute inequality to laziness/inferiority of the poor
  • deny the possibility of controlling it
  • deny the advisability of controlling it
  • deny that conservative/neoliberal policies are causing it
two types of types of inequality
Two Types of Types of Inequality
  • First types: desirable things that can be distributed unevenly
    • health, longevity, education, mobility, political rights, status, wealth, income…
  • Second types: axes of social difference
    • ethnicity, gender, religion, citizenship status…
global income inequality
Global Income Inequality
  • key decomposition (Firebaugh):
    • within nation inequality
      • one-third of global income inequality
    • between nation inequality
      • two-thirds of global income inequality
slide12

Source: Nielson, Alderson, and Beckfield 2005

(from Luxembourg Income Study data)

trends in within nation income inequality mid 1990s to mid 2000s source oecd 2008
Trends in Within-Nation Income Inequality, Mid-1990s to Mid-2000s(Source: OECD 2008)

large increase: Canada, Finland, Germany

small increase: Austria, Denmark, Japan, Norway, Sweden, USA

no change: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland

small decrease: Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, UK

large decrease: Mexico, Turkey

trends in within nation income inequality mid 19 80s to mid 2000s source oecd 2008
Trends in Within-Nation Income Inequality, Mid-1980s to Mid-2000s(Source: OECD 2008)

large increase: Finland, New Zealand

small increase: Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, USA

no change: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, UK

small decrease: France, Ireland, Spain

large decrease: [none]

trends in between nation inequality
Trends in Between-Nation Inequality
  • unweighted by population?
    • growing (definitely)
      • many small, poor countries not growing
  • weighted by population?
    • shrinking (probably, a little)
      • heavily influenced by China and India
      • worldwide rate of absolute poverty declining
global income inequality1
Global Income Inequality
  • between nations, weighted by population:
    • declining (probably, a little)
  • within nations:
    • increasing (definitely, in many but not all)
  • overall:
    • hard to tell, but possibly decreasing
causes of growing within nation inequality
Causes of GrowingWithin-Nation Inequality
  • globalisation?
  • skill-biased technological change?
  • conservative/neoliberal/other policies?
causes of probably decreasing between nation inequality
Causes of (Probably) DecreasingBetween-Nation Inequality
  • in other words, what’s causing growth in China and India (and some other Asian economies)?
    • globalisation and/or neoliberalism?
consequences of growing within nation inequality
Consequences of GrowingWithin-Nation Inequality?
  • more nationalism? (Solt 2008)
  • more corruption? (You & Khagram 2005)
  • lost biodiversity? (Mikkelson et al. 2007)
  • worse health? (Wilkinson & Pickett 2006)
  • less political engagement? (Solt 2008)
  • less economic development? (Sokoloff & Engerman; Acemoglu and Robinson; Easterly)
consequences of changing between nation inequality
Consequences of Changing Between-Nation Inequality?
  • ???
  • what if present trends continue?
  • do effects of global inequality parallel those of within-nation inequality?
  • should we be concerned about weighted or unweighted global inequality?
  • growing influence of international media?
final thoughts
Final Thoughts
  • inequality is worsening… in some ways
    • probably not a crisis… yet
  • inequality appears to have a number of negative effects, but its full consequences are unclear
  • its causes are also unclear (though we have some ideas)
  • politics matters (even the OECD agrees)
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