Global Inequality And How To Fight It (II)

Part I

Inequality and characterizing poverty

After WWII, the world experienced seven and a half decades of development policies and quite impressive global economic growth. However, the global polarization was and is increasingly making a deeper and deeper economic gap between rich and poor nations. A discipline of International Relations became simply slow to cope with this problem. As a matter of illustration, according to the World Commission on Social Dimensions of Globalization’s data (2004), GDP per capita in 1960−1962 of 20 poorest nations was on average $212 but of 20 richest nations $11.417. The gap became deeper at the beginning of the 21st century (for the years 2000−2002) as GDP per capita of 20 poorest nations was $267 but of 20 richest nations $32.339.

Poverty, disease, hunger, and famine, however, remain widespread in a bigger part of the world. Globally, women and girls are the majority of the poorest people. Nevertheless, such a situation is not only present in the part of the world called usually the South or the Third World. During the last several decades, the promotion of neo-liberal economic politics (the Washington Consensus) by the institutions and personalities of the so-called global governance is accompanied by visibly increasing inequalities between the nations but as well as within the same state. It is a very fact that today, the majority of the Second World nations of the former Eastern bloc during the Cold War 1.0 are incorporated into the group of the states belonging to the Third World, and millions of people previously cushioned by the state authorities are brought into poverty with the transition from a socialist command economy to capitalistic market one.

In the First World nations since the 1980s, it was rising social inequalities which characterized the social landscape of the post-industrial countries. Within the Third World nations, the adverse impact of globalization and turbo-globalization felt acutely for the reason that states were forced to adopt the policy of the liberal free-market economy as one of the crucial conditions of debt solving the crisis and hoping to attract new investments to stimulate country’s economic development.

A homeless girl asks for alms outside a coffee shop in Mumbai
A homeless girl asks for alms outside a coffee shop in Mumbai, India, June 24, 2016

All researchers on globalization agree that poverty today is one of the most serious threats to human and global security. The distribution of the total global economic pie is quite uneven and, therefore, some 7 billion people across the globe are living on less than $2 per day but 1.5 billion of these are surviving on less than $1.25 a day. According to some data, the poorest 40% of the global population account for only 5% of global income while the wealthiest 20% receive ¾ of global income. However, the income gap between the top and bottom 10% increased in many cases during the last 15 years. Poverty, from both the most general viewpoint and concerning international relations, is expressed in two forms: relative and absolute.

Actually, global inequality founded on the economy and economic reasons existed all the time in human history but in recent decades is more pronounced than before with the claim that such trend is very likely not to be reversed shortly. The ratio of 80:20 is well known: 80% of global people are living in the poor South but they possess only 20% of the global wealth. It means that the rich North has only 20% of the global population but at the same time even 80% of global resources. The globally richest 20% of people had a combined wealth 30 times greater than the poorest 20% in 1960 but in 1997 this ratio was already 74:1 according to the rapport by the UNDP in 1999. However, such North/South division is only loosely geographic while several increasing nations during the last decades can fit both categories like the nations of oil-rich the Middle East or Asian Tigers, etc. Nevertheless, disparity, in general, between the rich North and poor South has tremendously widened since 1990.

Such relative inequality creates sharp debates among the experts about the question: even if it is ever-increasing – necessarily constitutes a problem or it is an indicator of political failure? Many authors consider that it is unacceptable from a very moral viewpoint that resources are very unevenly allocated but on the other hand others argue that relative poverty is not necessarily a problem and/or a failing feature of the world system.

The relative features of poverty can be or not accepted as a problem in global politics but the existence of the features of absolute poverty in the form of hunger and famine are indisputably accepted as both a problem and political failing of the international community in general and national states in particular. After the Second World War, it was proclaimed by the UNO, as the most representative institution of the international community, that the elimination of all features of absolute poverty is one of the focal priorities.

The focal question raises about what are the crucial sources of poverty around the globe? Several factors mainly contribute to poverty in low developed countries of the Third World or the Global South such as inadequate health conditions, poor education especially of children and women, lack of clean water followed by the shortage of other social services. One of the main problems concerning poverty is the fact that in many countries of the Global South exists the absence of birth control that is resulting in the creation of large families which possess small landholding and, therefore, are not able to sustain themselves. Additional problems are of an environmental nature as deforestation and drought which directly affect the poor. Additional difficulties for the people to avoid malnutrition, hunger, or famine is raising the prices of the food products followed by the non-solidarity of wealthy nations to stop with domestic agricultural subsidies and consequently, it makes, in fact, impossible for the Third World nations to export their agricultural products.

Famine and hunger  

A famine is a sudden increase in mortality that is coming from the shortage of food products. Globally, most cases of famine are resulting in both natural and political factors. Usually, these two factors are combined in the practice. The experts claim three crucial factors for any particular famine concerning the relations between the food supply and food demand: 1) A food supply is not working properly; 2) The food demand increased; and 3) The standard way of food distribution is disrupted for any reason. The last factor is usually influenced by both politics and the economy. However, from the very perspective of globalization, it can be said that all cases of famine are caused by disruptions to the standard way of food distribution for the very fact that in the world exists a quite sufficient amount of food for all humans to be normally fed. Nevertheless, the food shortage can occur because of poor harvest or the population can grow at a rate that the food supply is unable to match. But when famine happens for any reason, standard types of supply and demand are usually magnified by political factors (for instance, the Irish famine in 1845−1847).

The food demand is continuing to be increased in the Third World countries and natural disasters are continuing to afflict the same countries and, therefore, creating food shortages but distributive factors of famine are as well as very important. It is suggested that state authorities insure against future crop shortages by stockpiling reserves of food and protecting the price of agricultural products as a political obligation of the governmental institutions. All democratic authorities, in principle, have to be responsible for those people who are facing potential death by malnutrition. In general, food shortages will occur from time to time but the solving steps of this problem have to be planned by the national authorities. However, in the cases that local authorities are not able to deal with the famine, the international community has to assist.

United Nations’ food relief agency has warned that the world is at risk of widespread famines ‘of biblical proportions’ caused by the coronavirus pandemic

One of the most important and warring characteristics of the low-income states is famine and hunger which are today mostly the result of a combination of natural and social factors. And drought alone is negatively affected 100+ million people across the globe but in some states like Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, or Guinea, there is a combination of drought and inner warfare (civil wars) that are constantly devastating the production and delivery of food products. As a result, there are millions of people who are starving and dying because of a lack of food. According to the UNWFP, there are some 11% of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean are malnourished followed by 33% in sub-Saharian Africa and 17% in Asia.

Far more people today in the world die of starvation through plain poverty than as a result of short-term regional imbalances between the supply of and demand for food. According to the World Food Program’s report in 2009, around 25.000 people every single day die across the globe due to hunger while someone billion and more suffers from malnutrition. Such death toll outstrips more commonly prioritized threats to human existence, such as war and terrorism. However, the focal question now is: How such a huge death toll caused by starvation and hunger may exist in a world in which the food supply is, in fact, sufficient to feed every single person in the world at least with recommended 2.100 calories per day? Basically, there are three offered answers to the question:

  1. Blaming for starvation and hunger on poor governance in those countries concerned, i.e. those from the Third World. Lack of democracy, high level of corruption, and reluctance to engage in international trade simply are the reasons for preventing people to gain the food they have to be entitled to from their Governments.
  2. Not blaming the Governments of malnourished peoples for their plight as they are, in fact, powerless in facing the system of the global economy and its structures. Global economics accounts for starvation, hunger, and famines more than the inadequate political steps by particular state authorities to deal with the problem.
  3. Hunger is evitable in the world of the capitalistic liberal economy but global political failure is still culpable for the persistence of poverty. Elimination of hunger, famine, and starvation is possible without abandoning the global capitalistic economy by reforming international order and institutions followed by the encouragement of the Governments to act on the global arena less selfishly in international trade.

Surely, famine and hunger are still focal global sources of poor health but these facts are not new. What is new is their extent, or better to say the fact that so many people across the globe today are on the edge of starvation. Some 25% of the world population is living on less than $1 per day and 2 out of 10 suffering from malnutrition. Around 1/3 of the global population is still illiterate. According to the UNO’s report (the UNWFP in 2001), 830 million people are hungry (a diet of 1.800 or fewer calories per day) each day but 95% of them are living in the Third World countries. Some 200 million of the hungry men in the world are, in fact, children under the age of five and they are underweight as they lack adequate food. It is estimated that some 12 million children die of hunger each year. However, the focal irony is that some ¾ of all malnourished children around the world are coming from those countries which, in fact, produce a food surplus.

It cannot be forgotten that HIV/AIDS and other epidemics as well as contributed to the food problem (shortages) followed by hunger which consequently killed many working-age people. According to a study by the UNO, only HIV/AIDS-caused deaths in the ten African states most affected by the epidemic reduced the labor force by 26% until 2020. According to the same source, some 95% of the people affected by this epidemic live in low-income states and the epidemic can be devastating to nutrition, food security, and agricultural production, affecting the whole society’s ability to maintain and reproduce itself.

One of the focal problems is the fact that those states and societies which are mostly affected by famine, starvation, and hunger are economically and technologically too underdeveloped and poor to pay for new technologies which they can use to increase their production of food. Furthermore, those countries are as well as unable to buy food on the global market but at the same time as a paradox, as hunger grows in the world, food production continues to increase. As a matter of example, between the mid-1960s and the beginning of the 21st century, the global production of just grain doubled. One can remark that, however, at the same time existed and substantial increase in the global population what is true indeed. However, even allowing for the huge increase of the world’s population in this period, the global production of grain per person was 15% higher in 1965 compared to 2000. But this growth was not evenly distributed across the globe as, for instance, in the biggest portion of Africa production of food per capita declined during the last years. The phenomenon of itself is that, for instance, surplus food that is produced in post-industrial states like the USA or West Europe is rarely affordable to the states that most need it.

Global practices of trade are giving a clear advantage to the First World’s nations and, therefore, objectively are deepening the economic and living standard’s gap between the rich North and poor South. On other hand, local corrupted authorities on all levels and usually authoritarian regimes deliberately misuse public funds and rich natural resources (primary oil like in Nigeria). In this way, such behaving allows leaders to enrich themselves while at the same time ignoring the real needs of the poor people of their countries. Finally, in many countries of the so-called Global South, both endless civil wars and crime are tremendously increasing negative influences on the ordinary people but fundamentally on those citizens who are least able to protect themselves.

Child labor

According to the UNO, 250+ million children of both sexes in the ages 5−14 are used as a labor force in low-income states in the world. There are around 60 million children in the ages 5−11 who work under dangerous conditions. Child labor exists in all low-income states but Asia as a whole is leading in child labor in the world with 60+% followed by Africa with 32%, and Latin America with 7%. The reasons why those children are, in fact, forced to work usually are family poverty, lack of education, and traditional indifference among some groups in many societies to the inconvenience of those who are poor or who are ethnic or other minorities.

Child labor
Dressmaker at Abalak market, Niger, 1998.

The UNO claims that 2/3 of working children’s labor is in agriculture followed in manufacturing, wholesale, trade, restaurants, hotels, and different services. These children usually work for long hours being miserably paid and consequently are unable to go to school which can help them to get certain knowledge that might enable them to escape their poverty living conditions. Nevertheless, in principle, child labor has to be eliminated but in a way not to produce more harm than benefits to the children. For instance, enforcing an immediate ban on all children’s labor in many cases actually can produce a counter-effect as a child can be pushed either to prostitution or starvation. Besides, a real challenge is not only to end child labor but to move children from work to education.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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