The nature of global stratification, patterns of inequality in the world as a whole, is highlighted in the opening account of workers in a garment factory in Bangladesh. Not only do they needlessly perish in a fire, but they also earn a pittance compared to workers in Canada.
Figure 12-1 (p. 293) identifies the distribution of world income where the richest 20% receives 80% of global income and the poorest 20% receives 1%. Placed in perspective, Canada's poorest people's living standard is higher than the majority of the earth's people.
The traditional classification of countries with respect to economic development into first, second, and third worlds has been replaced because of the sweeping political changes in recent years, and because the lumping together into the third-world category of nations with widely divergent economic development was not satisfactory. The new classification of the 192 nations focuses on per-capita income development and divides nations into high-income, middle-income, and low-income categories.
These are the first countries to have industrialized. They are comprised primarily of Western Europe, North America, and New Zealand and Australia, along with Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea. Their total population is 18% of the world's population but they control over 80% of the world's income. Their people live primarily in urban areas and their productive technology is capital intensive. They are also at the forefront of computer technology. But even in high-income societies, many have low incomes. The Thinking About Diversity Box (p. 297) profiles striking poverty on the Texas border with Mexico.
While the high-income countries are characterized by per-capita income between $10 000 and $37 000, these countries are in the $2500 to $10 000 range. They have begun to industrialize, but at least a third of their residents are involved in agricultural production. Among this group are nations of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, which have begun to introduce market systems. Also included are some Latin American, African, South American, and Asian countries, including China and India. These countries comprise 70% of the globe's population, but the usual amenities of the high-income countries are available to very few of these nations' citizens.
The majority of people in these countries are abjectly poor and starvation is a recurrent feature of life. Twelve percent of the world's population lives in these countries, primarily in rural areas where the productivity levels are low. They are found primarily in Central and Eastern Africa, as well as Asia. Global Map 12-1 (p. 295) shows the global distribution of the high-, medium-, and low-income societies.
While deprivation exists in societies like Canada, the poorest countries are characterized by severe and extensive poverty. In the midst of the squalor of low-income societies, however, live enormously rich individuals.
The data presented in Table 12-1 (p. 298) suggest why poverty is more severe in the low-income countries. This table compares the GDP and per-person income among countries from around the world for the year 2003. Further, a quality of life index measure is suggested for each nation. (Canadians enjoy a very high quality of life.) Significant differences are indicated. Figure 12-2 (p. 298) shows the relative share of global income and population by world region. Economic productivity is lowest where population growth is highest.
Every society experiences some level of poverty. In wealthy nations poverty is often viewed as a relative matter, but in the low-income countries, absolute poverty is much more critical. The people there typically lack the resources necessary to survive. Global Map 12-2 (p. 300) shows the significant differences in median age of death depending upon the income level of countries. While the United Nations has a goal to reduce global poverty, the Media Perspectives Box (p. 301) indicates the extreme difficulties in even measuring it.
Poverty in the poor countries is also more extensive. Most people there live in conditions far worse than the poor of Canada. These statistics boil down to one devastating fact: people are dying from a basic lack of nutrition. The magnitude of this tragedy is almost impossible to imagine with 40 000 people dying each day from starvation.
As in Canada, poverty worldwide hits children hardest. Many of the world's poor children live in the streets of cities forced to beg, steal, sell sex, or serve as couriers for drug gangs in order to survive.
While women in high-income countries like Canada face discrimination in the workforce and family, women in low-income countries fare far worse. They receive little schooling, they are responsible for most child-rearing and house maintenance, and they have little access to reproductive health care. About 70% of the world's poor are women.
Although slavery was prohibited in Upper Canada in 1793, in the United States in 1865, and in 1948 by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, almost 3% of humanity currently lives under conditions of slavery. Examples of current-day slavery include people living as chattel, abandoned children forced to work, debt bondage, servile forms of marriage, and human trafficking. The Thinking Globally Box (p. 303) describes the life of one slave in Mauritania.
Several factors are related to the severity and extent of poverty in low-income countries. These include the following:
The Applying Sociology Box (p. 304) shows that poverty in poor societies is not responded to in the same way as in rich societies.
In terms of global power relationships, three key concepts are important. First, is the historical factor of colonialism, or the process by which some nations enrich themselves through political and economic control of other nations. As a result of this, it is argued, many nations were exploited and remain underdeveloped. A second concept is neocolonialism, referring to a new form of economic exploitation that does not involve formal political control. The argument here is focused on multinational corporations or large corporations whose operations span many different nations, and whose decisions are imposed on many countries.
The two dominant explanations for the unequal distribution of the world's wealth and power are modernization theory and dependency theory.
Modernization theory maintains that global inequality reflects differing levels of technological development and cultural differences among societies.
A point made by these theorists is that until a few centuries ago, all people in the world were poor. The development of cities during the Middle Ages and the trade and exploration that emerged, coupled with the influence of the Industrial Revolution lifted the living standards of many societies. Therefore, affluence, not deprivation, is what requires explanation.
This theory suggests that new technology is likely to be embraced only in certain societies. Tradition is the greatest barrier to economic development. This is consistent with Weber's theory of the influence of ideas on societal development. Calvinism in Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages moved society towards a focus on individualism and material affluence and an de-emphasis on kinship and community.
Modernization theorists argue that all societies are converging on one general form, the industrial model. According to W.W. Rostow, four general stages are followed by all societies:
Rather than seeing the high-income countries as part of the cause of global poverty, modernization theorists see it as part of the solution, in the following specific ways:
There is international pressure on Canada to increase its foreign aid.
Proponents of modernization theory point out that several societies have demonstrated significant economic developments with the help of rich countries. Others argue, however, that modernization theory is just an attempt to defend and spread capitalism, and in many ways has fallen short in its own standards of success. Further, this approach tends to ignore historical changes that have impeded development. Other limitations involve a failure to make connections between rich and poor societies to see how a low-income country's development affects rich countries. Finally, the fact that this approach holds the high-income countries as the standard by which to judge all development is ethnocentric. Blaming the poor societies for their own poverty takes attention away from the negative effects of the behaviour of rich nations.
Dependency theory maintains that global poverty historically stems from the exploitation of poor societies by rich societies.
Dependency theorists argue that poor societies were better off in the past than they are today. They believe the economic positions of the rich and poor societies are interdependent and that the prosperity of high-income countries has come largely at the expense of low-income countries.
European exploration of North America, Africa, and Asia led to colonization, which brought great wealth to countries like Britain and later, the United States. Indeed as Figure 12-3 (p. 308) indicates, Africa's recent history is one of colonial domination. Although colonialism has largely disappeared, it has been replaced by neocolonialism. Political liberation has not been followed by economic autonomy.
This model attempts to explain modern world inequality. A major point in this perspective is that the world economy, a global system, is beyond the control of traditional nations, and is dominated by capitalism. The rich nations are at the core of this world economy. This system perpetuates poverty in the rest of the world by creating and maintaining the dependency of these nations. This dependency is caused primarily by three factors:
Dependency theorists argue that rich societies seize the wealth created in poor societies for their own purposes. Further, they argue the assumption of the relationship between population and poverty is spurious.
There is nothing inevitable about global hunger. There is sufficient food in most nations to feed their own people; but what poor nations do is grow crops to meet the demands of the rich nations, while ignoring their own needs. Critics argue, however, that there are weaknesses to this perspective. First, dependency theorists seem to assume all wealth obtained by rich nations is from poor nations. Second, those low-income nations with the closest ties to the rich nations are not the poorest. Third, while blaming world capitalism, dependency theorists ignore factors within the cultures of poor countries that lead to poverty, such as resistance to change and irresponsible political leadership. Fourth, some poor nations have advanced economically (note China and India). Finally, dependency theory does not produce clear policy-making alternatives, other than arguing for some kind of international socialism that certainly has not worked well at the national level.
There is a tension in Canada's approach to development in low-income countries between the modernization and dependency models of understanding. While there has been a shift towards emphasizing self-sufficiency and improving the lives of the poor, there remains a desire to create an environment conducive to private-sector development and debt reduction. Despite its humanitarian goals, much of the aid is tied to potential for trade. Canadian universities are also extensively involved in overseas research and development, and are training more foreign students than a few years ago. The Thinking It Through Box (p. 312) is an example of Canadian research and activism in the Yucatán.
Recently, Canadians individually and through their government have responded generously to the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean and the devastation created by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Some of our aid is also delivered militarily, as in Afghanistan.
Globalization of world economies has left many poor nations in grinding poverty and there has been loss of manufacturing jobs in high-income societies. Modernization and dependency theories can offer some level of understanding (see the Applying Theory Table, p. 310, for the basic principles).
Economic output has increased dramatically worldwide, but more of it in rich societies that become increasingly relatively better off than poor societies. There is less poverty overall, but the improvements are not equally spread out. Latin America is very mixed case, with significant economic output, but with approximately the same level of poverty in 2000 as was the case in 1970. Africa, especially south of the Sahara, has more poverty today (66% of the total) than in 1970 (11% of the total).
Governments have played a role in economic development, but not within a socialist framework.
Economic development in low-income societies puts great pressure on the environment as more resources are consumed.
Figure 12-4 (p. 313) demonstrates the continuing gap between rich and poor societies that may ultimately increase the risk of war and terrorism.