Archives for the month of: September, 2013

April Swanson

Professor Salo

UP 260

22 September 2013

Critical Review #2

            Neoliberalism although successful in theory, has created severe repercussions for the lower and middle-class citizens it fails to empower. This political and economic philosophy mainly accepted by American political conservatives has driven the wealth of the United States into the hands of very few people who rest at tip of our capitalist society. The ideals of the free-market prized by neoliberalists are all-inclusive, however, power in reality is granted to those who are most able and affluent. The core of neoliberalism advocates for the domination of the market, works to reduce government spending for social services, and privatizes as many public goods as possible (Martinez and Garcia). As a result of neoliberal policies, the gap between wealthy corporate society and the working poor, particularly in American society has loomed large. We can see the connection these policies have to the stark inequality that resides in our local communities on topics of incarceration, food assistance programs, and immigrant rights.

Prison rates in the United States are the highest among all nations of the world. It is no coincidence that this social issue is rooted in a society dominated by the neoliberal doctrine. Prisons all around the nation, along with other formerly state owned enterprises have become privatized. Because United States prisons work under the framework of a corporate system, they are heavily based on profit and accumulation. The only way prisons in the United States can operate is if the cells maintain occupancy. Therefore, mass incarceration is not due to criminal insecurities, but by the prison system’s profit insecurity (Wacquant, 2010). The No More Jails in Champaign County campaign and its proposal to stop Champaign County from building another 20 million dollar prison is a rally for equality. Mass incarceration, specifically in this Central Illinois town, is due to many mild crimes such as minor traffic violations which are written up to fulfill a given quota. Many of those incarcerated for such crimes were unable to pay off the fines of the initial violations which then led to warrants and eventually their arrests. This inequality continues even after many of these prisoners leave the institution. Because re-entry employment and housing programs are not in favor by our neoliberal economy, countless former prisoners cannot sustain and improve their position after their release.

A recent cutback in funding for a major welfare program, The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), is a serious tactic of American House conservatives to decrease government expenditures (Krugman, 2013). Although the recession ceased in 2009, enrollment for this particular program has almost doubled in the past six years alone (Krugman, 2013). After this economic crash, very few people at the upper end of the income distribution have been able to financially restore themselves while the majority of lower income earners have actually continued to slide down this distribution. The neoliberal policies that have fueled this slash in government spending have also had an impact on who has the ability to climb the social ladder when these programs are unavailable. Decreasing assistance to this large chunk of society will have serious consequences for demographics including but not limited to single mothers and the disabled. These groups are largely unable to better their living situations through a neoliberal social structure. Without programs like these, the portion of society hit the hardest will not be able to attain an average quality of life, nevertheless be able to strive beyond the restrictions of a neoliberal society.

Neoliberal politics strengthen the rights of the most fortunate of society, mainly white men who claim generations of family members made their millions investing in stocks, passing down the family wealth to their predecessors. Neoliberalism mutilates the rights of those on the opposite end of the spectrum: poor immigrants. Inequalities in education, housing, and healthcare are buried here, bearing great consequences for those who come from overseas to seek light at the end of the neoliberal tunnel. Immigrants are without a doubt integrated into the capitalist framework favored by neoliberalism. Immigrants fill positions that many natives are not willing to accept, therefore, immigrants provide the foundation of cheap labor for the wealth to accumulate at the tip of the hierarchy (Serra, 2013). These people are able to find jobs they might not necessarily find back in their home nations but they are exploited by the system that neoliberalism supports. Immigrants fill the vacancy in a neoliberal society with cheap labor and are unable to climb to even the middle of the capitalist pyramid. Worker’s rights are phased out by private enterprises and wages and unions are sacrificed (Martinez and Garcia). Education programs for immigrants are also unavailable and as tuition for post-secondary education continues to rise, only those who can afford higher education and those who are eligible for student loans are able to grasp these opportunities. Neoliberal societies fail to assimilate immigrants into higher society and refuse to provide them with basic public goods that only those of higher classes have private access to (Serra, 2013).

The unregulated economy prized by neoliberalism works to help the economy flourish at the expense of majority of social groups. Only very few who are fortunate to sit upon their continuous returns established by generations of socially superior ancestors are able to reap the benefits of a free-market economy. As the income gap widens due to neoliberal policies, society is likely to experience a shrinking middle-class, an expanding lower-class, and majority of the nation’s wealth inflating among a few elite. Free-market economies create an imbalance of power, generating differences among race, class, gender, ethnic background, among many other distinctions. The main goals of the neoliberal school of thought are free-market domination, reduction in government spending for social and welfare services, and to morph many public domains into private spheres (Martinez and Garcia). The acceptance of neoliberalism and its ideals promotes an individualistic work ethic over collective social union (Haddis, 2010). Neoliberal politics have constructed a two-tier society in which inequality is presented as the norm and a huge divergence in humanity has created excessive social unrest among the majority of its subjects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Haddis, Mekonen. The role Of Neo-Liberalism, in widening the income gap between

the rich and the poor. Political Snapshots. 5 Jun. 2010. Web. 22 Sept. 2013. <http://politicalsnapshots.wordpress.com/2010/06/05/the-role-of-neo-liberalism-in-widening-the-income-gap-between-the-rich-and-the-poor/>

Krugman, Paul. Free to Be Hungry. The New York Times: The Opinion Pages. 22 Sept 2013.

Web. 22 Sept. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/23/opinion/krugman-free-to-be-hungry.html?hp>

Martinez, Elizabeth and Garcia, Arnoldo. What is Neoliberalism: A Brief Definition for Activists.

CorpWatch. Web. 22 Sept. 2013. <http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=376>

Serra, Benjamin. Neoliberalism: Immigration’s number one enemy. The Prisma: The

Multicultural Newspaper. 3 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2013. <http://www.theprisma.co.uk/2013/02/04/neoliberalism-immigration%E2%80%99s-number-one-enemy/>

Wacquant, Loıc. Crafting the Neoliberal State: Workfare, Prisonfare, and Social Insecurity.

Sociological Forum. Jun. 2010. Web PDF. 22 Sept 2013.

<http://loicwacquant.net/assets/Papers/CRAFTINGNEOLIBERALSTATE-pub.pdf>

 

 

Discussion Questions

  1. What cases in history has neoliberal implementation seen relatively low levels of inequality? Where was there little inequality and where was there more?
  2. Would the founding fathers of the U.S. constitution think protection from government is a way to achieve equality?  
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April Swanson

Professor Salo

UP 260

15 September 2013

Critical Review #1

There are many divisions among various dimensions in society. Social conflict is rooted in race, class, gender, age, and countless other categories that we may find ourselves born into or in which society places us along our human journey. As our world has transitioned from a hunter-gatherer society based on reciprocity to a largely industrial and post-industrial society governed by profit and accumulation, social inequality has burrowed itself into contemporary society. The sociological approach to understanding urban inequalities acknowledges that inequality is grounded in patterns that arise from groups of people, not solely the individual. It is the social context and structural factors that shape individual choices. Despite differences among theorists, there is no doubt we live in a more globalized world as a result of differences that have historically divided us and followed us into contemporary society.

The parameters of inequality are rather arbitrary. As the repercussions of inequality have become more prevalent in society, there has been an important system created by the United Nations in the Human Development Report to measure income, wealth, and overall well-being. This approach is comprehensive in the sense that it seeks raw data in addition to income to measure inequality in multiple areas (Sernau 2014). The Human Development Index was developed to capture a more accurate snapshot of a nation’s well-being in three major areas: income, health, and education. Such an approach is important to investigate which particular sector a nation is excelling or needs improvement in. For instance, one may presume the United States has high life expectancy at birth compared to most other nations because of the seemingly available resources to its citizens. However, the Human Development Report shows that in 2011, the United States life expectancy at birth was only 78.5 years old, keeping it at the bottom of the list of nations with overall very high human development. This may not be attributed to general lifestyle trends like obesity, but more alarmingly because of unequal access to health care and preventative measures for infant and child death among minority populations. In order to pursue possible solutions to inequalities like this, an in-depth consideration for the major challenges facing development and equality are necessary to consider and the Human Development Report is a great takeoff point.

The Human Development Report not only helps to highlight significant statistics of a nation as an individual unit, but it also is a major resource to aid in comparing and contrasting between nations. Although this double divide is made visible by the raw numbers generated by the report, it fails to tell the whole story of a nation’s history of inequality and where it stems from. Historically, the colonization of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and ultimately the Americas had an immediate effect on inequality between nations. The colonizers defeated local supremacy by extinguishing indigenous rulers, controlling a middle-class by offering limited education, and enforcing a strong labor institution (Cogneau, Guenard 2003).  Generally, the Europeans created malfunctioned capitalist institutions and disrupted social patterns by laying the groundwork for a more unequal society. By embarking below the surface of modern day inequalities, we can allow ourselves to see who and what may be to blame for underdevelopment and inequality.

The other side to this double divide looks at the gap within nations rather than between them. At the local level, St. Louis, Missouri is a prime example that we can consider. In recent times, East St. Louis has been isolated from the rest of the surrounding communities due to economic and social distress, but East St. Louis once began as a thriving economic center of the nation. New railroads and infrastructure allowed East St. Louis to thrive as an industrial and commercial hub and was one of the nation’s fastest growing cities from the 1890s until roughly the 1920s (Baugher, Timlin, and Child, 1995). At this time, political corruption and labor frustrations were mounting and race riots began. Large corporations began settling outside of the limits of East St. Louis and devastated the local economy, in turn causing a wave of “white flight.” Now East St. Louis is home to some of the sickest children in America due to malfunctioning sewage disposal and emissions and spillage from nearby plants (Kozol, 1991). A strong majority of children are born to single mothers and the high crime area has allowed violence to be perpetuated throughout the generations (Kozol, 1991). Neighboring St. Louis communities of primarily non-minority population’s experience a starkly different world only miles away and do not travel to East St. Louis. This example is one of many instances of inequality within nations and local communities. Environmental factors such as the closing of local businesses reveal the inequality already cemented in society and explain why areas as devastated as East St. Louis never seem to rebound from hard times.

Several important theorists have constructed ideas concerning the questions of inequality. The modernization school of thought attacked traditionalism and attributed poverty to traditional outlooks, technologies, and institutions (Sernau, 2014). Majority in contemporary academic circles have rejected this theory. This may not be the most comprehensive approach because it does not follow the more widely accepted Kuznet Curve phenomenon illustrating that as societies have moved toward industrial production, their level of inequality has tended to increase. Many nations who have modernized by the help of outsourced jobs are still falling victim to inequality because of the low wages they acquire compared to domestic labor. Approaching inequality through the lens of modernization may not give full consideration to underdeveloped societies that have difficulty adjusting to a modern political and economic system.

The counterargument to modernization approaches inequality from its conflict issues. The dependency theory claims poor countries rely on wealthier countries and as a result face exploitation, domination, and economic malfunctions (Sernau 2014). This theory explains that the system under which poor countries fail to work is because these areas have not been able to resist domination. Poor countries have acted as puppets for generations because of the history of the relationship between them and their colonizers.

Another approach, neoliberalism, has taken the reins as the most accepted, particularly in the United States. This approach also promotes more modern ideas but specifically holds a strong emphasis on a free-market economy to attain prosperity. The key neoliberalism ideal of the free-market economy can be used as a framework to reverse inequality. However, many people contend that when neoliberalism is put in practice, it often times favors the elite. Tax cuts for the rich and opposition to government welfare programs are common because neoliberalism favors minimal governmental interference with the free-market (Sernau, 2014). Brazil in the 1990s is an example of a case where neoliberalism ideals prevailed and inequality grew deeper. Although investments were stimulated, privatization skyrocketed and Brazil ultimately saw itself as a capitalist nation (Smith, 2012). Although many neoliberalists pride themselves on advocating for equal opportunity, it is important to consider who has access to this opportunity. The neoliberalism approach helps us to consider that economic structure is a vital part of equality.  However, there is more for us to understand about those in society that cannot attain this far-fetched opportunity. To successfully establish the free-market system, it may be necessary to improve on neoliberalism ideals by providing the practical groundwork for the impoverished to become incorporated into economic society.

The modern global economy is also no stranger to inequality generated by globalization. Although the world economy has grown more integrated, there are extensive implications for the overall well-being of citizens among various statuses. Largely through the outsourcing of jobs due to the attractiveness of cheap labor to wealthy consumer countries, many nations have seen a wave of prosperity they have never seen before. However, this wealth of cheap labor is incomparable to the accumulation of the companies for which they work for. In nations such as India and Mexico, which have been great players in this global field, there have been several important advantages of globalization such as an increasing middle-class. However, this has come at the price of much economic exploitation and domination. Large corporations have been allowed to thrive on their profits, while many over-seas families are now surprisingly content with their meager daily earnings. The issue raised here is whether or not globalization is socially sustainable. The future of these patterns relies heavily on support from nations like India and Mexico. As the wealth gap increases, it will be left up to these nations if this limiting prosperity is worth the social repercussions.

Contemporary inequalities have been heavily influenced by the history that has been imprinted in modern society. As social inequality is continually dissected and understood, it is important to look at the ideals and theories behind the divide in society and decide in which areas they are helpful and in which they are not. Since inequality is rather arbitrary, constructing methods to measure well-being is important. Delving into the history both between and within societies aids in constructing a more comprehensive background than raw numbers of income and wealth. By understanding the traditional relationships between nations, it is easier to consider their contemporary ties within a globalized future.  

 

Works Cited

Baugher, Barb., Diane, Timlin., Child, Mark. A Timeline of the East St. Louis Area. East St.

Louis Action Research Project. 29 Oct. 1995. Web. 14 Sept. 2013.

<http://www.eslarp.uiuc.edu/la/la437-f95/reports/History/timeline.html>

Cogneau, Denis and Guenard, Charlotte. Colonization, Institutions, and Inequality: A Note on

Some Suggestive Evidence. May. 2003. PDF. 14 Sept. 2013.

Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities, Life on the Mississippi: East St. Louis, Illinois. Third    

World Traveler. 1991. Web. 14 Sept. 2013.            <http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Third_World_US/SI_Kozol_StLouis.html>

Sernau, Scott. Social Inequality in a Global Age. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2014. Print.

Smith, Candace. Neoliberalism and Inequality: A Recipe for Interpersonal Violence? The

Society Pages. 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2013. <http://thesocietypages.org/sociologylens/2012/11/06/neoliberalism-and-inequality-a-recipe-for-interpersonal-violence/>

 

 

Discussion Questions

  1. What do dependency theorists offer as a feasible way to attain wealth?
  2. Is outsourcing increasing reliance of underdeveloped nations to wealthier ones?