Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Constitutive Global-Domestic Social Exclusion

By S. P. Udayakumar, Research Fellow for the Kirwan Institute

While a narrow definition for “social exclusion” connotes income poverty, not being part of the labor market, or low-wage work, a broad definition denotes income inequality, multidimensional deprivation, and denial of social rights. Social exclusion signifies a set of processes by which individuals, households, communities, or whole social groups are pushed to the margins of society. We can identify a few factors contributing to exclusion.

First, lack of access to critical resources such as social mobility, housing, social security, health, education, and so forth makes a significant contribution to social exclusion. Second, lack of fair recognition that translates into negative image, racial discrimination, cultural inequalities, prejudices, hostility, and segregation contributes as well. Third, there are several spatial, personal, or economic intensifiers, which help manufacture the social or geographical isolation of sections of the population (i.e., basically becoming forgotten sectors of society, the polity). Factors also include negative family circumstances, low-living standards, indebtedness, lack of knowledge and information, and low levels of education and qualification, all potentially contributing to an unsatisfactory quality of life, and resulting in social exclusion.

Social exclusion encompasses material deprivation and denial of opportunities to participate fully in social and civic life. According to Richard Thompson Ford, describing racism as structural recognizes that laws and institutions need not be explicitly racist to disempower communities of color; they need only to perpetuate unequal historic conditions. Theoretically neutral policies and practices can actually function in racist ways. John Rawls notes that even if structures are created in a fair way, they can still emerge as unfair. We are therefore compelled, argues Glenn Loury, to look at the external explanations for these inequalities. We are also compelled, argues Iris Young, to learn how structural racism interacts with agency and culture, striving to move beyond distributive models of justice to constitutive ones as well.

A few years ago, two Goldman Sachs economists, Dominic Wilson and Roopa Purushothaman posited that Brazil, Russia, India, and China (together called the BRICs economies) could become a much larger force in the world economy over the next 50 years. Mapping out the GDP growth, per capita income, and currency movements in the BRICs economies until 2050, Wislon and Purushothaman predicted that these economies could account for over half the size of the G6 (US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, UK) by 2025 and could be larger than the G6 (in US dollar terms) in less than 40 years. The conclusions of this study are divided under five main topics such as economic size, economic growth, incomes and demographics, global demand patterns, and currency movements. Under the “incomes and demographics” section, however, the study posits that “[d]espite much faster growth, individuals in the BRICs are still likely to be poorer on average than individuals in the G6 economies by 2050.” Although the Chinese economy could overtake the US economy by 2039, per capita income in the United States could reach roughly $80,000 by 2050, and China’s per capita income could only be about $30,000.

In other words, the overall international and national economic disparities and opportunity impediments are likely to prevail (or possibly get worse) in spite of spectacular economic growth at both levels. One may wonder what would be the state of those who are already lagging behind such as women, minorities, the landless peasants, the urban poor, unorganized workers, and other weaker sections. If we intersect this economic discrimination with equally (if not more) debilitating racial/ethnic discrimination and political disempowerment (i.e., making it constitutive of and not merely additive), we encounter a heinous system or structure that builds on and feeds into the building blocks of social exclusion: poverty, marginalization, discrimination, disempowerment, regress, violence, degeneration, and so forth.

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