Jim Glassman, University of British Columbia
Global poverty and income inequality studies have received variable attention since the Second World War, with somewhat greater attention in the last decade or so. Unfortunately, while many welfare economists recognize the challenges and limits of constructing good measures of poverty and inequality, many public discussions end up saddled with the statistics produced by national governments and other organizations that have done little to operationalize meaningful statistical measures. As such, routine social movement claims that neo-liberal globalization has made the rich richer and the poor poorer are ritually denounced by economists and policy makers who—often either failing to hear or wilfully misrepresenting the intent of the social movements—insist that even if globalization has increased disparity it has led to a decline in overall rates of poverty. My project is based on the argument that it is both possible and politically necessary for social movements to prise apart some of these claims, and to specify more clearly in what respects globalizing capitalism produces poverty and inequality. Toward this end, I differentiate between capitalist globalization’s impacts on, respectively, material welfare, poverty, and inequality. Tracing these effects from the earliest period of industrial capitalist globalization, the 19th century, I argue that the effects of specific patterns of uneven socio-spatial development—better described in many instances as inequality or relative poverty than as absolute poverty—help explain social struggles over the material conditions of life. Using case study material from China, Mexico, Thailand, the United States, and South Korea, I illustrate some of these dynamics by further examining how uneven development within and across national contexts produces different sorts of urban-rural divides, in turn producing different kinds of urban and rural social movements as well as differing possibilities for transnational social movements promoting radical social change.