Historical Inquality During the Roman Empire

The Young Turks video from 2011, Crazy Facts On Income Inequality, links to an article from Travis Waldron, published in Think Progress. Waldron writes:

The 99 Percent Movement effectively changed the American political debate from debt and deficits to income inequality, highlighting the fact that income inequality has increased so much in the U.S. that it is now more unequal than countries like Ivory Coast and Pakistan. While those numbers are startling, a study from two historians suggests that American wealth inequality may actually be worse than it was in Ancient Rome — a society built on slave labour, a defined class structure, and centuries of warfare and conquest.

Waldron is referring to the study by historians Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen, summarised by Tim De Chant in his blog Per Square Mile. De Chant provides detail on how Schiedel and Friesen estimated the distribution of wealth in the Roman Empire, 150 C.E. De Chant  writes that the study finds:

the top 1 percent of Roman society controlled 16 percent of the wealth, less than half of what America’s top 1 percent control… In total, Schiedel and Friesen figure the elite orders and other wealthy made up about 1.5 percent of the 70 million inhabitants the empire claimed at its peak. Together, they controlled around 20 percent of the wealth…

These numbers paint a picture of two Romes, one of respectable, if not fabulous, wealth and the other of meager wages, enough to survive day-to-day but not enough to prosper. The wealthy were also largely concentrated in the cities. It’s not unlike the U.S. today.

Using data which estimates the gini coefficients of various nations (a statistical estimation of income inequality), De Chant writes that imperial Rome was ‘slightly more equal than the USA:

Continue reading Historical Inquality During the Roman Empire

Los “Indignados”

El movimiento de los “indignados” ha llamado a una protesta mundial hoy para conmemorar su primer aniversario, en la que espera concentrar a cientos de miles de personas en diversas ciudades de Europa y de Estados Unidos. Una democracia real, más justicia social, una distribución de la riqueza y una ética pública forman parte común de las demandas de todos los actos que hoy sábado celebra ese movimiento.

The “Outraged” movement has called for a global protest to mark its first anniversary. Protesters hope to rally hundreds of thousands of supporters in various cities in Europe and the United States. A true democratic movement, it calls for social justice, re-distribution of wealth and public ethics.

The rest of the story covers events in various countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, the UK and the USA.

Read the story in Spanish at La Opinión.

‘Mundane Knowledge: Toronto Street People’

Here’s a nice little post about rethinking homelessness in Toronto Canada by Daniel Little. Given my interest in the sociology of the mundane, the title obviously caught my eye. Little’s photograph above depicts a lone homeless person asleep on the street. This may be a sight so routine to some people living in large cities that they do not stop to think about how their experience shapes their understanding of homelessness. Little muses over how a social worker, a street activist, or a policeman might interpret the scene. It’s especially interesting to consider how social activists from different causes accommodate homeless people in Toronto. Little spoke to two young homeless men in their 20s (given the pseudonyms G1 and G2):

G1 said that he sleeps there too sometimes. I asked why not in the park. He says because Mayor Ford has ordered that people be ticketed for sleeping in the park. He himself has been banned from City Hall grounds because of panhandling. And if you go near the Marriott entrance just down the block, Marriott security make you move. I asked why they don’t choose more secluded spots. G2 says you need to sleep near a vent for the warmth. The good secluded spots are taken. Sometimes these two guys find a spot under a structure down the street.

I ask about Occupy Toronto. G1 is enthusiastic. He says he was welcomed into the biggest tent, the Communist tent, and slept there while Occupy was going on. It was a 12-person tent. But the guys say the demonstration that I heard yesterday wasn’t Occupy, it was a demo about Syria. G1 says, why demonstrate against Syria when people here are suffering?

I ask if it is safe sleeping on the street. G1 says he’d been robbed recently. The thief ripped his inside pocket out and took a bag with 35 cents, a tooth brush and toothpaste. G1 says indignantly, “You’re going to rob a man for his toothpaste?” They say people have been killed down the street a ways.

I ask about the city shelters. Neither of them wanted to go there: they refer to bedbugs, diseases, and seriously crazy people who might hurt you.

Read the rest via the link.

‘Mundane Knowledge: Toronto Street People’

Intersectionality and Occupy Wall Street

Monica Novoa from Colorlines explores some important questions about the Occupy movement: Are people of colour adequately represented and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement? Does racial diversity lead to a shift in focus for the Occupy movement?

The people interviewed here identify how some of the ways in which the Occupy movement communicates its ideas actually shuts out non-English speakers. Other interviewees identify that the Occupy movement has the potential to connect with various disempowered groups, including women, ethnic, racial and LGBTQ communities, who have suffered human rights abuses under capitalist systems.

One person points out that the current social and economic injustices are not the outcome of modern society, but rather they are borne out of historical systems of stratification that require stronger activism:

Racism and capitalism and globalisation and colonialism and patriarchy and transphobia and homophobia and so many things are inherently linked. This didn’t just happen with the economic downturn.

Watch more on the video.

Corporatisation of Che Guevara’s Image

This iconic image of Che Guevara is widely known in many parts of the world. I see it used a lot by sociology students who are eagerly exploring their sociological imaginations. This image continues to inspire interest in Marxist sociology and it is used frequently in political protests, such as the Occupy movement. Stephen Colbert even dressed as Che in spoof as he set out to Occupy Occupy Wall Street. Che’s image has also been amalgamated with the unofficial face of the Occupy movement, Guy Fawkes (hero of V for Vendetta) and repacked as an Occupy t-shirt.

Continue reading Corporatisation of Che Guevara’s Image

Occupy Wall Street and Transformational Strategy

Sociologist Erik Olin Wright on the next step for the Occupy movement:

The occupy movement, at this point, is a protest movement that mainly has what could be called an expressive rather than a transformative strategy. That is, the main logic of its activities is the diagnosis and critique of existing institutions rather than attempts to create alternatives. This is important since the critique of the world as it is always forms the point of departure for struggles to make a new world. But eventually, such expressive activities need to be connected to a more transformative strategy if real change is to be generated… Pushing for these kinds of interstitial and symbiotic projects of institution building does not mean abandoning protests against the more macro-level injustices of inequality and corporate power, nor dropping demands for system-level redress of these injustices. The broad vision for a democratic egalitarian alternative to capitalism which promotes human flourishing should continue to anchor interstitial and symbiotic strategies at the more local level. For the moment, however, the prospects for substantial progressive change at the national level seem very limited. And, perhaps, in the longer term, the success of more locally-directed projects of institution building will strengthen the prospects for broader transformation by showing, on the ground, that another world is possible.

New Left Project via @WWNSoc.

New Left Project | Articles | Occupy Wall Street and Transformational Strategy

Occupy Bahrain

This is a round up of the social protests in Bahrain from the 15-18th of December. Above is a video of Bahrain human rights activist, Zainab Alkhawaja, being roughly arrested on Thursday 15th of Dec. Alkhawaja blogs about political topics at Angry Arabia. At the time of her arrest, she was conducting a peaceful protest for Occupy Budaiya Street (in solidarity with the global Occupy Wall Street movement). Continue reading Occupy Bahrain