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 U.S.’:

In other words, what we see as the glory of Rome is really just the rubble of the rich, built on the backs of poor farmers and labourers, traces of whom have all but vanished. It’s as though Rome’s 99 percent never existed. Which makes me wonder, what will future civilizations think of us?

De Chant cites the inequality of ancient Rome as partly based on the exploitation of poor workers and slaves. The USA has a long history of slave exploitation, as do many other countries. Moreover, the USA also has a monumental problem with modern day slavery, as do many other nations. The USA also has problems with the exploitation and poor treatment of migrant workers. Again, as do many other advanced nations.

What De Chant, Scheidel and Friesen’s work highlights is that the impact of income inequality and social stratification in the United States is embedded in historical practices that are not unique to the USA, nor to Ancient Greece. The Occupy Wall Street movement has indeed opened up a useful debate about the upper class elites in American society (the 1%) versus the general population (the 99%). This movement, has mobilised a narrative that is about how everyday citizens are being exploited by big business and bankers. The movement has not specifically located the struggles of modern day slaves and undocumented migrants who are even more marginalised, given that they do not have, by definition, citizenship rights.

I find De Chant’s summary of Scheidel and Friesen’s paper fascinating not specifically for the point these authors make - that average Americans in modern day USA are not much better off than ‘the majority of plebeians’ in Ancient Greece. Instead, it highlights that income inequality, slavery and exploitation of vulnerable workers today has not progressed far enough in comparison to America’s own early history. The Occupy movement keeps evolving. It has not yet focused on the exploitation of the ‘invisible’ sub-groups within the ‘99%’, such as slaves and undocumented workers. Hopefully this movement can continue to expand its narrative of class inequality even further to give voice to these groups.

Sources: De Chant (2011) ‘Income inequality in the Roman Empire’, Per Square Mile, 16 Dec.

Via Waldron, Think Progress 19th of December, and The Young Turks

Scheidel, W., & Friesen, S. (2010). The Size of the Economy and the Distribution of Income in the Roman Empire Journal of Roman Studies 99.

 
In Hawaii, the Occupy Maui movement seeks to drive out Monsanto which uses local land to grow genetically modified (GM) crops as well as carrying out open air chemicals testing. Hawaii activists are protesting the health risks and political influence of Monsanto over Hawaii’s government.

Monsanto is the largest corporation in Hawaii but other biotech companies also have strong influence in Hawaii. Protesters say that the biotech industry is another form of colonialism, as it evokes parallels with the USA sugar industry in 1893 which deposed the Hawaii Kingdom, effectively removing the local custom of land as a communal resource. 
Al Jazeera cites that in 2012 alone 170 million hectares of land around the world was used to grow GM crops, and around 69.5 million hectares of this was in the USA. While some researchers say that GM crops are perfectly safe and necessary to feed the world’s rapidly growing population, the problem is that the law does not require GM foods to be labelled. Effectively, this disempowers consumers from making informed choices about their own nutrition.
Images & information: Al Jazeera. Infographic by Visual.ly. High-res
What do you know about GMOs?
 
In Hawaii, the Occupy Maui movement seeks to drive out Monsanto which uses local land to grow genetically modified (GM) crops as well as carrying out open air chemicals testing. Hawaii activists are protesting the health risks and political influence of Monsanto over Hawaii’s government.

Monsanto is the largest corporation in Hawaii but other biotech companies also have strong influence in Hawaii. Protesters say that the biotech industry is another form of colonialism, as it evokes parallels with the USA sugar industry in 1893 which deposed the Hawaii Kingdom, effectively removing the local custom of land as a communal resource. 

Al Jazeera cites that in 2012 alone 170 million hectares of land around the world was used to grow GM crops, and around 69.5 million hectares of this was in the USA. While some researchers say that GM crops are perfectly safe and necessary to feed the world’s rapidly growing population, the problem is that the law does not require GM foods to be labelled. Effectively, this disempowers consumers from making informed choices about their own nutrition.

Images & information: Al Jazeera. Infographic by Visual.ly.

thesociologist:

Along the lines of the 99% movement (which inspired his earlier ‘Seating for the One Percent’ project), Sebastian Errazuriz adds his own contribution to New York’s street lines. The Chile-born artist and designer transforms lines into dollar signs by painting a white letter ‘S’ across each line.Read more: http://popupcity.net/2012/06/wall-street-streets/#ixzz1zbhDxp4J
(via urbanfunscape)
High-res

thesociologist:

Along the lines of the 99% movement (which inspired his earlier ‘Seating for the One Percent’ project), Sebastian Errazuriz adds his own contribution to New York’s street lines. The Chile-born artist and designer transforms lines into dollar signs by painting a white letter ‘S’ across each line.

Read more: http://popupcity.net/2012/06/wall-street-streets/#ixzz1zbhDxp4J

(via urbanfunscape)



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.

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.

Their cause is really straightforward, as is ours: One percent of the population holds [much] of the wealth in this country, and people’s benefits are getting slashed and people are losing their homes. On our reservations, we are mired in the deepest poverty. The idea is to have some equality in this country … economic equality.’

Moonanum James, United American Indians of New England (via solitaryforager)

(via socialworky-deactivated20131001)

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.

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 speaker in particular 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.

If we began to believe that Wall Street is expendable, perhaps we would regulate it properly so that it would do what it should do, and only that. It should provide a place for Americans to put their savings and channel those savings into the most productive investments, not a round-robin of one casino-like speculation after another.

Jeff Madrick, The Washington Post, 19 Nov 2011.

Jeff Madrick is an Economics columnist and author of Age of Greed (2011). His piece for The Washington Post last year that still captures my sociological imagination today. Madrick argues that while America cannot live without Wall Street, it has moved away from its primary function, to support small businesses and to engender economic growth to serve the public, rather than personal interests of an elite few… Madrick argues that American society needs to shift its thinking about Wall Street - to start thinking of it as “expendable”. Why is this view relevant to applied sociology? …I find Madrick’s analysis useful for thinking about: what does Wall Street look like if it was working as an equitable, transparent and well-regulated social institution? What social policies and social practices are required in order to shift its current practices? The first step is to go back to what Wall Street should be doing, then working out how to ensure that begins to happen.

Read more at my other blog, Sociology at Work.