Response to – B.Milanovic (2011) ‘Global Inequality: From Class to Location, from Proletarians to Migrants’

This is a short paper of twenty-one pages, so in the interest of fairness and transparency it should be noted that most papers raise more questions than they answer. So my response in large part is questioning and relating this paper to other fields of inquiry or practice, but this response is more experimental exercise in collating the notes that the reading raises within me and in relation to my larger intellectual interests. To clarify the following post and any future ones.

Milanovic structures the paper under four headings that provide an accessible and easy-to-follow rationale. Beginning with accessing the ‘Global inequality in the mid-19th century’, the reader is presented with the centrality of Marx and Engels’ text The Communist Manifesto. The main take-home point of this sections is that based upon economic and historical data, as well as Marx and Engels’ work inequality in the past was structured as being between classes and less in terms of belonging to certain countries.

The paper then moves to assessing ‘Global inequality in the early 21st century’. To maintain a comparative baseline with the preceding calculations from the mid-19th century, Milanovic uses price levels and PPPs¹ extrapoltaed from the 1990s, rather than the more recent versions of 2005. As the 2005 version gives an overall higher global inequality. To pause here, the talks of ‘Gini points’, or Gini co-efficients as some may know it, runs a little over my head reminding me of A Level Maths. But I do find it interesting that inequality within countries and between them has increased greatly in 15 years, though Milanovic provides transparency and his methodological framework I wonder why the 2005 numbers were not used? However, positively he does signpost the data from 2005 in a footnote and provide the Gini points that would have been presented had he used the 2005 data. There is also two further citations to papers by Milanovic in 2011 and 2012, that most likely expand on the more recent data figures judging by the titles. What is quantitatively presented, through a three graphs, a table and  a lot of global data is that inequality still persists and that the inequality is present within countries and between them also. But that the gap between the poorest members of the rich and poor global societies was the widest according to the data indications. This leads to Milanovic assessing that something other than simply, income or wage must be focused on. However, almost as a homage to Marx and Engels’ call, we are led towards Milanovic viewpoint that this focus away from merely an economic viewpoint into the “global poor”, to addressing other factors may help create a political economy based upon their commonality of interests.

The final two sections addresses the loss of a global class-based proletariat revolution as advocated by Marx and Engels. A brief, if a little basic presentation of Europe and America in relation to theme migration is presented, titled ‘From “permanent revolution” to “fortress Europe and America”‘. Though there is some historical contextualisation, mainly in terms of mid-19th and mid-20th century movements of workers, communism and “revolutions” there remains a huge gap as far as I am concerned. The gap being the arguably greater part of capital, labour and migration.. the role of Slavery, demarcation of difference, Euro-centric Empires and Imperialism, which continues even today in the 21st century through the cultural, technological and political imperialism impressed upon the world through the USA, UK and Euro-centricised global institutions (UN, IMF, Catholic church). The paper concludes with relating how Communism, as well as its global revolutionary power as championed by Marx and Engels, may have eroded due to the economic socio-cultural improvement of the poor in rich or “richer than most” countries. Milanovic then states that ‘Analogously, the problem of migration will disappear, or become manageable’ (2011; 18). This leads me to conclude that the paper pays undue emphasis on economic data, variations and power, with very little focus on connection, the mediation of difference and the webs of social significance upon which all future policy making is built upon, globally. Though I understand this is chiefly and primarily an economic paper, I am somewhat dismayed that a paper with such rich historical and political history contextualising does not bring into the fore the role of colonialism, imperialism and the ‘spectre of difference’ upon the global economy’s stage.

This response will now be highlighted through the quotes that I found interesting, under which I will have my typed up margin comments.


‘Being proletarian was thus a global condition, they held, and being global, it presented an ideal basis on which international solidarity of the working class could be built. Proletarians were equally poor and exploited everywhere and they could liberate themselves and usher in classless societies only in a common effort that knew no national borders.’ (Milanovic, 2011; 2)

Seemed this feeling was present in the mass political and social movements of early 2000s (against Iraq War, G8 summits, Bankers Crisis, Occupy movements)
⇒The “Golden Age” of International Networked Global Solidarity
⇒So what is changing now?
⇒Seems hard to do (common effort/no national borders) considering turn to provinciality and nationalisms.

↔These are borne out of Demarcation of Difference
SO – How is Difference manifested in the Digital now? (also on Digital and through the Digital)
→ with respect to the contemporary UK context

‘The similarity in economic conditions would, in turn, lead to the concordance of economic interests and to the emergence of solidarity among workers of different countries. Ultimately, it would culminate in a worldwide revolution’ (p.3)

They [Engels and Marx, by extension Milanovic too, due to his omission] did not factor in Differences between countries
& the
.. of these types of differences it seems.

‘We can reach the same conclusion that the main income cleavage was the one between classes, and not between countries…’ (p.5)

But does this not erode/take away the contemporary change to income and inequality cultures. As globally these are more important, these factors of economic, inequality and difference are centralised and visible due to a move away from free movement. Across Empires old and new, through a marking/etching out of difference onto our Bodies?
One is no-longer caught between class – country (or the wider Empire as it was then) But marked.trapped within a spider web matrix.

‘To fix the ideas, we can call the between-country inequality “locational” because it depends on the differences of mean incomes between various places (countries), and the within-inequality, “class” inequality because it depends on different individuals, living in the same country, having different incomes and belonging to different social groups. (p.5)

“locational” differences
-Figure that these are entrenched deeper that “class” inequalities in contemp. societies, perhaps because allure of class is still there?
– But a good framework / term to begin to move and compare the mediation of differences between countries.
In both terms/terrains “Difference” is still there *and* forms a major part of this.

‘Not only is the overall inequality between world citizens greater in the early 21st century than it was more than a century and a half ago, but its composition has entirely changed; from being an inequality determined in equal measure by class and location, it has become preponderantly an inequality determined by location only. This fact is of great political and economic significance.’ (p.7)

Exactly what I just said overleaf.
How is it of political and economic significance?
How can we change the factors that determine inequalities?

‘…the ratio between wheat wages of English and Indian unskilled laborers around 1850 (Broadberry and Gupta, 2006, quoted above)… the UK/India unskilled wage gap has increased from around 3.3 to 1 in 1850 to more than 9 to 1 today… it keeps the level of skills constant across time, and focuses on the very low skills representative of those who are at the bottom of the income pyramid.’ (p.14)

Where did data from 1850 come from? Did it include EVERYONE? Does not take into consideration the expansion of neo-liberal globalisation and the burgeoning structure of world economy – in which key national players effectively “working” their national poliy for another international government. i.e. Indian as service status and centers for UK

‘…in terms of political economy, the commonality of interests between the poor and unskilled workers in the rich world and the poor and unskilled workers in the poor world is hard to detect if we focus on their economic conditions only. This is of course a major departure from a situation which existed a century and a half ago.’ (p.14)

⇒ Small diagram – looking at economy and money only – tells nothing. Basically.
⇒ So what else should we have to look at now?
Difference & How Difference is Done? through the following:
› Education
› Media
› Socio-cultural Informing / Education
› Governing
› Policies Affecting all these

‘…it must be a world of huge migratory pressures because people can increase their incomes severalfold if they migrate from a low mean-income location to a high mean-income location’

‘Only if knowledge of these income difference could be somehow hidden, and not widely-shared, could we expect that people would not want to migrate. But this is most patently not so in the era of globalization, instant communication, and broad access to TV, movies and Internet.’ (p.16)

Why hidden? Why hide it?
Surely the rich who are able to + are migrating should stay and focus on goal for all / or else allow those affected to form part of the conversation.

‘ [the conflict between] capital and labor was the main political issue that influenced several generations of thinkers, politicians, social activists, and ordinary people, this is no longer the case today. Globally, the issue has receded in importance as the objective conditions that gave rise to it have changed.’ (p.16)

Would agree capital and labour still v. important, now for people. Especially “poor” people even in  rich countries like UK.
But mostly a question of difference me thinks, is coming to the fore. Why is there difference? How are we different? When should this difference by acknowledged and when not? How does this difference affect them personally?

‘To quote Engels again – but now ten years after The Communist Manifesto: “…the English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois.” (p.16)

“comparatively” were they really bourgeois or performing class in order to gain access to places still yet closed to them?

‘…it is the problem of uneven development between the countries and, associated with it, the pressure of migration emanating from poor countries.‘ (p.17)

Really emanating from there? – From poor countries?
⇒Not from the Empire?
⇒OR the historical – political – cultural valuation of migration and Empires and the movement of these.

‘These issues have been exacerbated by the current economic crisis and the unexpected great difficulties that many European countries have had in “absorbing” migrants, particularly those with Islamic background. Thus, in a close succession, both British and German Prime Ministers have declared the “multiculaturalist” model, which was supposed to be Europe’s answer to migration, to have failed. Angel Merkel, moreover, pronounced such a model unambiguously “dead”. (p.20)

“absorbing” know its in scare quotes BUT cant help feeling uneasy and excited.
Milanovic finally talking of socio-cultural and post-colonial thinking.

‘Europe is surrounded by countries whose demographic profiles are exactly the opposite of the European’ (p.21)

That’s not a scary phrase at all (!)
Particularly as older – more politically active people in Europe are scared of being overun or their legacies being taken from them.
⇒No wonder technology & economic is what is used to dominate the poorer countries or world as well as the “migrant” / different / deviant people within “their” Borders.

‘It will be driven by the self-interest of individuals but its ultimate result would be a reduction in global inequality and global poverty Aid and migration ought to be regarded as two complementary means for achieving these goals.’ (p.21)

Agree BUT –
– How is Aid:
›accessed – promoted? reported?
– ALSO –
– How is Migration:


¹The PPP Knowledge Lab defines a PPP as “a long-term contract between a private party and a government entity, for providing a public asset or service, in which the private party bears significant risk and management responsibility, and remuneration is linked to performance




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