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January 25, 2017

An unequal world


January 25, 2017

The world is becoming increasingly unequal despite all the theoretical paradigms that advocated various mechanisms to bridge this widening gap of inequality by balancing the income levels of the rich and the poor.

This was the key message that surfaced during sessions at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. As cold winds bellowed outside the Swiss ski resort where the meeting was held, heated debates on multiple issues were conducted inside the premises. Sessions were held by the key players who have reshaped global politics, economics, society and set their future direction.

Ahead of the formal sessions, Oxfam’s annual report startled the world. It put a harsh and bitter reality in front of the world. As per the report, the world’s eight richest persons control the same wealth as half of the globe’s population. The annual report also drew attention to several inequalities which portrayed the extent of marginalisation.

This is where today’s globalised world is split into two extremes – the rich and the poor. Over time, the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer. To narrow the distances of this polarised world, leaders, theologians, economists and sociologists had developed a wide range of theories and strategies at the advent of globalisation. These strategies aimed to narrow this gap and widen the scope of dividends and benefits. They also sought to create a world that assures both global equality and equity with peace, development and harmony as its evolved and sustainable by-products.

At the start of the new millennium 17 years ago, the world had agreed to adopt wide-ranging and holistic global goals supplemented with ambitious targets – the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Its assigned timeframe of 15 years lapsed in 2015 without most of the targets being achieved and were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For this, a part of the world moved towards achieving goals that were geared towards development. However, a larger part of the world missed its targets, as ‘equalising’ the world sounded lofty and appeared to be a goal that was much-sloganeered. World powers, multinationals and billionaires contributed handsomely to the endeavour. But it was too little too late. The scale of inequality and unfairness was so high that an overall shake-up in the paradigm of development was required before it could be advanced further to produce equality for all.

With time, the process of globalisation has developed cracks. Once considered a recipe to connect change and stimulating growth, globalisation is becoming a renewed tool to promote inequality. This is largely because the global market is controlled, selective and exploitative.

The ‘elite capture’ of globalisation is not allowing people to avail its inbuilt benefits at the lowest ends – where a majority of the world population lives. Its economic trickle-down effect has not been achieved. A borderless and interconnected world, that was much-trumpeted at the start of new millennium, has been pushed bitterly towards the cruelty of disconnectivity.

This year’s theme for the World Economic Forum – ‘Responsive and Responsible Leadership’ – indicated that the world leadership needs to be responsive but responsible. If this is not achieved, the responsibility will fall on those controllers of the world who are stuck in the quagmire of uncertainty.

Uncertainty has gripped the developed world after Trump was elected as the US president and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May started putting into effect the UK’s plans to exit the European Union. Nato has become almost irrelevant and obsolete. China is advocating globalisation at Davos while all developing economies are complaining about the oddities of globalisation which have slowed down their growth and made them proxies for the developed world’s multinationals.

In the background of this global scenario, we in Pakistan have shifted our strategic paradigm and joined hands with the China. Through its much-touted economic corridor, China is telling the world that it is going to transform us by pushing the economy and society on the ‘developed track’. Undoubtedly, some positive indications are guaranteed for the affluent classes. However, the poor and marginalised masses are still examining debates and controversies surrounding corridor projects in the mainstream media. They have been told that the CPEC will generate millions of jobs, immediately address their energy needs, alleviate poverty and benefits everyone.

After a Chinese consortium bought 40 percent of strategic shares in the Pakistan Stock Exchange, the latter has shown an upward trend and has set new records in its 100-point index. However, there is another index that exists outside its skyscrapers. It marks an opposite and downward trend for citizens who have been pushed below the poverty line and live a life steeped in debt.

This is another world – a rural and marginalised Pakistan – that seldom features in presentations made by bureaucrats of the Planning Commission of Pakistan. It also did not feature in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s presentation at Davos on the case for making Pakistan a developed and equal society.


The writer is an Islamabad-based
anthropologist and analyst.

Email: [email protected]



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