Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Inequality Trap

A poor neighborhood climbs a hill behind a building belonging to Bogotá's elite Los Andes University and named for billionare Julio Mario Santo Domingo, Colombia's second-richest man. 
The government has puts lots of emphasis, understandably, on Bogotá's economic growth and claimed reductions in poverty. But according to data from the United Nations Bogotá is failing on another important measure: Economic Equality.

A recent U.N. study, reported in El Tiempo, found that Colombia was the country which most increased its urban inequality during the past two decades. Bogotá was the region's most unequal capital city. And of the 13 Colombian cities studied by the U.N., all increased their levels of economic inequality, according to the study.

Latin America has long been the most economically unequal region of the world. Some say that's because the region started out unequal, with a tiny group of Spanish and Portuguese landowners who ruled over a mestizo middle class and enslaved and exploited millions of indigenous and African people. The Latin American economy's dependence on raw material exports has also deepened inequalities by producing few jobs and channeling royalty income thru often corrupt and incompetent governments.

In one sense, inequality isn't bad - at least it means that the city or country contains wealth. Some African nations are much more economically equal than Colombia - but because nearly everybody there is very poor. Colombia, in contrast, has both poverty and great wealth.

But inequality has deeply corrosive effects on societies, according to recent studies, even worsening social problems including crime, violence and ill health.

It may be that many of Colombia's difficult social problems, ranging from poor education to domestic violence to the nation's armed conflict have their roots in an even more fundamental problem. And that may not be something which can be solved by negotiators at a table in Havana, Cuba.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: