Jonathan Glennie, in a piece actually titled “How the Facebook generation keeps people poor“ thinks that the lack of concern for pro-poor policy by the middle and upper classes in developing countries is driven by international relative income envy, aggravated by the by the closeness brought on by innovations like Facebook.
“The 19 million Facebook users in the Philippines, for instance, about 19% of the population, are generally comparing themselves to other Facebook users around the globe rather than the 50% of Filipinos living on less than $2 a day.”
Really? Is there any evidence to support this assertion? Facebook requires you to be friends with another user before you can really start comparing yourself to them, and it’s unclear that those 19 million Filipinos have friends in London and New York.
Glennie says that the middle and upper classes desire to live as those in the West do, and so nudge national policy to favour their own wealth creation to the detriment to the poor.
Are we witnessing the emergence of a new type of polarisation, not between countries as before, but between international income brackets? It seems that the goal of reducing inequality (and with it poverty itself) is set back when the middle-classes in poor countries set their sights on overseas living standards. But doing so is only natural – all most of them want is a better life and more opportunities for their kids.
So next time you get angry with rich Nigerians when they ignore the plight of the poor in their country, you might as well be angry with yourselves. Until we all start to share more, and rationalise our expectations in a resource-limited world, it is unrealistic to expect people in other countries to do so.
It’s a little hard to discern what Glennie is actually suggesting here. What does it mean to rationalise our expectations? Is even the middle-class lifestyle in developed countries really that unsustainable? Do we need to shut down Facebook?
I think it would be extremely difficult to prove that this envy has increased, or is based on some change in expectations of relative income, or, especially, that it is not just a desire for improvements in absolute income driving this whole story. `The man’ has done a pretty good job at keeping the poor down throughout all of history, so I’m having a hard time believing that it’s somehow now my fault for living a more visible middle-class lifestyle.
Furthermore, is wealth gain for the poor and upper classes necessarily mutually exclusive? China has seen a significant rise in inequality in the past 30 years, while also doing a better job at moving people out of poverty than any other economy out there.
The new Guardian blog on poverty has been a fantastic addition to the development blogosphere, but I do find their moralizing a little unnecessary and overcooked at times.