Saturday, April 3, 2010

Some Thoughts on Inequality

Academic interest in feminist studies has grown at an exponential rate, from a handful of centers and university departments to more than a thousand over the past fifty years. Academic presses routinely publish books on feminist and gender studies.

A new field of study is developing around the theme of inequality and its relationship to minorities, poverty, school dropouts, family instability, and so forth. Inequality centers and research programs have been established at Stanford, Northwestern, Columbia, Princeton, Cornell, Wisconsin, Iowa, Yale, and Brookings, to name a few. The stated purpose of many of these centers is to design policies that reduce inequality on the view that greater equality in the distribution of income and wealth will improve living standards of lower income households and the workings of democracy.

How many of the scholars in these centers take vacations to see inequality? We routinely receive brochures in the mail promoting cruises, flight and hotel packages, and travel destinations to help us plan our summer holiday. Most destinations are in Europe, in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Russia, the Southern Mediterranean, Western Europe, and the British Isles.

The stops in each itinerary include the great cities and ports of Europe, with a choice of tours that focus on the basic foursome: monuments, museums, churches, and castles. In the course of lecturing on cruise ships during the past decade, my wife and I have taken many tours. Guides rarely if ever show us examples of inequality, for instance, workers’ housing blocks or welfare centers. The only workers’ sights I’ve ever observed were from the windows in taxi rides from airports in Belgrade, Zagreb, Vienna, Prague, and others en route to historical city centers.  Guides talk about kings and queens, architectural wonders, great art, colossal churches, country homes, nobles’ attire, and so forth. During our tour of St. Petersburg we learned about Czarist Russia, and then skipped the entire Communist period to the “new Russia.” Ditto in Gdansk.

Tours of Asia and Latin America are similar in focus. The chief attractions are colonial or dynastic buildings, monuments, churches, fortifications, etc. I have yet to visit a peasants’ museum (if there are any).

The sights of Europe (including most museum collections) are the result of concentrations of wealth that enabled the commissioning of paintings, buildings, and monuments. Had the history of Europe been socialist-style equality throughout the three past millennia, and of Asia for four millennia, there would be little of interest to see in our travels.

1 comment :

Alan said...

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