History and the inequality predicament in South Asia.
The 2006 W.F.Wertheim Lecture
I am deeply honored to be here today. Professor Wertheim’s work helped me to see how social science can migrate across disciplines to engage human problems in a comparative, historical manner that articulates progressive political agendas; and my subject today is one of his abiding themes, inequality, which now evokes another, more famous theme, parallels between Asia and the West, because in recent times, inequality in control over resources has been increasing dramatically in Asia and the West alike.
These parallel trends now appear rather differently than they would have thirty years ago: then, East-West parallels stood out in an intellectual landscape dominated by difference; by contrast, they now seem to be integral features of globalization; and today, the prevailing presumption would be that, in a world of increasing global interconnectedness, many trends in distant places are interwoven by forces that move rapidly around the globe to affect everyday life almost everywhere. In that context, it only seemed logical when the 2005 UN Report on the World Social Situation, The Inequality Predicament, reported that inequality in social control of wealth is now increasing in Asia, as in the West and in world as a whole.
trends operate in a world of global capitalism that seems radically new, and
where history is being subsumed by present-day cultural politics and policy
oriented social science, another trend we observe in
What is Globalization?
In approaching the history of the present, I deploy the term “globalization” in three related senses: temporal, spatial, and analytical. Temporally, globalization is a process of increasing spatial interconnectedness among locations around the world, which speeds up over time as communications and transport technologies improve, so that globalization today is no different in quality than it has been in the past, but merely in quantity, because more things are moving farther faster now than ever before. Spatially, globalization is an aggregation of individual moments of mobility, transfer, relocation, and flow, in a world that is also composed spatially by forces of containment, that is, by territorial powers of confinement, enclosure, and boundary-making; so that mobile spaces composed by globalization always move people, things, and ideas inside and among territories defined by boundaries. Articulations and tensions between mobility and territoriality are thus inherent, constituent features of globalization, today as in the past. Analytically, globalization is a mobile perspective that covers more human space over time, as it moves in and among territories, where we find most historical records have been composed so as to express deep, powerful, enduring human attachments to enclosed territorial spaces of human identity, fellow-feeling, and social order, even as mobility is always cutting across and inflecting territorial sensibilities in all human cultures.
Globalization thus always entails interactions of mobility and territoriality. In this interaction, we can effectively locate trends and patterns of inequality. Ankie Hoogvelt provides a good point of departure by arguing that global capitalism operates in networks of mobility where markets move assets from place to place by privileging some places over others as sites of accumulation. Inequality in this “networking capitalism” raises the question of what forces guide the uneven flow of capital and its differential accumulation. Markets do move assets around and articulate capital accumulation, but markets by themselves never fully explain why wealth moves and accumulates the way it does. Studies of territoriality provide explanatory elements by revealing how social power in bounded territories privileges some places and people over others as sites and as actors in markets. For instance, systems of property ownership in bounded state territories define legal entitlements to assets that move around in markets; and rules of citizenship, inheritance, taxation, and state patronage construct territorial authority, power, and order by means that structure circuits of capital flow and accumulation.
Framing Territoriality: Nation and Empire
Thus we can say that mobility, operating in markets, generates capitalism’s electric energy, and that territoriality structures its circuitry. Global capitalism is now moving assets through markets faster and faster around the world, and thus homogenizing trends inside interconnected territorial systems of power and authority that institutionalize patterns of inequality in control over wealth. Today’s trends in inequality do certainly result from the recent world history of capital mobility, but patterns of inequality and its increase arise at intersections of mobility and territoriality.
The tool box of normal social science is less than adequate for analyzing that intersection, because it concentrates attention only on one kind of territory, defined by the national state, with its sovereign institutions, fixed borders, and cultures of national community. Treating national territory as the only relevant frame for territoriality, many scholars conclude that globalization is deterritorializing world capitalism by creating cross-border flows and networks that form new domains of entitlement. Following this line of reasoning, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, have notably theorized that a radically new kind of non-territorial capitalist empire is now supplanting the territorial authority of national states. In this light, parallel East-West trends in inequality appear to arise from an increasingly uniform global empire of capitalism.
Yet as critics
of Hardt and Negri emphasize, and recent events in
But at the same time, Hardt and Negri do push in the right direction by using the term “empire” to name a spatial formation of power that challenges national territorialism; and they rightly argue that we should not assume empire is a thing of the past. Specters of empire remain a living threat for national cultures and politics, because all nations have histories entangled with empire. Since the eighteenth century, the nation has constituted itself in opposition to empire, and post-colonial nations compose themselves as negations of empire. As a result, empire is etched into all nations according to each nation’s historic entanglement with empire. In post-colonial nations, specters of empire conjure the fear that globalization is now a conquering force threatening the nation, which is, once again, embattled, fighting for its life against alien imperial powers. Nations with their own imperial heritage also feel threats from invasion, more by workers than by capitalists, and seek to deflect, counteract, or compensate imperial implications of their expansive wealth under globalization.
entanglement of national and imperial forms of territoriality goes deeper
still, with more compelling implications. Territorial systems of imperial power
and authority covered the world from ancient to modern times. After many
centuries of being organized territorially by imperial systems, the world came
under the authority of national states only after 1945. Our world-defining
system of national state territorialism is actually no older than I am. In this
light, we can rightly see a deep, unacknowledged, normative commitment to
national frames of territoriality in the heart of social science; and we can
see that anxiety about the persistence, resurgence, reproduction, or
reinvention of imperial power in a world of nations makes good sense. The
specter of empire is moreover dramatically personified today by the
context, I do not think we should follow Hardt and Negri in viewing
globalization as being able to constitute empire, even potentially, on its own,
because empire is a form of territoriality, and globalization is not
territorial: it is rather composed of mobility, has no boundaries, and by
itself cannot construct territorial authority. Territorial empires and nations
have formed bounded spatial domains of power and authority where globalization
operates. Under the normative hegemony of national territorialism, modern
political discourse and social science have treated empire and nation as
fundamentally incompatible, and described modern territorialism as a
progression from empire to the nation, an irreversible process of transition,
negation, and replacement. But it is quite obvious that despite their
structural differences and conflicts, imperial and national forms of
territoriality are not incompatible, nor even necessarily opposed to one
another. Some of the most striking East-West parallels derive from the
historical fact that in
As nations covered the world, national cultures consigned empire to the past, and nations became definitive territories of human identity and progress, but the legal frame of national sovereignty that covered the world did not eliminate imperial forms of territoriality. The reproduction of imperial forms continued de facto, if not de jure, in the world of national states, comprising a “non-legal but licit” territorial basis for social and spatial patterns of inequality in which trends of increasing inequality arise today.
territories that structure inequality under global capitalism are not only of
the modern, Western kind, as theorists since Marx have believed, because the
capitalism that Marx observed developed inside a vast articulation of
globalization with old imperial forms of territoriality. In the nineteenth
century, capitalist empires developed in
Thus we now
find inequality increasing at intersections of two kinds of imperial history:
one is global and the other operates inside world regions like
Three features of imperial territory are most critical for the historical study of inequality: ranking, mobility, and unevenness. First and foremost, empire consists of culturally visible ranks of authority and privilege, supported by coercive power, in which, however horizontal and voluntary social transactions appear -- in our case most importantly, market transactions -- such transactions always entail coercive potential in ranks above, and subordinate response and adaptation in ranks below, in vertically structured relationships among explicitly, if not officially, unequal actors, whose transactions dramatize inequality and represent dynamics of power. In imperial territory, spatial and social relations are pervasively vertical: each place and person occupies a rank. As a result, geographical mobility -- which appears horizontal on maps – also travels vertically, up and down ranks of wealth, power, status, and authority.
Secondly, imperial territory is inherently mobile. Imperial power and authority move constantly in spatial networks of mobility to inscribe ranks in the realm; and resulting imperial boundaries are never firmly fixed: they rather form moving frontiers. In contrast to the static, fixed boundaries of a national state, territorial limits of empires typically overlap as entangled boundaries move and mobile authorities struggle for space and supremacy. Empires form expanding, and contracting, shifting territories, where ranked spatial and political layers form a “many layered cake” of ranks, where borders tangle among frontiers.
Thirdly, and also in contrast to the national state, where legal authority and entitlements spread comprehensively from boundary to boundary, in empire, gaps and grey areas always appear inside territorial domains, at all levels, not only because rebellion and resistance counteract and negate top-down imperial power and authority, but also because some places simply do not warrant the effort to integrate fully into an imperial order. Imperial territory is unevenly controlled by people at higher status ranks: it always contains dynamic struggles in its “many layered cake” that shift power up and down the ranks, producing various outcomes in space and time; and it typically includes people and places so lowly and marginal as to be left out of the status ranks entirely.
Its ranks, mobility, and unevenness -- and thus its changeability and adaptive quality -- make imperial territory impossible to map accurately on the static horizontal plane of modern cartography, adapted as it is to represent the flat linear frame of national space. Firmly fixed boundaries of the national sort do not exist in empires, where places and regions are not equivalent, but rather ranked as superior and inferior, central and peripheral. Some people and places represent imperial order more than others. People live on various cultural planes, higher and lower, the higher being more advance, more civilized, authorized to lead, in charge of the future for people lower down the ranks, who must follow, adapt, learn the rules, and adjust, but who often resist, fight back, and contest power held at higher ranks, by exerting force to alter vertical transactions, to create more wealth, power, and authority in lower ranks, while some people and places inside imperial territory elude or escape its inclusion entirely. Unlike the nation, empire is a dynamic, shifting, and ever-changing territorial form, and much more than the nation, it is deeply imbued with mobility. The articulation of mobile space with imperial territory is indeed a dynamic force in the history of globalization.
Temporal boundaries of empire are as elusive as spatial boundaries. Imperial expansion, integration, and ranking operate in changing patterns over time. Imperial forms of power and authority assume various guises, sometimes appearing as massively coercive and domineering, and sometimes as being composed of rituals and symbols. All elements of imperial order can be combined, separated, dispersed, and recombined variously over time, creating kaleidoscopic possibilities, quite impossible to render with chronological or spatial precision.
Nonetheless, historians have locked shifting geographies and fluid temporalities of imperial territoriality into flat maps and rigid timelines, to mark the “rise and fall” of each empire separately. We can however distinguish histories of imperial territoriality from histories of empires, and doing so reveals that imperial forms of territorial power and authority often if not typically reproduce themselves across regime transitions, including transitions to national modernity. Instead of framing histories of empire with chronicles of rising and falling regimes, we can look across times and spaces occupied by empires and nations to find histories of imperial territoriality forming dynamic cycles of construction, expansion, integration, fracture, disruption, fragmentation, dispersion, and reorganization.
Empire and Inequality
This predicament -- described in the 2005 UN Report on the World Social Situation -- results from a persistent tendency of empire to channel wealth up the ranks and to concentrate wealth in upper echelons. This upward mobility of wealth provides capital for elites to spend and invest, which can spur economic growth, but also reduces the proportion of new wealth available to people in lower echelons. The resulting tendency for inequality to increase aggravates a range of endemic imperial problems; the UN stresses one in particular: the increasing difficulty that people in the lowest echelons have moving out of poverty and up the ranks, and thus to benefit from imperial order and acquire good reasons for loyalty.
Martin Ravallion succinctly states the relevant economic axiom: “At any positive rate of growth, the higher the initial inequality, the lower the rate at which income-poverty falls.” This means that increasing inequality reduces the rate at which people move out of poverty as it channels more wealth into elite hands, disadvantaging the poor,  even though this same trend might also stimulate growth, at least for a time, in a capitalist economy where markets reward investors in proportion to investments. Thus, inequality under capitalism has two kinds of effects, a “poverty effect” and a “growth effect.” In imperial environments, we expect elites to prefer state policies that stimulate growth and channel wealth up the status ranks, while depreciating the poverty effect of inequality, which concentrates in lower echelons and on peripheries, among groups on the outskirts of elite priorities.
imperial framing helps to make sense of the UN’s contemporary “inequality
predicament,” which is this: in recent decades, total wealth has been
increasing globally under free-market-oriented economic policies and a surge of
globalization, but asset inequality has also been increasing in and among
countries. More wealth is available for reducing poverty, globally, but smaller
proportions of new wealth are serving that purpose. This upward mobility of
wealth is in general producing a trend of relative impoverishment among people
in lower echelons, and overall rates of poverty reduction are bound to be
declining. A few statistics clarify the picture. Globally, in the last four
decades, the ratio of wealth held respectively by the richest and poorest
quintiles of the world population almost tripled, from 30:1 to 86:1. The landmark 1996 Human Development Report showed that “The poorest 20% of the
world’s people saw their share of global wealth decline from 2.3% to 1.4% in
the [preceding] 30 years … [as] the share of the richest 20% rose from 70% to
80%.” This trend is also visible inside the
imperial nation most influential in setting global economic policy, the United
States, where in two decades after “the Reagan revolution,” in 1980, the
richest 20% increased their share of national income from 44% to 50%, and the
richest 1% increased theirs proportionately six times more, from 7% to 13%. Twenty percent of the
Amidst these trends, absolute poverty is decreasing in some parts of the world, stagnating in others, and increasing in others, while overall poverty reduction must be slowing down, making future poverty more intractable. In the 1990s, the world poverty problem began to be of concern at the World Bank, where increasing inequality began to appear as a hindrance to sustainable growth, but today alarm bells are sounding. The 2005 UN report warns that current inequality trends not only threaten economic growth by depressing demand, reducing labor productivity, and degrading human and natural environments, but that they also foster social and political conflicts that undermine governance and also encourage nations to seek stability by drawing back from globalization, which already seems to be happening in Latin America.
usefully to locate this present-day scene in a long historic cycle, stretching
back to the nineteenth century, during which imperial forms of power and
authority have been reproduced at various levels of scale. At the global level,
in the aftermath of World War Two, old imperial elites sat on the UN Security
Council, met at Bretton Woods, in NATO, at Davos, and elsewhere, to refashion
their imperial position in a new world where Cold War expressed a new kind of
inter-imperial struggle. In the 1970s, a
new phase of globalization began, when a long post-war economic boom ended, and
a new global development regime took shape -- led by the richest countries, the
World Bank, and IMF -- which gained increasing influence, mostly by financial
means, over economic policies in most poor countries. This global development
regime supported capitalist competitive strategies in the post-boom decades by
enforcing Structural Adjustment policies that composed today’s unprecedented global uniformity of
free-market-oriented state policy regimes, inducing poor country exports,
promoting imports, and opening up states to global investors. After
1980, rapid technological change also lowered transport and
communication costs, most rapidly after 1989, when the end of the
hubris of the
And yet, in the discourse of our neo-liberal present, the imperial implications of such long-term trends have been largely erased by analysts who agree with NY Times columnist David Brookes that “today’s rich don’t exploit the poor; they just out-compete them.”  In this view, the UN’s inequality predicament is simply that more competitive, productive people earn more by merit, and inequality increases because markets do not provide uncompetitive, unproductive people what they need to compete successfully. This logic has induced all major development agencies to promote what they call “pro-poor growth” policies, which rely on governments, NGOs, and business to provide loans, education, health, housing, jobs, and other things poor people need to compete more successfully. Despite pro-poor initiatives, however, inequality is increasing in the world and in most countries; faster, it seems, with each passing year.
It may be
tempting to see
That process can be outlined briefly as follows. In the nineteenth century, the British regime refashioned India’s old imperial ranks into a modern entitlement system that channeled wealth upward through state institutions and markets. Imperial capitalism was deeply embedded in India during a great surge of globalization before World War One, when the proportion of world GDP traveling around the world grew faster than during any decade thereafter, until 1990. In 1914, the US Consul at Bombay described British India as "one of the few large countries of the world where there is an 'open door' for the trade of all countries." In 1914, most goods arriving at South Asian ports were for export. British India was then the world's fourth largest industrial cotton textile producer, and manufactured goods comprised 20% of exports, a figure never since surpassed. In the next two decades, industrial output grew faster in India than in the UK and Germany, as trade with the UK at India’s five major ports fell to less than one-third, and Indian labor also went global. By 1921, Indian emigration had far exceeded immigration, and what we now call diaspora had begun, moving mostly then to Ceylon, Malaya, East and South Africa, Fiji and West Indies, all in the embrace of The British Empire.
Following typically imperial trajectories, capitalism in British India channeled wealth upward to benefit people of superior status in all layers of the empire’s many layered cake, from top to bottom, benefiting most of all the British in topmost ranks but also Indian professional, business, and landowning elites, in all the lower ranks, all the way down to the village. Wealth moving upward consolidated and expanded the military and economic infrastructure The Empire, more than it enriched India or Britain. Imperial priorities dampened incentives for productive investment, so rates of growth were low and rates of poverty, high. Extremes of inequality in India appeared during famines that killed many millions, the last several million during World War Two in Bengal, where imperial priorities focused on Calcutta and left lowly villagers on outskirts of empire to starve.
By 1880, the upward mobility of wealth in The Empire had become apparent to Indian nationalists, led by Dadabhai Naoroji, and staunching the flow of that wealth out of India to increase wealth inside national territory became a central goal of nationalists. The results were stunning, especially when we compare trends in India to the world trend of steadily increasing inequality between rich and poor countries across the twentieth century, as measured by Lant Pritchett. By contrast, data compiled by Gregory Clark show that Indian per capita GDP relative to the UK and US declined sharply and steadily after 1870, but only until 1947, when India’s long trend of increasing impoverishment compared to the two great imperial nations stopped abruptly.
The reason for this sea change is simple. Under the British, India’s development regime channeled wealth up the ranks, out of India, but after Independence, in 1947, national regimes in India (and then Pakistan and Bangladesh) kept and created more wealth inside national territory. National independence accomplished a radical shift downward in the world’s imperial ranks by increasing the power of people to control economic resources inside their national territory. India remained comparatively poor, with per capita GDP hovering since 1947 around 10% of the US-UK average -- and India is still the poorest of the world five largest national economies  -- but India’s relative impoverishment trend stopped dead at independence.
Today, most analysts point to 1991 as the year of great economic change in India, but 1947 was a much bigger watershed, when the end of the British Empire in India shifted India’s comparative national wealth trend from negative to positive for the first time in modern history. The same trend holds for China, though details differ, and the weight of combined populations of India and China would have brought global inequality down significantly in early decades after 1950, when Francois Bourguignon and Christian Morrison have shown the overall rate of increase in world inequality slowed down considerably.
Then, in later decades, after 1980, India’s comparative wealth increased faster, and then faster again after 1991.  And again, the same trend holds for China, so if we weight national wealth by population, rapid growth in India and China today is reducing the rate of increase of international inequality. But inequality has also been increasing and poverty reduction no doubt slowing down in India and China, as freeing up markets has aggravated the imperial tendency for wealth to move up the ranks, and as a deceleration in world inequality in the first decades after 1950 has reversed itself, with inequality increasing after 1980 in two-thirds of the seventy-three countries analyzed by Giovanni Andrea Cornia and Sampsa Kiiski, representing over half the world’s population.
India’s imperial dynamics help to explain why it is getting richer faster today, for in India, as well as in China, a substantial part of explanation lies in a downward territorial shift in political power over economic resources into regions. In India, an analogous downward shift or devolution of economic power underlay an upsurge in growth in coastal regions in the late eighteenth century, when independence from the Mughal Empire coincided with increasing overseas trade. Likewise, after 1947, nationalists in India built a new state that held dividends from public and private investment inside India. Inside independent India, the reorganization of states after 1956 repeatedly delivered growth benefits to regions that gained thereby state power over economic resources.
Recent liberalization in India and China has been accomplished by political processes that typify dynamic cycles of imperial territorialism, as devolutions of power down vertical ranks comprise what Yongnian Zheng calls for China, “state transformation.” As a result, national political systems have changed drastically since the 1980s, and in India, coalitions of regional parties now control the central government. Currently high growth rates in India and China derive significantly from economic and political devolution; and in that context, domestic and international businesses seek new opportunities in both countries, as they also did during analogous periods of imperial change in earlier times. Struggles in central governments, regions, and localities have also made economic development policies more contentious than at any time since 1947, as debates rage over appropriate methods of economic governance.
Imperial Inequality in
India’s imperial dynamics also help to explain patterns and trends in inequality. At independence, in 1947, nationalists produced a new India by extracting territorial layers from “the many layered cake” of British Empire, forging them into a much more tightly integrated national territory. Freed from global empire, India instituted a state regime that forcefully integrated its national territory (including old frontiers and erstwhile Native States), invested heavily in infrastructure, increased growth, eliminated famine, kept Gini coefficients of income inequality stable for fifty years, and lowered inequality with land reforms, food and public goods provisioning, and subsidies for productive inputs like water, electricity, fertilizer, and High Yielding Varieties of wheat and rice.
These national efforts did not, however, eliminate India’s imperial ranks. In agrarian regions where Mughal and British empires had privileged landlord property owners, levels of private and public investment in agriculture and human development (health and education) remained comparatively low. India’s national development regime actually accentuated wealth accumulation by people and in places already privileged at various levels in 1947. National development policy -- to quote critics -- “bet on the rich” to secure economic growth. In the 1980s, the upwardly mobile social strata -- people who had benefited most from their status in British imperial ranks and in India’s imperial regime of national development -- propelled the government’s “return” to a free-market regime, which was by then no longer identified with empire, but rather with being progressively, proudly Indian, most notably, during the political transition of the 1980s, by Hindu nationalist critics of a Congress regime tarnished by corruption, inefficiency, and authoritarianism.
After India’s devolution of political power and its national policy “return,” as Tirthankar Roy calls it, to free-market oriented economic policies, higher growth rates ensued, and in the eighties, inequality began to increase visibly, as richer regions got steadily richer compared to poorer regions. After 1991, faster growth increased inequality faster and more broadly. Relevant data are complex and contentious, but convincing. Gini coefficients of income inequality have risen since 1999. In 2004, National Sample Survey data indicated that after 1991, new wealth went mostly to wealthier classes with privileged access to government and new market opportunities. The urban rich benefited most: the top quintile of income groups in cities increased their per capita consumption by 40%, but in rural areas, by 20%. The rural rich got much richer but got poorer compared to urban rich, a comparison that politicians took seriously and helps to explain the change in Indian governments in 2004, when the new Prime Minister had to face the fact that 600 million Indians, in the bottom 80% of rural income groups, had suffered steady decline in per capita consumption under reforms he introduced as Finance Minister, in 1991, which he vowed to continue as an aspiring US ally, in 2004. Manmohan Singh could however feel good that 300 million Indian citizens did get richer under liberalization, after 1991, and the richest among them became media stars in 2006, during India’s aggressive ad campaign promoting itself as “the world’s fastest growing free-market democracy.” 
Patterns of inequality and its increase in India today are not haphazard. Neither are they new. They can be understood as products of a unitary world capitalist system, or as symptoms of India’s unique political economy, with its distinctive culture of inequality, based on caste, but viewing them instead as features of a dynamic, changing imperial order helps to explain them better, because these patterns arise over and again in various geographical frames and historical contexts, and are not unique to India, as they are also not the same in all countries across the capitalist world. They represent what we can usefully call generic patterns of imperial inequality, reproduced across centuries and across modes of production, and structuring inequality in India today during a general increase in inequality worldwide.
Four prominent generic forms of imperial inequality operate in India, as in China and elsewhere, according to ranks defined by location, gender, ethnicity, and class, all tightly entangled in ranks of state power and authority. Imperial landscapes define spatial inequality in core locations that form privileged sites for capital accumulation, and in both China and India, urban-rural and regional disparities institutionalized long before 1980 have become rapidly worse since 1990. For India, Angus Dean and Jean Dreze have showed that recent growth favors states in the south and west, distressing states in the north and northeast, which had been previously disadvantaged by public and private investment decisions. The poverty of regions in the eastern Gangetic basin compared to the West and Punjab goes back to the nineteenth century, when the east-west divergence in North India became a feature of imperial politics that moved the capital to New Delhi. That same spatial divergence continued after Independence with disproportionate state and private investments in the west. Regions more dependent upon agriculture had declining economic returns in the 1990s, as annual growth in agriculture and allied service dipped to less half (3.2%) the rate of growth in India’s aggregate per capita GDP (6.7%), and the ratio of rural-to-urban poverty rapidly increased. Regions of Asia generally that are most out of the loop of capital accumulation lie on far peripheries of old Empires – of the Mughals, British, Dutch, French, and Chinese – in mountain regions spanning Nepal, Northeast India, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, highland Burma, Thai Borders, Vietnam, and South China. All these are homelands of tribal minority groups on peripheries of national control.  In cities, slums can be viewed as internal peripheries like distant, remote villages from which people come to live in cities to find employment and services they rarely secure fulsomely. Slums are effectively out of the loop of capital accumulation and like the poorest remote villages and “tribal” fringe areas, they are homelands for criminal gangs that often provide basic public services, making them more dangerous, unruly, and marginal.
Gender inequality in patriarchal ranks pervades imperial forms at each level, from the global to the local. In 2003, a national study of gender disparities in India concluded in line with earlier research that the poorest Indian states (with about half the total population, mostly in the eastern Gangetic Plain) had not improved the condition of women, while the worst gender disparities continued to prevail in richer and faster growing states, above all, Punjab and Haryana. Women’s wages and working conditions, and the social and environmental conditions of their domestic and communal labor, seem to be worsening under free-market globalization, along lines that indicate a reproduction of old imperial forms of patriarchy, particularly in agrarian contexts, but also in new urban sites of female industrial work in garment, electronics, and “global sweatshops” located in many countries, including many in southern Asia.
Ethnic inequality hits minority cultural and religious populations. Recent studies have found that India’s Muslim population has gotten poorer, relatively in most states and absolutely in some, including the fast growing, highly urbanized state of Gujarat. Ethnic minority and tribal populations in poor Indian northeastern states and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have lost ground, reflecting their location on national peripheries and imperial frontiers.
Class inequality divides people with and without proprietary entitlements that translate into education, business, and employment opportunities. M.Atchi Reddy and others have shown that upward trajectories of social mobility into urban elite ranks typically began in rich market towns and in irrigated, rice-growing villages, where up-and-comers owned property whose value increased much more than poor dry farmland. Even today, people who own dry land are much less likely to benefit in situ from connections to urban sites of globalization, and impoverished farmers in dry regions on outskirts of booming cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, always on the verge of famine, now routinely commit suicide under the humiliation of crushing debt.  Landless workers in villages and cities dominate the lowest income groups who have seen their real income decline in recent times. Jan Breman and others have shown how deindustrialization and casualization of labor under free-market flexible production regimes render urban and rural workers more vulnerable to distress and poverty, while the UN’ “inequality predicament” report stresses the poverty effects of being cast into the world’s growing informal economy. Exchange entitlements for poor wage workers have been further distressed by inflation and reduced subsidies for basic commodities. Proportionate wage increases favor more educated workers in settings where education is unavailable that would improve the position of poorer workers.
It is important to note that these four generic forms of imperial inequality in power over resources overlap and generate dynamics of increasing inequality. Most notably, health inequalities arise from and compound all the others, and conflict zones wracked by violence also arise at their intersections, as the UN report indicates. Today, there is a “Maoist rebel crescent” that overlaps other war zones in the poorest mountain regions of Nepal and northeast India and lowlands and mountains in impoverished Bihar, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh. In northeast India and Gujarat, relative and absolute impoverishment for poor groups has fed violent upheavals in state politics. Caste violence in Tamil Nadu and religious violence in Bangladesh (pitting Muslims against Muslims and against minority Hindus) are also incited by struggles sparked by growing disparities in control over critical resources.
History in the Present Tense
In conclusion, I would say we can enrich Ankie Hoogvelt’s idea that world capitalism operates in networks of mobility by stressing that these networks take shape amidst mobile imperial power and authority, which now promotes neo-liberal economic policies, leading wealth to accumulate preferentially at higher ranks, both globally and in South Asia. More broadly, I would say that economic growth in Asia generally is driven over long spans of space and time by the productive deployment of dividends accruing to people according to their status inside explicit, well-understood, changing ranks of imperial entitlement; so that when people deploy their legitimate entitlements in market transactions, they typically secure dividends in systematically recurring patterns of inequality. Imperial forms of power and authority thus have a changing cumulative impact at each historic stage of economic development, and the force of imperial inequality is now being accentuated by neo-liberal policy regimes designed to “free” markets from political interference by groups that might challenge imperial power relations.
In India, a downward shift in the vertical ranks of global empire at Independence contributed to a serious but temporary reduction of world inequality. Then, national politics lowered inequality inside India, as a transformation of imperial forms of power and authority also occurred, globally and inside India; this produced two new imperial formations, which now engage one another during another surge of globalization. Political devolution inside India shifted power down the ranks, and after 1980, liberalization under this dynamic new state regime increased economic growth and inequality, at the same time, by allocating more wealth through markets, which produced more wealth by channeling more of it, more productively, into privileged sites among the vertical ranks in regions and in India as a whole.
History thereby suggests that neither nationalism nor pro-poor policies can be relied upon to reduce inequality sufficiently to secure sustainable growth, poverty reduction, and social justice. And history also indicates that, made free to do as they will, in the world as it is, markets can be relied upon to strengthen imperial forms of entitlement and thus to aggravate inequality. Focusing history in this way on present-day problems, I find to my surprise that old British, French, and Dutch imperialists were not the bad guys they appear to be when history focuses on the independence of nations from empires. For as Tirthankar Roy says, it did not matter so much that they were foreigners: what mattered was how they ruled. And now we can see that anyone – foreign imperialist, native nationalist, socialist, communist, or otherwise – who imagines the world as a flat national plane of world capitalism, bereft of dynamic, vertical, imperial forms of power and authority, is in effect helping to secure the flow of wealth up the food chain. Solving the inequality predicament requires sustained downward shifts in power over wealth, which calls for many more and much deeper studies of imperial territoriality, which might inform anti-imperial struggles in every nook and cranny of globalization.
 For a critical globalization perspective on
cultural studies, see K.Satchidanandan, “That Third Space: Interrogating the
Diaspora Paradigm,” in Makarand Paranjape, In
Diaspora: Theories, Histories, Texts,
 Ankie Hoogvelt, Globalization and the postcolonial world: the new political economy of
 See Giovanni Andrea Cornia and Julius Court, “Inequality, Growth and Poverty in the Era of Liberalization and Globalization,” UNU World Institute for Economics Research (UNU/WIDER), Helsinki, 2001, summarized thus: “Since the early-mid-1980s inequality has risen in most countries, and in many cases sharply,” from causes “linked to excessively liberal economic policy regimes and the way in which economic reform policies have been carried out,” as “the persistence of inequality at high levels or its further rise have made it much more difficult to reduce poverty,” while high levels of inequality can depress the rae of growth and “can also have undesirably political and social impacts -- on crime and political stability, for example.” (p.1)
 A succinct account of the origins of recent globalization at the end of the post war boom in the1970s is Gavin Kitching, Seeking Social Justice Through Globalization: Escaping a Nationalist Perspective, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001, pp.23-33.
 Michael Hardt
and Antonio Negri, Empire,
 Gopal Balakrishnan, review of Hardt and Negri, Empire in New Left Review, Sept-Oct 2000, 142-148.
 See for only one of many instances the
report of Indian government pronouncements along these lines online at http://onlypunjab.com/fullstory2k5-insight-news-status-25-newsID-7528.html.
For recent policy, see Jake Skeers, “Indian government opens retail sector to
foreign corporations,” World Socialist Website,
 For a compelling account of this
intersection as it appears to a perceptive activist author in
 Focusing on these dynamics in
 See Imperial
Rule, edited by Alexei Miller and Alfred J. Rieber,
 See David Ludden, “Maps in the Mind and
the Mobility of
 For the implications, see Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, voice, and loyalty: responses to decline in firms, organizations,
 Martin Ravallion, “Can high-inequality developing countries escape absolute poverty?” Economic Letters, 56, 1997, 51-57.
 A good account is Stanley L. Engerman and Kenneth L. Sokoloff,“Factor Endowmens, Inequality, and Paths of Development Among New World Economies,” NBER Working Paper 9259, which demonstrates “systematic patterns by which societies in the Americas that began with more extreme inequality or heterogeneity in the population were more likely to develop institutional structures that greatly advantaged members of elite classes (and disadvantaging the bulk of the population) by providing them with more political influence and access to economic opportunities.” http://www.nber.org/papers/w9259.
 This is a basic characteristic of capitalism, which the American Heritage Dictionary defines nicely as “an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market."
 United Nations, Human Development
 http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/1996/en/pdf/hdr_1996_overview.pdf. See Kitching, Seeking Social Justice, p.175
 Congressional Budget Office data, analyzed
by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reported in the New York Times,
Wealth Inequality Reader. Edited by Dollars and Sense and United for a Fair
 The worst absolute poverty trend is in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the average household consumed 20% less in 1998 than 25 years earlier (UNDP, 1998 Human Development Report. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), but the most dramatic relative poverty trend is in Latin America, where the number of poor fell in the 1970s, then nearly doubled in the 1980s, and was 33% of the total population, in 1997, and not falling despite renewed economic growth. Nancy Birdsall and Juan Luis Londono, “Asset Inequality Matters: An Assessment of the World Bank’s Approach to Poverty Reduction,” The American Economic Review, 87, 2, 1997, 32-7.
adjustment: the SAPRIN report. The policy roots of economic crisis, poverty,
and nequality, by the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review
International Network (SAPRIN).
 Lant Pritchett, “Divergence,
York Times OpEd section,
 World Bank, WDR 2000/1. UNDP, Choices for the Poor: Lessons from National Poverty Strategies, March 2001, http://www.undp.org/dpa/publications/choicesforpoor/ENGLISH/
 Tirthankar Roy, “Economic History and
 US Department of Commerce, Special Consular Reports, No.72, British India, with notes on Ceylon, Afghanistan, and Tibet, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1915, p.9.
 Morris D. Morris, "The Growth of Large-Scale Industry to 1947," in The Cambridge Economic History of India, volume II, c.1757-c1970, Dharma Kumar, editor, Cambridge, 1983, pp. 569, 576, 609.
 Annual Statement of the Sea-Borne Trade of British India with the British Empire and Foreign Countries for the fiscal year ending 31st March, 1926, Calcutta: Government of India, 1926, Table 10
Historical Atlas of South Asia, Joseph E. Schwartzberg, editor, Chicago:
 See G.Balachandran (ed) India and the World Economy, 1850-1950, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003; Douglas M. Peers, Between Mars and Mammon: Colonial Armies and the Garrison State in India, 1819-1836, London: Taurus Publishers, 1995; David Washbrook, “Agriculture and Industrialization in India,” in P.Mathias and A Davis (eds) Agriculture and Industrialization: from the eighteenth century to the present day, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1996; David Washbrook, “Changing Perspectives on the Economic History of India,” Unpublished keynote paper for the Japanese Association of Asian Studies, October 2005, presented to the Economic History Workshop, University of Pennsylvania, 23 April 2006; and David Wasbrook, “The Indian Economy and the British Empire,” in Nandini Gooptu and Douglas M. Peers, Oxford History of the British Empire: India, Oxford: Calrendon Press (forthcoming).
 Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation.
 Gregory Clark, “The Great Divergence – World Economic Growth since 1800.” Figure 2, p.28, at http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/gclark/GlobalHistory/Global%20History-12.pdf
David Ludden, "
 Yongnian Zheng, Globalization and State Transformation in
 See for a recent example, “The Men Who
 Timothy Besley and Robin Burgess, “Land
Reform, Poverty Reduction, and Growth: Evidence from
 Abhijit Banerjee and Lakshmi Iyer,
“History, Institutions and Economic Performance: The Legacy of
 Milanovic, “Half a World: Regional
Inequality in Five Great Federations.” And “Social Justice and Stalled
Development: Caste Empowerment and the Breakdown of Governance in
 See Angus Deaton and Jean Dreze, “Poverty
and Inequality in
 Gaurav Datt and Martin Ravallion (in “Is
 Jackie Assayag, The making of democratic inequality: caste,
class, lobbies and politics in contemporary
 For China, a large proportion of inter-regional inequality can be explained by urban-rural disparities Ajit S. Bhalla, Shujie Yao, and Zongyi Zhang, “Causes of inequalities in China,” Journal of International Development, 15, 2003, 133-152 and Ravi Kanbur and Xiaobo Zhang, “Fifty years of regional inequality in China: A journey through central planning, reform, and openness,” (http://people.cornell.edu/pages/sk145/papers/Halfcentury81.pdf. Cited in Milanovic, “Half a World.”
 Deaton and Dreze, “Poverty and Inequality.” Gaurav Datt and Martin Ravallion, “Is India’s Economic Growth Leaving the Poor Behind?” notes that the two richest states in the 1980s (Punjab and Haryana) hit a low-growth trend in the 1990s, but that leaving these two states out, “there is a strong positive relationship between level of GDP in the mid-1980s and growth rate in the 1990s; that is, there is divergence between per capita GDP among all but the richest states in India.” (p.97).
 Agricultural Production and South Asian
History, Edited by David Ludden,
 Dutt and Ravallion, “Is India’s growth leaving the poor behind,” p.97-8.
 Being out of the globalization loop may not be so bad, as
incorporation is exceptionally destructive for livelihoods and environments on
these far peripheries and frontiers of imperial nations based in the lowlands.
For a wider view of economies on the margins,, see Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders, and the other side
of Globalization. Edited by Willem van Schendel and Itty Abraham,
 Mercedez Gonzales de la Rocha and Alejandro Grinspun, “Private Adjustments: Households, crisis, and work,” Chapter Three, UNDP 2001, Choices for the Poor: Lessons from National Poverty Strategies (http://www.undp.org/dpa/publications/choicesforpoor/ENGLISH/CHAP03.PDF
 “Disparities in Inequality,” http://www.indiatogether.org/2003/mar/wom-states.htm. Dina M. Siddiqi, “Miracle Worker or Woman-machine? Tracking (Trans)national Realities in Bangladeshi Factories,” Economic and Political Weekly. 2000 May 27:L11-L17.
 Imran Ali and Yoginder Sikand, “Survey of
Socio-Economic Conditions of Muslims in
 Shapan Adnan. Migration, Land Alienation, and Ethnic Conflict: Causes of Poverty in
the Chittagong Hill Tracts of
 M. Atchi Reddy, Lands and Tenants in
 For abroad view, see David Ludden, An Agrarian History of South Asia.
 Jan Breman. Footloose labour: working
 Datt and Ravallion, “Is
 The effectiveness of egalitarian state
policies that shift power over resources down the class ranks in reducing
poverty is well demonstrated by the Indian state of Kerala, where the poverty
rate was as high as