Competency: (what you're going to learn):

Learning Objectives (how you're going to learn it):  

Framing Global Social Problems

In the prior lesson, we learned about the social determinants of health and viewed social problems issues from a national perspective. For this lesson, we move the frame to a global view. First, watch Dr. Vanessa Kerry, who discusses less-developed nations and the problems they face with regard to health care (closed captioning available):

Dr. Kerry discusses not only some of the alarming statistics about health disparities between wealthy and less wealthy nations, she also explains the concept of brain drain:

BRAIN DRAIN: the emigration of highly skilled or well-educated individuals. Brain drain is also known as "human capital flight."

What is the main point that Dr. Kerry makes? She asserts that we need to create a system which encourages teaching medicine more so than simply sending medical personnel into resource poor countries on a temporary basis. If we can send medical teaching professionals to other countries to teach students to be doctors, nurses, and medical professionals who will stay in their home countries, more people will be treated than if we send people from wealthy nations to care for people in those same countries. 

Now, watch as the World Health Organization gives us a multi-national perspective on health care issues (closed captioning available):

Note that, as stated in the short documentary above, in Brazil, health outcomes for poorer families have been improved by stabilizing incomes for those families. While the programs that Brazil has do not quite satisfy the concept, what is being discussed in the documentary is the concept of "universal basic income" (or UBI).

UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME: (UBI) a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country receive a regular, unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, independent of any other income. UBI is not a new idea, however, we don't have any countries in the world today who distribute UBI. There are many countries that have experimented (and are experimenting) with the idea (the US included, in the form of a negative income tax—NIT).

NEGATIVE INCOME TAX: (NIT) a progressive income tax system where people earning below a certain amount receive supplemental pay from the government instead of paying taxes to the government. When NIT is implemented, people earning a certain income level owe no taxes. People earning more than the cutoff level pay a proportion of their income in taxes above that level. Those below that level receive a payment in the amount their income falls below that level. (While not a part of this lesson on global social problems, you might be surprised to learn about the history of UBI/NIT in the US. Take a few minutes to read this brief synopsis of the implementation of the NIT in the United States). 

NIT has been discussed by economists but never fully implemented. The majority view among economists is that our government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of this kind of system. It might surprise some of you to know that this kind of system was endorsed by free-market economist Milton Friedman (of “Trickle Down Economics" fame).

No country (so far) has instituted UBI or NIT policy at the national level. Countries which agree with the idea of UBI believe it is a necessary component of long-term social and political stability. Since many jobs are being automated (and that won't be slowing down anytime soon), unemployment is forecast to increase. We must consider ways in which we can keep the structure of our global community stable as people begin to lose jobs to technology. 

The WHO makes the case that it is the government's role to care for its citizenry, and to allow the citizens of any nation to have a voice. When people feel as if they have a voice, they will be more invested in what happens at a structural level. 

Inequality as a Driver of Change

As we now know, inequality is an important determinant of human behavior; thus, it is a driver of social change. Throughout history we have seen how social conditions have impacted entire countries. When famine occurs, people revolt. When politics get in the way of self-determination, people revolt (think about the French Revolution!). Inequality from within and outside of countries has been around for centuries, but we really didn't begin to have a meaningful global divide until the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the dominance of the West on countries around the world. Within our world system, there continue to be sharp divides between developed and developing nations. Much of this inequity has its origins in colonialism. When we discuss inequality on a global scale, there are two main "camps" that we, as sociologists, fall into:

Functional Theory and World Inequality

Functional theorists tend to see globalization as a positive thing, and when we're discussing global development, functional theories are referred to as modernization theories. Modernization theories, in general, serve to maintain the status quo, meaning that powerful, wealthy countries stay powerful and wealthy, while less modernized nations will stay less powerful and wealthy. However this is not seen as a negative, as from the modernization perspective, less developed nations still develop, which increases the standard of living for the population.

MODERNIZATION: as countries are westernized and multinational corporations move factories and production to less developed nations, poorer nations and their people will be economically stabilized. 

Conflict Theory and World Inequality

Of course, conflict theorists take an opposite position from functional theorists. The most popular conflict theory when discussions of global inequality arise is Wallerstein's World Systems Analysis, which explains the world as one system, competing for finite resources. Of course, under this type of system, there will be some winners and some losers. 

From a social problems perspective, conflict theory, and in particular, World Systems Analysis, (camp 2) is generally the position taken. Watch the brief video below (closed captioning available):

With regard to global stratification, where does the United States fit in, and what are the criteria by which all countries are measured against each other? There are roughly 200 countries in the world, and the US is close to the top on some measures of global strength. Global development is measured by many key indicators, the most common are:

A more thoughtful consideration when applying World Systems Analysis is not from the perspective of a US citizen, but rather from the position of someone living in a less-developed nation. If you live in a less-developed nation and are employed by a multinational corporation that has its headquarters in a wealthy developed nation, your standard of living has likely increased. You have access to regular work which pays you a salary, your children may have access to medical care and higher education because you have a regular job. You may even have some extra money after paying the bills which allows you to save and accumulate some wealth. You are no longer dependent upon a shaky national economy as you have a good paying job which provides a steady income for yourself and your family. Thus, if we consider the micro perspective, we might think that globalization is a "good" thing. 

If however, we move the camera out and look at the countries where offshoring of US jobs has heavily occurred (Vietnam, India, Pakistan, and so on), we can see that while globalization may be a good thing for the individual who gets a job and earns a salary, it does little for the host nation.

Often, the host nations finds that the environmental waste and human costs of re-directed labor pools do little for the structure of the country, sometimes stagnating it to the point of zero infrastucture growth. Watch below as 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley explains what happens in less-developed and industrializing countries which process electronic waste from wealthy nations, mainly the US and other Western nations (closed captioning available). 

What are the Most Pressing Global Social Problems?

As with social problems we are experiencing in the US, we could make a list of global social problems. But once again, that wouldn't prove to be very practical. Who do we give the list to and what do we expect to happen? Instead, a more practical approach might be to actually work on fixing the issues ourselves. Of course, governments and other interested agencies should work systematically to alleviate glabal social problems, and there are many agencies that are designed to do just that:

There are many, many more. Most of the agencies above have been around since WWII and before. The exception is (RED), which was formed just a decade ago. 

Some of the problems that are experienced by less-developed nations are different than what we experience in the US: sanitation issues, absolute poverty, malnutrition, and communicable disease are more prevalent in less-developed nations. However, other social problems are similar: lack of access to education, jobs that pay a living wage, and concerns over discrimination are a few social problems that the US shares with other countries around the world. 


As we move to the final lesson of the semester, even with the tool kit you've established throughout the semester, it is probably still easier for YOU to think about what YOU can do as an individual with regard to minimizing social problems. Individualistic solutions are great, but remember that they don't give us enough power to fix the structural elements of social problems. Developing an approach which can place pressure on our elected officials and politicians is essential. In the next lesson, you will have a chance to do just that.