Elisabeth Schimpfössl: The Super-Rich of Russia

Following on from last week’s discussion of global povertyThe Provocateur turns its attention to the other end of the social scale: the super-rich, who have often been neglected in sociological studies of inequality. In Russia as in other post-Communist countries, capitalism is a relatively new phenomenon, creating in some cases a backlash from older Soviet-born generations against the burgeoning rise of mass consumption. Philanthropy is also becoming trendy among Russian multi-millionaires and billionaires, apparently in response to major disparities in income and wealth.

In this installment of The Provocateur I talk to Elisabeth Schimpfössl, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at UCL, about her intriguing work researching the lives of Russia’s 0.1%. We discuss the historical context of Russian inequality in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, before zooming in on the super-rich themselves. We investigate the gendered dynamics of Russian elites, their attitudes to the current regime and their motivations for charitable giving. Towards the end of the episode we also explore the future of Russian politics and the viability of comparisons with another highly oil-dependent country, Venezuela.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Jason Hickel: Bridging the Divide: Ending Poverty on a Finite Planet

It is widely recognised that global inequality is a serious problem. For instance, according to a Credit Suisse report in 2015, half the world’s wealth is owned by the top 1% of the world’s population. More than 60% of humanity, or 4.3 billion people, live below the realistic minimum standard of a decent life. And yet it is also widely recognised that there are ecological limits to material prosperity. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day – the date when human resource consumption for the year exceeds the Earth’s biocapacity for the same year – occurred on 2 August, compared with 19 December when the concept was first introduced 30 years ago. With Trump vowing to exit the Paris agreement on carbon emissions, it looks like the picture of our planet’s ecological health is also getting worse and not better. How to reconcile the objectives of development with the objectives of sound environmental policy is a complex and pressing matter. How did we get here? And what can we do about it?

On this episode of The Provocateur I talk to Jason Hickel, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at LSE, to discuss how we can bridge the gap between rich and poor on a finite planet. We first talk about Jason’s interest in the subject as an anthropologist before moving on to Jason’s case for his argument that global poverty is getting worse not better. We explore the history of development politics in the era of the Washington Consensus, the limitations of GDP as a measure of growth and new strategies for development in an age of both economic and ecological crisis.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Chang, H-J. (2007) Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury.

Easterly, W. (2006) The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Escobar, A. (1995) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

George, S. (1976) How the Other Half Dies. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Harvey, D. (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hickel, J. (2017) ‘Aid in reverse: how poor countries develop rich countries’, The Guardian, 14 January.

Klein, N. (2007) The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Toronto: Knopf Canada.

_____ (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Toronto: Knopf Canada.

Pearce, F. (2012) The Landgrabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth. London: Eden Project Books.

Perkins, J. (2004) Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Pollin, R. (2005) Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity, updated edition. London: Verso.

Shaxson, N. (2012) Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World. London: Vintage.

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalization and its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton.

Tandon, Y. (2015) Trade is War: The West’s War Against the World. New York and London: OR Books.

Jason Barr: The Economics of Skyscrapers: Past, Present and Future

Skyscrapers are distinctly modern symbols of our urbanized planet. Their verticality represents not only the possibilities of technological progress and the limits of the human imagination, but also the challenges of city inequality. The idea of high-rise living first took hold in the 1880s in Chicago before the skyscraper was exported to New York, spread to the rest of the United States and eventually conquered the entire world. The first skyscraper on the planet is generally considered to be the Home Insurance Building in the Windy City; though, at a mere 11 stories, it would pale in comparison with the Petronas Towers or One World Trade Centre, it marked a turning point in the development of cities. As the experience of Chicago and later New York showed, skyscrapers are an answer to an economic problem of resource allocation: how to fit dozens, even hundreds, of people in a fairly small space. Yet going taller is not a perfect solution: even as they solve the conundrum of how to cope with urban population booms, skyscrapers also pose other problems such as congestion, overcrowding, rising land values and an intolerable cost of living.

This week on The Provocateur we are joined by Jason Barr, professor of economics at Rutgers University (Newark), to explore the economic history of skyscrapers. We begin by discussing skyscrapers as an economic problem, before moving onto talk about the history of the modern Manhattan skyline from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries. We close with a brief discussion of newer players in the skyscraper game such as Dubai, Shanghai and Taipei and speculate on future directions in the evolution of skyscrapers.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Barr, J. (2016) Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan’s Skyscrapers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Clark. W. J. and J. L. Kingston (1930) The Skyscraper: A Study in the Economic Height of Modern Office Buildings. New York and Cleveland: American Institute of Steel Construction.

Gifford, R. (2007) ‘The Consequences of Living in High-Rise Buildings’, Architectural Science Review 50(1), pp. 2-17.

Glaeser, E. (2011) ‘How Skyscrapers Can Save the City’, The Atlantic, March 2011.

Hsu, J. and C. Chan (2014) ‘The Emergence of Asian Supertalls’, CTBUH Journal IV, pp. 28-33.

Landau, S. B. and C. W. Condit (1996) Rise of the New York Skyscraper: 1865-1913. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Nobel, P. et al. (2015) The Future of the Skyscraper. New York: Distributed Art Publishers.

Parker. D. and A. Wood (eds.) (2013) The Tall Buildings Reference Book. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Willis, C. (1995) Form Follows Finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Chris Foye: Housing and Happiness

There is rarely a moment when house prices are not in the news and many working people can relate to the experience of buying that first house. Housing can be incredibly personal because it reflects to some extent your lifestyle and life choices, but it also serves as a marker of social status. The difference between living in a council flat and living in a semi-detached house with a garden and a garage tells you many things about differences in income, wealth and class. But the differences in size of living space between the council flat and the semi-detached could also be important because they impact on your sense of subjective happiness. This clearly has implications for urban planning but also for other areas of public policy such as health, education and social care.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Chris Foye, who has just completed his PhD in Real Estate and Planning at Henley Business School at the University of Reading, to explore the relationship between housing and happiness. Among other things, we discuss the reasons why it is important to examine the relationship in the first place, the difficulty of measuring people’s happiness or subjective well-being and why home ownership is so popular in the UK.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Foye, C. (2017) ‘The Relationship Between Size of Living Space and Subjective Well-Being‘, Journal of Happiness Studies 18(2), pp. 427-461.

Frank, R. H. (2007) Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Layard, R. (2011) Happiness: Lessons from a new science. London: Penguin.

Nakazato, N., U. Schimmack and S. Oishi (2011) ‘Effect of changes in living conditions on well-being: A prospective top–down bottom–up model’, Social Indicators Research 100(1), pp. 115-135.