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Issue Date:  March 7, 2008

Poll: Many perceive economic unfairness

Inter Press Service

An average of nearly two out of three people in 34 countries around the world believe that the benefits and burdens resulting from changes in their nation’s economy over the last few years are not being distributed fairly, according to a multinational survey released by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

That view was held by a majority in 27 countries and by well over two-thirds of respondents in Latin America, continental Europe, non-oil-producing nations of the Middle East, and East Asia.

“The strongest finding of this poll is the widespread view that people perceive recent developments in their economies as unfair,” said Steve Kull, director of the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes, which helped design the survey.

“This widespread perception of unfairness is something leaders need to be concerned about,” he told IPS, noting that the survey, which was carried out between late October and early January, was completed before the recent turmoil in the world’s major stock markets.

The poll, the latest in an annual series on global attitudes sponsored by the BBC, also found that half of the 34,500 respondents polled in 34 countries believe that “economic globalization, including trade and investment” is growing too quickly, while another 35 percent -- mostly in developing countries -- say that it is not growing quickly enough.

Countries where two-thirds or more of respondents complained that globalization’s pace was moving “too quickly” included Spain (68 percent), the United Arab Emirates (77 percent), Egypt (78 percent), Australia (73 percent) and China (72 percent).

Overall, one in five respondents said globalization is moving “much too quickly,” while another 32 percent said it was growing “a bit too quickly.”

“Few want to slam the brakes on globalization, though many want to press the brakes lightly,” said Kull, who also noted that pluralities and majorities in a number of developing countries took the opposite view, apparently in the belief that globalization promoted greater equity and economic growth.

Majorities in only five countries thought the pace of globalization should be accelerated. They included Turkey (71 percent), the Philippines (71 percent), Portugal (57 percent), Indonesia (54 percent) and Brazil (51 percent).

While the survey found widespread unease with globalization, it found no predictable correlation with perceptions of economic fairness.

In 12 countries -- most notably France, Italy, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and, to a lesser extent, the United States and Britain -- the most common view is that recent economic developments were unfair and that globalization is proceeding too quickly.

Most respondents in Lebanon, Argentina, Israel and Chile shared that view.

Most respondents in eight other countries, on the other hand, said they believed that the burdens and benefits of recent economic developments at home had been unfairly distributed and that globalization should be accelerated. Those included Turkey, the Philippines, Portugal, Indonesia, Brazil, Kenya, Mexico and a representative sample of the five Spanish-speaking countries of Central America.

In yet eight other countries -- Australia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, China, India, Ghana and Nigeria -- the most common view was that their economy works fairly but that globalization was proceeding too quickly.

The survey found considerable dissatisfaction in the perceptions of respondents in most countries regarding national economic trends. Asked whether their countries’ economic conditions were getting better or worse, majorities -- sometimes large majorities -- in 21 countries out of the 34 countries surveyed made negative assessments.

Italian respondents were by far the most negative: 86 percent said conditions were worse; 50 percent said they were “much worse.” Among developing countries, Indonesians and Filipinos (76 percent worse, 46 percent “much worse”) were the most negative.

Respondents in 10 countries, by contrast, said their economies appear to have improved. Chinese (84 percent better, 53 percent “much better”) were the most enthusiastic.

In the three African countries surveyed, perceptions of economic trends were relatively evenly split -- slight majorities in Ghana and Nigeria (53 percent) were favorable; a slightly larger majority (56 percent) in Kenya was negative.

The poll found a general correlation between perceived improvements in the economy and perceptions of fairness in most countries. Respondents who rated their countries’ economic trends negatively tended to rate their economies’ fairness even more negatively. In Indonesia and the Philippines, for example, respondents were among the most negative about economic trends and also about fairness.

National Catholic Reporter, March 7, 2008

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