Economics of Geography
Related section>> Globalization
It matters where you're born. A person's economic status
depends a great deal on where on earth their home is. Within
cities there are poor and rich neighbourhoods. Within a province
there are poorer and wealthier areas. And within the global
community, there are vast income discrepancies closely linked
to geography. Whether or not you live in a rural or urban
area also has implications.
In Canada, women in rural areas and small towns face unique
economic challenges. There are often fewer jobs available to
them and the jobs that are available are often lower-paying
and more traditional jobs such as sales and service, housecleaning,
and teaching. Access to child care is a big problem for many
women in rural areas creating another barrier to participation
in the paid workforce. Educational opportunities that may increase
women's chances are more difficult to access for people living
in rural areas. Alice (see Alice's Story)
left her community in order to get training despite the fact
that there was no adequate child care for her children.
At the same time the cost of living in rural areas may be
higher. In Manitoba, food costs in small towns, especially
Aboriginal communities, are often significantly higher than
in urban areas. Milk sells for nearly $12/4L in some northern
communities. There may be other costs associated with living
in a rural area: less access to rental housing therefore higher
rents, having to own a car, gas costs, and regular trips to
larger urban areas for supplies or to visit family and friends.
Another resource that women in rural areas lack is resource
centres. Women's resource centres in rural Canada are few
and far between; those that do exist are chronically under-funded.
This gap is especially problematic for women who are leaving
abusive relationships who may have to displace themselves
from their communities and support networks (both financial
and emotional) in order to find safety.
Farmers - male and female alike - are one of the groups hardest
hit by geographically-based economic inequalities. As a child
playing on her grandparent's farm, Charlene (see Charlene's
story) dreamed of the 'limitless' possibilities of a life
in the country. But as she grew up Charlene realized that
creating a rural life for herself was a lot harder than she'd
imagined. Seeing so many of her peers leave for the city led
Charlene to wonder, "Who will remain to farm the land?"
Charlene now lives and farms on an organic farm near Clearwater,
Manitoba and is a co-founder of the Organic Farm Mentorship
Program which facilitates the transfer of knowledge from successful
farmers to young people who'd like to be farmers. In order
to make ends meet, however, Charlene must still work off the
farm in the off-season.
Celia, a friend and fellow-farmer must do the same. Celia
(see Celia's story) and her husband
have farmed for nineteen years. Of the economics of those
years Celia says, "For nine of those years we lost substantial
amounts of money, for six of those years we made very little
money and for four of those years we made a decent amount
Thirteen of those years we have worked off
the farm during the winters to make ends meet."
farmers produce what every human being needs to survive, they
are among the world's most poorly paid workers. As agricultural
production has become more industrialized it has been taken
over by corporations intent on earning money, rather than
caring for land or providing real income. The huge costs associated
with corporate farming - machinery, chemicals and pesticides,
are too much for many small family farms to handle. As Celia
says, "We have to take what the market offers us, and
it rarely covers the cost of production." Thousands of
Canadian farmers face bankruptcy each year, forced off land
for which their families have cared for generations.
Originally wealth was tied to the productivity of land. Aboriginal
peoples lived well off the riches of their land. Farmers too
were able to feed themselves directly with what the land produced;
hard-work and good weather was usually enough to bring abundance.
But over the last decades there has been a growing discord
between wealth and land. In our province of Manitoba it is
clear that financial wealth is centred around urban areas
and in the southern part of the province despite the fact
that many of the resources that bring this monetary wealth
originate in the northern part of our province. In contrast,
many Aboriginal communities in the north have been forced
into poverty through large-scale economic developments such
as forestry, hydro-electricity and mining which have destroyed
local economies of hunting, fishing, and trapping. (See Aboriginal
Women and the Economy.) Aboriginal wealth is transferred
to the heads of mining and hydro industries (see Emma
Jane's story). Farmers too see the profits of their work
handed to multi-national pesticide companies as well as to
the urban consumer who buys food for less than it costs to
Though our economy is dependant on the earth and its riches,
people who live closest to the earth often have the least
access to it and see few if any of the riches it brings. The
transition from a resource-based economy to a money-based
economy has facilitated a discord between those who care for
the land and those who make money off it. An economy based
on money has plunged those with the least amount of money
into deeper and deeper poverty.
On a global scale, differences in wealth are most stark when
comparing so-called first and third (or fourth) worlds. While
there are rich people and poor people all over the world,
a disproportionate number of the world's poor live in the
global South: Africa, Asia, and South America, while an equally
disproportionate share of the world's rich live in the global
North: North America and Europe. And the inequalities are
massive. As one reporter sums up, "The richest 50 million
people, huddled in Europe and North America, have the same
income as 2.7 billion poor people. The slice of the cake taken
by 1% is the same size as that handed to the poorest 57%,"1
The United Nations Development Program reports that half of
the world's poor live in sub-Saharan Africa. The 15 poorest
countries in the world are all in sub-Saharan Africa. To get
an idea of just how unequally wealth is divided, Canada's
GDP per person (in 2009 ranked 10th in the world) is almost 1.5 times higher than the combined GDP of all of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Many of the countries in the global South have more than
their share of the world's wealth in terms of natural resources.
Global wealth inequalities are also dependant on people being
displaced from their land. Corporate farming, mining, hydro-electric
development, and other economic 'developments' are common
all over the world; many of these projects are financed by
the world's wealthiest countries, including Canada, and many
have been known to lead to human rights violations and violence
(see Economics of War). Racism and
the legacy of slavery - a massive displacement of people from
their land while using them to benefit the development of
others' land - are other factors that have played their part
in global income disparities (see Economics
of Race) that have led to massive income disparities.
Free trade, and the globalization of the economy, have been
called modern day manifestations of slavery by many (see Globalization
Despite the struggles of rural life, it is a life many would
not want to give up. Many women in rural areas on all continents
grow at least some of their own food, reducing their costs
and providing them with nutritious food. Many people find
there's a lot less to spend your money on in rural areas.
At the same time, more intimate connections with neighbours
encourage people to take care of each other or offer opportunities
like being able to start one's own business (see Darlene's
story), something they may not be able to do had they
lived in the city. For many people, life on the land offers
benefits that can never be economically quantified. All over
the world people living in rural areas are fighting back and
reclaiming the land for which they care through projects like
or Charlene's farm mentorship program, or giving voice to
their concerns in public demonstrations against corporations
intent on destroying family farms.
In Barriere Lake Quebec, First Nation people are demanding that the Canadian government stop trying to dismantle their traditional governance system and honour the tri-lateral resource sharing agreement they signed. The honouring of this agreement would allow the community to continue to live on their land in a way that is respectful and fruitful.2 People and communities are reclaiming their connections to land and ensuring that there is a natural world to pass on to our children.
Many people have spent time imagining how the world would
look if the entire global population were represented in one
world is a village of 100 people
61 are from Asia.
13 are from Africa.
12 are from Europe.
8 are from South America, Central America (including
Mexico), and the Caribbean.
5 are from Canada and the United States.
1 is from Oceania (an area that includes Australia,
New Zealand and the islands of the south, west and central
75 have access to a source of safe
60 have access to sanitation.
76 have electricity.
68 breathe clean air.
Of the 38 school-aged villagers,
only 31 attend school.
If all the money in the village were
divided equally, each person would have about $6200
per year. But in the global village money isn't divided
The richest 20 people each have more than $9000 a year.
The poorest 20 each have less than $1 a day.
The average cost of food, shelter
and other necessities in the village would be $4000-$5000
per year. Many people don't have enough to meet those
The world is a village. We are all in this together.
And it is up to all of us, especially those who currently
consume more than their fair share of resources, to do what
we can to ensure that one day all peoples benefit equally
from the tremendous resource we call earth. For some ideas
on what you can do to promote economic equality visit Alternatives.