Rising Income Inequality in Mongolia And Its Causes

Needless to say, what most people know about Mongolia is that it had something to do with Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire, which at one point included much of Russia, China, Pakistan and most central Asian and Eastern European countries. The empire collapsed in the 14th century and a Mongolian state reemerged in 1912, but endured in Russian sphere of influence until the breakdown of Soviet Union. The country now has a population of 3 million and a GDP of about $15 billion-a bit less than that of Nicaragua (Butzer, ““Pluvial, Droughts, the Mongol Empire, and Modern Mongolia”). Though, it is a far more important place than the numbers suggest. Mongolia is chock full of extractable minerals, everything from copper to coal to gold. It’s also a natural experiment and a laboratory for social scientists seeking to understand why and how nations succeed in a very little time period. As history teaches us, rapid economic development can lead to secure future but also causes an increase of income inequality. The trend towards higher inequality has become clearly an issue in Mongolia, which historically had relatively moderate inequality levels (Nixson and Walters, 11). The debate over the rise of income inequality in Mongolia is originated from the privatization of state enterprises in the 1990s. This economic restructuring has further stimulated a number of social issues such as poverty.

Until recently, Mongolia had remained a relatively small, lightly populated, landlocked country that was buried in the Soviet empire for most of the twentieth century. When public protest erupted in the late 1980s, Mongolia emerged from 70 years of communist regime that was controlled by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. Surprisingly, the public’s challenge was accepted by the ruling party and led to a peaceful transition to capitalism (BTI report, 3). A reformist government took over, with little understanding of the economic catastrophe it was about to confront. Soviet aid was withdrawn. Living standards of people fell by an estimated 60 percent, while inflation reached 270 percent over the 1989-1993 period (Boone, 1994). Prior to transition, the policies of full and stable employment, the subsidization of basic necessities and the extensive system of social services including health and education that were free on point of delivery, meant that inequality was, by western standards, low and poverty largely absent (Nixson and Walters, 23).

Indicators of political and economic institution building over the last two decades paint an impressive picture, with 17% GDP growth in 2011 and a similar pace expected until 2020, if all goes as planned (World Bank, “Mongolia Quarterly Economic Update – February 2012”).  However, the social development, namely the living standards of the population including poverty and inequality, has not succeeded adequately. The percentage of the population that is poor in Mongolia has been around 35 percent in the last decade. Household Socio-Economic Survey (HSES) concluded that 29.8 percent of the total population of Mongolia was living in poverty in 2011. As measured by the Gini coefficient of 0.36, the gap between rich and poor significantly widened. The richest 20 percent of the population consumes five times the amount consumed by the poorest 20 percent of the population (BTI report, 12-13).

As many scholars have argued, privatization is independently responsible for a considerable part of the rise in poverty and inequality in Mongolia. Privatization was essentially a political decision, taken without very much analysis or even consideration of the likely short or long-term impact on poverty and income distribution. The government was then estimated to own 75 percent of all properties in Mongolia. According to the government of Mongolia, 4,500 enterprises were privatized through the voucher program over the period of 1991-1994. From 1996 to 2000, additional 942 enterprises and assets were privatized through sealed bid auctions (State Property Committee, 2002). One unanticipated development happened during the privatization process that became the core reason of income and wealth distribution inequality. Each citizen was issued three vouchers that could be used to buy shares of enterprises and businesses. However, managers and directors of the state owned enterprises were able to amass controlling ownership positions by using the vouchers of their extended families. In the result, half of the enterprises were controlled by insiders and those who were already at top of society.

Other controversial aspect of the reform was the privatization of apartments and buildings that were owned by the State. Citizens would have to apply to the Housing Commission, local authorities or enterprises, for an apartment and would typically be put on a waiting list until one became available. Preparations for the privatization of private apartments started in 1993 and the current occupiers of the apartment were given the apartments for free of charge. Approximately 22 percent of the population benefited from this privatization. However, approximately 52 percent of the total population lived in yurts, with 29 percent of urban dwellers living in yurts (Griffin). The result of the privatization was that the rural population and most of the urban poor gained nothing from privatization, while existing occupiers and those that were able to acquire apartments from the new owners after privatization gained valuable assets that could be used as collateral to borrow money, start a business and sell for a significant capital gain. It could be argued therefore, that the privatization of apartments led to a significant increase in distribution of productive wealth. This further caused Matthew Effect on real income flows by enabling more resources to the apartment recipients.

In addition, the privatization has led to major restructuring and retrenchment of the labor force. Since all of the factories and businesses were owned by the State prior to privatization, new owners didn’t have much of knowledge and skills to operate their new private sectors. Although, the government was liberalized and left the enterprises unregulated, almost all of the initial factories and small companies have disappeared in the early 1990s, causing deep structural unemployment (Nixson and Walters, 57). Thus the big enterprises that had fortune to stay in business took advantage of the pressure of unemployment and poverty in the labor market to reduce wages for the unskilled manual workers, which raised the gap between unskilled and managerial workers. According to Milanovic, this hollowing out of the center of the distribution, with some benefiting many experiencing sharp fall in wages, is a common experience in transition from Soviet style economies. Measures of income inequality have risen in post-privatization, transitional economies such as Hungary, Czech Republic and Armenia (Milanovic, 299).

Although it was in the bottom quarter of all nations in per capita GDP in the late 1990s, the country is now considered as one of the fastest growing nations in the world. The economic gains of Mongolia have affected the country largely, though the gap between the rich and poor has grown even larger. Many scholars suggest that the increased income inequality was originated from the mass privatization in the early 1990s, and has been intensified by the rapid growth and monopolization of corporations that were once State-owned enterprises, showing a sign of cumulative advantage. The degree of inequality and levels of poverty have been influenced by liberalization, deregulations, and also, of course, to the sharp falls in output and employment that accompanied it. The modern trends of inequality have been shifted to the subject of resource booming linked to two large mining development projects. The source of Mongolia’s new economic fortunes-abundant mineral wealth-may lead to even more inequality in the next decade.


Works Cited:

Boone, P. “Grassroots Macroeconomics Reform in Mongolia”. Journal of Comparative
Economics 18. 1994.

BTI 2012. “Mongolia Country Report”. Bertelsmann Stuffing’s Transformation
Index. March 14, 2014.
http://www.bti-project.org/uploads/tx_jpdownloads/BTI_2012_Mongolia.pdf

Butzer, K. “Pluvial, Droughts, the Mongol Empire, and Modern Mongolia”.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of
America (PNAS). March 13, 2014
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/03/05/1318677111.abstract

Government of Mongolia State Property Committee. “Privatization Guidelines”.
Ulaanbaatar. 2001

Griffin, K. “A Strategy for Poverty Reduction in Mongolia”. UNDP. Ulaanbaatar.
July 2001.

Milanovic, B. “Explaining the Increase in Inequality during the Transition”
Economics of Transition Vol. 7(2). 1999.

Nixson, F and Walters, B. “Privatization, Income Distribution and Poverty: the
Mongolian Experience”. UNDP. January 2004. March 12, 2014
http://www.forum.mn/res_mat/Privatization_eng.pdf

World Bank. “Mongolia Quarterly Economic Update – February 2012”).
http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/02/28/mongolia-quarterly-economic-update-february-2012

Protect the Truth

“You don’t always die from tobacco, sometimes you just lose your lung. Oh, you don’t always die from tobacco, sometimes you just snip out your tongue…” A cowboy sits in the middle of a busy street and sings, using a voice box (because he has a hole in his throat). This provocative ad is an example of the type of persuasive tactics that the Truth embeds in its campaign. The Truth is the largest youth smoking prevention campaign in the U.S. and it has become a popular success story that educates society about the tobacco industry and the effects of smoking through advertisements.

Unfortunately, it has been financially in jeopardy since 2003. The purpose of the newsletter is to inform the public about the future of truth campaign and consequences of the loss of funding. We are engouraging the users of the medical information websites, such as webmd.com and cdc.gov, to donate to the organization as well as to show their support by submitting their signatures on our website.

Please check out out newsletter below:

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Horses and Steppes, The Orientalist Depiction of Mongolia

Andrea Sachs. The Last Migration. 2011. Photograph. www.washingtonpost.com. 2016

Andrea Sachs. The Last Migration. 2011. Photograph. http://www.washingtonpost.com. 2016

In its May 2011 edition, one of the most popular daily publications in the U.S., The Washington Post, featured a story about the country of Mongolia. The Washington Post introduced the article with a photo of an old Mongolian man standing next to a frozen lake, watching over his goat and a horse. The caption says, “Mongolia averages only four people per square mile, the lowest population density of any independent country in the world.” While the fact that the country has only three millions of population and has the least density in the world is an undeniable truth, representing the whole country with the photo of a single man standing in the middle of empty steppe, watching over a single goat is misleading. The Washington Post made an interesting choice of depicting the country with modern civilized society and has a rapid economic growth as if it hadn’t developed or changed since the Genghis Khan’s era. Even though the nomadic culture still exists at a certain level in Mongolia, the living condition as well as the operation of farming has been advanced to the next level. Above all considerations, the image projected by the Washington Post raises the thorny issue of Orientalism and corresponds to other critical visual theories.

The past century has witnessed the phenomenon of horses, empty steppes, and nomadic people wearing traditional clothing called “deel” becoming the key icon of Mongolia. The iconic representation often causes outrage and resentment among Mongols who resent Westerners misrepresenting them by focusing on the traditional lifestyle that’s considered as antiqued way of living. Since the democratic revolution, from socialist regime, in the 1990s, many Westerners have visited the country, only to experience the wilderness and horseback riding, when the country has a lot more to offer. This misrepresentation further generates what Linda Steele calls the “Development Theory,” which implies the “timeless tableau” of negative characteristics of the undeveloped nations (Steele, 135).

Barthes’ model of sign may help identify these negative characteristics of the “undeveloped”. Based upon Barthes’ model of sign, the entity that’s being represented or what becomes the signifier is the unidentified old man standing on the shore of a frozen lake. As Barthes states, “the interpretation of a sign is dependent on social, historical, and cultural context” (Sturken and Cartwright, 29). Since the Western media has only exhibited the “barbarian” aspect of the Mongols in the past century, the signified message of this image only implies uneducated, uncivilized, lazy and brutish characteristics. In addition, the image suggests zero sign of passion: a motionless horse facing back the camera, an old man staring at a goat next to a frozen lake and dry grassland around dirt road. These characteristics oppose what defines the Western civilization, “the superculture,” that boasts material wealth, military power, scientific achievements and democratic institutions (Steele, 134).

These feelings that The Washington Post attempts to create in order to emphasize the exotic and different side of Mongolia are in contrary to the real situation. Over the past 20 years, Mongolia has transformed itself from a socialist country to a vibrant multiparty democracy with a booming economy. The economy grew by 12,4 percent in 2012, one of the fastest growing countries in the world The capital city, Ulan-Bator, has rising skyscrapers and billboards in the every street corner. Shopping malls beckon the nouveau riche with name-brand stores like Burberry and Emporio Armani. Residents in the cities go to work in the city center or downtown and come back to their suburban houses, living like the rest of the Western middle-class people. Outside of the cities, most of the herders have been transformed to farmers, who use portable solar panels to power iPhones and ride motorcycles or trucks to quickly track down livestock (World Bank, “Mongolia Overview”).

The conflict between the real life situation and the depiction of this image demonstrate the fact that the interpretation of an image is dependent on the viewer’s knowledge about the context. If the viewer is not fully aware of all these important facts about the country, the image can easily imply wrong impression to the viewer, and further reinforce stereotypes and Orientalism. According to Lutz and Collins’ work on the intersection of gazes, “the photograph and the non-Western person share two fundamental attributes in the culturally tutored experience of most Americans: they are objects at which we look” (Lutz and Collins, 188). And this look, or what the viewer looks at, is dependent on the photographer’s choice of elements. Despite an expressed fundamental sympathy with the third world, often times photographers confront their subjects across distances of class, race and gender (Lutz and Collins, 193). In this case, the photographer’s gaze only focused on the differences between the East and West, emphasizing how poor and rough this man is and also totally unaware of other civilized societies out there.

The Washington Post featured a story about Mongolian in its May 2011 edition and it presented the photo of an old man dressed in tradition clothing with his horse and a goat. Combined with the title, “The Last Migrations,” the photograph produce negative depiction and feelings about the country in general (The Washington Post, “The Last Migrations”). Susan Sontag’s “The Image World” and Barthes’ “Camera Lucida” are pioneer texts in criticizing image as “imperialistic”, “predatory” and “reductive.” Barthes states, “Professional photographers, determined upon the capture of actuality, don’t know that they’re agents of death” (Barthes, “Camera Lucida”). Through the photographer’s gaze, the viewer understands the context and signified messages. Illustrating the whole country in a dangerously Orientalist way can reinforce stereotypes about the country among other nations and can possibly generate negative feelings. Even though the Orientalist illustration of Mongolia, images of horses and endless steppe, have been part of what identifies the country to the rest of the world for a long time, any effort to change this portrayal can potentially challenge the norm.

Works cited

Barthes, Roland. “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography ”. New York: Hill and Wang. 1980

Lutz, Catherine and Jane Collins. “The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes”.
Reading National Geographic. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993

Steele, Linda. “Anonymous Women”. Veils and Daggers: A Century of National
Geographic’s Representation of the Arab World. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000

Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. Practice of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009

The Washington Post. “The Last Migrations”. May 11, 2011.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/the-last-migrations/2011/05/11/AFDEYp2G_gallery.html#item0

The World Bank. “Mongolia Overview”. March 9, 2014.
http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/mongolia/overview

ABC’s Trophy Wife Reinforces Gender Stereotypes

In September 2013, one of the major television networks, ABC, introduced a new sitcom, “Trophy Wife.” The show revolves around a young attractive wife Kate, her middle-aged lawyer husband Pete and his two ex-wives Diane and Jackie. Pete has two teenage children with Diane, the first wife, and an adopted Asian-American son. Even though the series explore the modern family dynamics between the couple with age differences, their relationship with ex-wives and children, it promotes traditional gender portrayal and stereotypes of women. In addition, the combination of the three female characters strongly reinforces inaccurate image of the females and their interrelationship, and further weakens the stance of women in today’s society. The gender stereotypes of women in Trophy Wife also supplement to stereotypical portrayal of one’s age, occupation and race.

The pilot starts with a scene in which Kate and Pete meet the first time. Kate, an attractive young blonde woman in her mid-twenties, dances at a nightclub with her friend. While drinking and dancing on the table, Kate falls into Pete’s lap. Kate is not an idiot or a gold digger. She really falls in love with Pete. The show successfully communicates an innovative idea of the love life of a couple with huge age difference. However, the sitcom’s fundamental structure relies on traditional ideologies of family. After they get married, Kate stays home to take care of her three stepchildren, becoming dependant on her husband’s financial support. The sitcom’s reliance on the deeply embedded classical gender construction becomes even more prominent when Kate meets other moms at her stepson’s soccer practice. During the soccer practice of their eight-year-old sons, moms sit on the blanket, drink wine, and talk gossip. They don’t work and have anything important to do in their lives, except gossiping maliciously and spreading jealousy.

Trophy Wife focuses on female stereotypes to further promote a male dominant ideology. As Mary Rogers points in her essay, “Hetero Barbie,” heterosexual women are expected to put men at the center of their lives since their teenage years. As girls move toward adulthood, their feminine credibility hinges on their attractiveness to men, thus “they pay increasing attention to the size and shape of their bodies, the range and content of their wardrobes, the styling of their hair and the making up of their faces” (Dines and Humez, 71). Endorsing Rogers’ description, Kate plays a role of the “hetero Barbie” by portraying a much hotter and much younger wife who cares about the way she looks but doesn’t care if she stays dependent on her husband.

The only woman, who is portrayed as a successful hard-working female, is Pete’s first wife Diane. Diane is a surgeon as well as Olympic Gold medalist athlete. She speaks fluently in several different languages and talks about philosophy most of the times. However, she is uptight, controlling, tough and almost heartless. As all other successful female characters portrayed in the mass media, Diane’s success precludes her from being humane and likable. She is not friendly with Kate, and even her relationship with her two children is not especially warm. She punishes her children for days when they just spilled salsa on her couch. She spies on her teenage daughter by creating fake social media account, which indicates that she is not close to her daughter and is unable to communicate efficiently in-person. Diane doesn’t live with her children; rather Pete and Kate take care of them. This highlights the hegemonic depiction that successful women are incapable of raising their children as single mothers due to their busy schedule. The idea behind it suggests that women should either stay home and take care of their children, or chase after successful career and be bad mothers.

Richard Butsch’s study supports and explains this classic approach of promoting the hierarchical ideology of family by describing the business of television program production. According to the findings from his study on prime-time network television series, working wives like Diane in Trophy Wife presented on television are very rare. While professional or managerial husband are the sensible and mature partner, dizzy wives like Kate make up the humor (Humez, 102). Due to their oligopoly, the network televisions are given the power of controlling their programming based on rating. The first concern of these networks that affect program decisions is risk avoidance. Thus the executives follow the “tried and true formulas” by choosing programs that repeat the same images of gender and class for decades (Dines and Humez, 106).

A critical review on ABC’s new series Trophy Wife reveals stereotypical depictions of women and social class. Despite its success in depicting modern family structures, such as partners with age difference, single mothers, relationship between divorced parents and their children, the ideologies behind the overall structure reinforces classical hierarchical family construct. The main character, Kate, who is considered a “hetero Barbie,” plays a traditional role of a stepmother and housewife. The stereotypical depiction of all female characters in the series does not meet the reality and provide an adequate depiction of women in today’s society. Douglas Kellner points out that media images “provide materials out of which we forge our very identities, our sense of selfhood, our notion of what it means to be male or female” (Dines and Humez, 7). Misrepresentation of gender and class in television series like Trophy Wife contribute to the reinforcing of stereotypical ideologies. Thus understanding and further developing ways that help resist media manipulation can lead to individual’s freedom and further better society.

Works Cited

Dines, Gail and Jean Humez. “Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader”. United States: Sage Publications Inc., 2011

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “Out of Focus-Out of Sync: A Report on the Television Industry”. December, 2008.

ABC. “Trophy Wife: About the Show”. Abc.go.com. April 27, 2014 http://abc.go.com/shows/trophy-wife

Well-Known Composer Jovino Santos Neto Releases Solo Piano Album

Three time Latin Grammy nominee composer Jovino Santos Neto is pleased to announce the Spring 2013 release of his 10th CD and his first solo piano album. This album is the fourth volume in Adventure Music’s Piano Masters series, and it was recorded live on the famed Fazioli Concert Grand Piano. The album is an exquisite collection of Jovino’s uplifting compositions-they were spontaneously created at the moment of the recording.

Jovino’s solo piano album stands out from the crowd with its unique blend of music styles. Inspired by a Brazilian legendary composer, Hermeto Pascoal, Jovino has found an unparalleled harmony of his own. His music is truly diverse, intensely rhythmic, and full of adventure. “I like music that breathes and has movement to it” says Jovino Santos Neto.

Jovino is an accomplished musician and composer in his own right and has fused traditional Brazilian rhythms and contemporary harmonic languages in his albums such as Canto Do Rio (2003), Roda Carioca (2006), and Live at Caramoor (2008), which earned him Latin Grammy nominations. He is currently based in Seattle, WA and was inducted into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in 2012.

Jovino’s album, Piano Masters. Vol 4, is available on Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. For more information, please visit www.jovisan.net.

Speeding Up the Information Superhighway

Information Superhighway

Information Superhighway

The Internet is fast becoming a natural, background part of our everyday life. Children now grow up with the Internet. Private corporations use it for internal communication and politicians use it as a cheap way to get their messages to voters. Most people routinely turn to the Internet to quickly find needed information, such as about health conditions and remedies (WebMD, HealthCentral), as well as weather forecasts, news, and recipe for dinner (Foodnetwork).

Like the telephone and telegraph, Internet overcomes great distances and can be used for person-to-person communication. Like radio and television, Internet operates as a mass medium, and its content and advertising can reach millions of people at the same time. Internet can be used to communicate people from every part of the world within a few clicks in front of the mirror like composing email and online chatting. This interactivity connects people who will forever remain unseen and unheard to one another. Such activities are imagined as secure and private, though, often the opposite is true. Just as a basic difference between speaking and writing is that writing is automatically recorded, so the basic difference between writing with traditional media and writing on the Web is that such online writing is automatically published.

According to the analysis of John Suler, a professor of psychology at the Rider University, this notion of privacy creates the “disinhibition effect”. The effect could be either benign or toxic. It is benign when people reveal secret emotions, fears, anxieties, wishes and dreams. Or they might show unusual acts of kindness and generosity. On the other hand, a person also may engage the Internet in out-spilling rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, and even threats. Or people might explore the dark underworld of the Internet, places of pornography and violence, places they would never visit in the real world. In such cases what is revealed is a toxic disinhibition of the self.

Nothing on the Internet is more freewheeling than newsgroups, which vary from thoughtful to sleazy, sometimes potentially dangerous. In those borderless discussions, anything is available, including child pornography. Efforts are being made, such as a decision in 1996 by CompuServe to shut down sites dealing with pornography, but the task isn’t easy in the chaotic fashion of Internet. However, tens of thousands of personal blogs, forums, and chat lines serve the public as support groups, dealing with problems related to physical disabilities, eating disorders, drug use, cancer, AIDS, and mental illness.

The definition of “Information superhighway” is similarly a huge electronic library, which contains bottomless information. It has unique, even transformational qualities as a communication tool, connecting people who have similar interests and values. The time and distance are meaningless in online environment. Everyone can access the Internet and communicate with everyone everywhere. Because it is one of the latest media technologies, its dimensions are not fully clear yet. But it’s reassuring that whatever this innovation brings to our society, we will somehow adapt to it, as we have done since the alphabet.

Bella Dots Slowly Takes Place In Heart

Bella Dots was born to be slow. She has four legs, but runs five times slower than a crawling snail. She is only four years old, but moves ten times slower than an old lady driving on a highway. She functions in a pace that not a lot of people would enjoy in these fast paced times, though what she does attracts people like a magnet.

Bella is a fabulous cook-the kind of cook that can turn any mixture of ingredients into a succulent meal that anyone would say finger licking good. How she cooks the meal is very simple. Tightly sealing the food in a moist environment for a long time, her slow cooking method tenderizes rough meats and fibrous vegetables.

Even though, Bella is one of many other mass-produced slow cookers, she has always been special to me. We both knew our relationship would last long time when we awkwardly found each other three years ago.

After the factory robots created Bella, she traveled a long way to the U.S. When she finally came to the department store to find her future family, the store clerk accidentally pushed her off of the shelf. Her precious packaging fell apart and she collapsed on the floor. Bella lost one of her handles.

No one wanted the slow cooker without the box and handle, so she had to live behind other newly arrived slow cookers. Soon after she moved to the “clearance” aisle, where she was teased, humiliated, and got a scar on her face. The store manager hung a big red tag from her only handle, “50% off.”

The day before Christmas, many last-minute shoppers were looking for presents at the store. Among them was me, a busy working woman desperately in need of a smarter cooking solution for her Christmas party. Nothing on the electronics shelf drew my attention but Bella, the only slow cooker on sale. I gently picked her up, hugged across her belly, and walked towards the cashier.

I brought her home, and didn’t know what to do with her. I just threw the ingredients in and let Bella show her magic. The Christmas dinner turned out the best. My guests were truly impressed by her cooking skills, even my in-laws. That day we rescued each other.

Since Bella entered my busy life, the microwave ready meals were taken off my menu. When I come home and open the door, the simmering pot of braised short ribs hits my nostrils and makes me hungry, happy, and giddy at same time. I like to say, “There is nothing better than having a warm and nourishing meal ready and waiting for dinner. My slow cooker is my best friend.” And Bella loves to see my happy face.