A cursory glance at an annual report of any international organisation suggests that a major political and economic goal today is to create open societies and open economies. Protectionism is out – free trade is in; capital controls are out – free movement of capital is in; any kind of authoritarian control is out – democracy and participation are in.
And yet we all know that in reality, we are only talking about certain kinds of freedoms. Not only this, for we also know, to paraphrase Orwell, that some freedoms are more equal than others. This is only too clear when we talk about the free movement of people; the language used starts to change, and phrases like “maintaining social order” and “protecting national identity” begin to jar and jostle within the general rhetoric of openness.
And thus, these much-touted open economies and societies turn out to be more than a little exclusive, restricted and even closed, when looked at from the perspective of the poor within society, to whom the kind of freedoms that are “less equal” are often most dear. If you are poor in any country of the world, you are being increasingly, and actively, excluded from economic and social participation. If you also happen to live in one of a number of the poorest countries of the world, life is a lot more grim for you now than it was 20 or more years ago.