Peet, Richard 1975. Inequality and Poverty: A Marxist-Geographic Theory. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66 (4/December): 564-571.

Synopsis

The thesis statement of Richard Peet’s article “Inequality and Poverty: A Marxist-Geographic Theory” is that according to Marxists theory “Equality and poverty are functional components of the capitalist mode of production: capitalism necessarily produces in-egalitarian social structures…Inequality is transferred from one generation to another through the environment of services and opportunities which surrounds each individual”. (p. 564). There is a hierarchical class structure in the society that has a connection with the labor demand. Peet argues that “the inequality and poverty cannot be eradicated without fundamental changes in the mode of production” (p. 564) because if there is a change in the system there is a change in the demand for labor.

 Peet attempts at synthesizing two concepts in his paper: first, “the Marxist principle that inequality and poverty are inevitably produced by capitalist societies”, and second, “the social-geographic idea that inequality passes from one generation to the next via the environment of opportunities and services into which each individual is implanted at birth” (p. 564). Peet’s paper is focused on generalizing the theoretical explanation of the origins of inequality empirically. There exist interclass and intraclass inequalities in different forms which include income inequality, inequality in access to education and skills, racial inequalities, etc. and these inequalities persist under capitalism. Even though inequality is the source of frustration and alienation among groups, it is the best way to get the dirtiest and most boring jobs done (p. 566). Peet agrees with Marx’s statement that “Production costs are more-and-more the costs of depreciating machinery, and less-and-less the costs of hiring labor as capitalism develops and as machines increasingly are used” and claims that the demand for labor depends on the economic development of the capitalist (p. 566). The poor are labeled as industrial reserve army and are categorized into three types: latent, floating, and stagnant depending on the type of work they do and the amount they are paid. Peet argues that inequality must occur in capitalist society because “Inequality is necessary to produce a diversified labor force…because of its function as an incentive to work” (p. 567). An individual’s class position is inherited from his parents via the quality of the social and economic institutional environment into which he is born, or within which he lives for the first years of his life. Also, the hierarchy of resource environments is responsible for hierarchical labor demands.

Peet further writes, “True social equality can be achieved only by changing the generating forces of inequality…and especially social control over the means of producing income (p. 570). The Geographers should hasten the achievement of equality by producing persuasive, alternative models of environmental control and design. For Peet, an attractive alternative model involves “decentralized, worker ownership of the means of production and a linked system of community control over the environment” (p. 570). We as the geographer can help fight against inequality by designing different environmental models that ensure the development of each individual as a unique person.

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