When I began looking over Zygmunt Buaman’s Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age, I opened the pages with great anticipation. By the time I had finished, I found myself disappointed. Bauman offered some insightful thoughts on some key issues, but I felt he missed the mark on some others.
Bauman did a good job identifying the disparity between the rich and the poor. He points out “At the turn of the twenty-first century, the richest 5 per cent of people receive one-third of total global income, as much as the poorest 80 per cent.” Most people who are in the wealthiest 5% do not even realize how wealthy they (we) truly are. We also do not realize how poor the rest of the world is. It is interesting to note that “the sole index treated routinely as a measure of well-being, and the criterion of the success or failure of the authorities charged with monitoring and protecting the nation’s capacity to stand up to challenges, as well as the nation’s ability to resolve the problems it collectively confronts, is the average income or average wealth of its members, not the extent of inequality in income or wealth distribution.” It is easy to call ourselves “middle class” or “working class” and deny that we are in fact the wealthiest people on the planet. Not only are we the wealthiest, but we are in such a minority that the numbers are staggering. We fail also to recognize that much of our wealth is a result of where we were born. The term “collateral damage” is a good term to expose a key truth about out wealth; much of which comes at the expense and detriment of others.
What Bauman failed to fully address was the reality that not all poverty is created equal. The concept of “choices” or “options” helps me as I think about poverty. Many people are born into systems or circumstances in which they have few if any options to make a better life. In these situations, an individual can do little if anything to change their situation; help must come from the outside. In other situations, options exist for people to become more economically stable. A question that is seldom asked is whether there is the potential within a democratic, capitalistic society to help give more people more options? I will be the first to admit that capitalism has produced many great evils, but is that a fault of the system or of people who use the system? Would any system run by self-seeking human beings do any better? Bauman suggest, “The ‘social state’ is no longer viable; only a ‘social planet’ can take over the functions that social states tried, with mixed success, to perform. I would argue that this would still result in the same inequalities because sinful humans would still be in charge.
Bauman also seems to view the past as being nobler than it may have been. He cites the fact that Henry Ford could not outsource labor in those days like we can now. As a result, jobs stayed within the community rather than being outsourced to exploit a third world nation. What he failed to mention was that Ford “insourced” many Arabs from the Middle East to fill jobs. He was openly anti-Semitic and did not want to hire local Jews. Nor was it mentioned that major U.S. car manufactures purchased public transportation works to limit their effectiveness and create a greater need for individuals to own cars. I would venture to say that in all times and in all places people have exploited others for personal gain.
I would also challenge the blanket statements regarding gated communities. I would agree that there are gated communities designed to create a sense of elitism and separation between those who are wealthy and “important” and everybody else. I have, however, been in many places around the world in which gated communities are being formed within existing neighborhoods to create greater safety; many of these are poor neighborhoods. For those who would universally criticize gated communities, I would ask those same people if they lock their doors at night or lock their car. The reality of living in a sinful world causes us be less than trusting at times.
My final criticism of Bauman is in his representation of God; “God offered his people a covenant: you listen to me and obey, and I’ll make you happy.” He fails to take in the totality of scripture. He holds a very high view of the potential of sociology, “the ‘Managerial Revolution mark two’, just one aspect of the ‘Great Transformation mark two’, in fact assigns to sociology a public role of unprecedented significance and offers us (though unintentionally and inadvertently) a constituency of an unprecedented size. There has been, I would argue, no other moment in history when so many people have needed so much of such vital goods for sociology to deliver. While sociology can and should better inform us of the current state of the world’s population, the best solutions will never be found with purely human wisdom.
 Zygmunt Bauman, Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2011), Kindle, loc. 987.
 Ibid., Loc. 85.
 Ibid., Loc. 531.
 Ibid., Loc. 870
 Ibid., Loc. 1213-1300.
 Ibid., Loc. 2093.
 Ibid., Loc. 3321.