Neoliberal globalization has had profound effects on local spaces around the world. Rural and urban areas have been transformed by the easy flows of both capital and commodities, concentrating wealth in the hands of those who have the most control over the direction of these flows. But for those with the least control, it has meant a decline in their standards of living. Global inequality is therefore on the rise, with billions living on the margins of subsistence. While middle classes have emerged in some developing areas, they still are relatively small and vulnerable to broad economic and political forces largely beyond their control. Overall, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, with the middle class caught in an increasingly uncertain middle ground.
In the face of this dynamic, governments have often scaled back services to the most vulnerable in the belief that this will improve their competitiveness. But this structural adjustment has only accelerated the problems of inequality and social disruption by shifting resources from the poor and middle classes to the rich. The privatization of water and electricity, cutbacks in welfare social services, and higher fees for education and health care all have had disproportionately negative effects on the poorest in a society.
While this process has created a growing underclass of people living on the margins of economic self-sufficiency, the rest of the society has been forced to invest more resources in security. This has been necessary to protect themselves from conventional crime and also from the disorderly signs of inequality in the form of beggars, homeless encampments and squatters, and the physical disorder of trash and graffiti. To deal with these problems, police forces have been enhanced, private security has been expanded, and a growing punitiveness toward the disenfranchised has emerged.
We generally associate this dynamic with third-world nations whose