Economic and Social Questions About Your Area

“Know the area,” said P.R. Sarkar. If you understand which are the right questions to ask, you are close to finding the answers. Below is a list of questions for a PROUT Study/Action Circle and to kick-start a block level plan. Sources you can consult to find the answers include government statistics, non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and the CIA World Factbook. Check if the data is contested, and whether independent sources support the government statistics. Invite a professor, expert or the representative of a concerned organization to a special dinner to explain the topic and answer questions about it.

Agriculture

How much arable land is there, and what proportion is cultivated?
What fraction of total land is arable?
What proportion of cultivated land is irrigated?
What are the main agricultural products?
Which agricultural products are exported?
How much food is consumed?
What percentage is produced locally? What percentage is produced nationally? What percentage is imported?
1. Cereals and grains (rice, corn, sorghum, barley, wheat, etc.)?
2. Beans (black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, lentils, etc.)?
3. Milk: fresh, powdered?
4. Produce: vegetables, fruits?
What natural resources exist? How much of each one?
Which raw materials, if any, are exported, and what percentage of each?

Water

Percentage of people with access to potable water in their homes? Percentage of people with sanitation systems in their homes?

Manufacturing and trade

Which goods are manufactured, and how much of each?
How much is produced for domestic production, and how much is exported?
At what level is electricity production and consumption? Is any imported or exported?
At what level is the petroleum production and consumption?
Is any imported or exported?
At what level is natural gas production and consumption? Is any imported or exported?
What are the major imports?
What are the major exports?
What is the balance of trade?
Which countries are the major import partners?
Which countries are the major export partners?

Banks

What percentage of banks are cooperatively-owned?
What percentage of banks are national and privately-owned?
What percentage of banks are internationally owned?
What percentage of banks are government owned?
Are banking laws strict or is banking largely unregulated?
Are existing regulations properly enforced?
Do laws allow banks to operate in other markets, such as insurance?
What are the capital reserve requirements? Are these enforced?
Are there large investment banks and are there meaningful regulations to limit high-risk behaviors?
What are the total capital reserves and interest rates for each bank?
What is the demographic breakdown of loans and repayment?
What is the demographic breakdown of bank locations?
What is the commercial bank prime lending rate?

Cooperatives

What is the total number of cooperatives in the country? In each state? In each sector?
What proportion of businesses are organized as cooperatives in each sector?
How many people are members of cooperatives? What percentage of the population?
Over time, is this percentage increasing or decreasing? Are the laws relating to cooperatives favorable?
Do cooperatives receive tax breaks or other support from the government?
Are there national associations of cooperatives?

Economy

What percentage of the labor force is in agriculture, industry and services?
What types of taxes are collected at the national level, state level and local level?
At each level is the tax system effectively progressive, regressive or flat?
What are the annual tax revenues and expenditures?
What proportion of government expenditure at each level goes for: education, health care, military, police, fire, sanitation, infrastructure, social safety net, agricultural programs, etc.?
What is the budget surplus or deficit as a percentage of the GDP?
Is the surplus or deficit changing quickly or is it relatively stable?
What is the total public debt?
What is the total external debt?
What percentage of any debt is public debt?
What percentage of any debt is external debt?
Combining all taxes at all levels, what percentage of the GDP is collected as tax revenue?
How much foreign exchange and gold reserves are held?

Gap Between the Rich and the Poor

What percentage of wealth is held by the top 20%?
What percentage of wealth is held by the top 10%? What percentage of wealth is held by the top 1%? What percentage of wealth is held by the top 0.1%?
What percentage of wealth is held by the bottom 50%?
What percentage of wealth is held by the bottom 20%?
What percentage of income is earned annually by the top 20%?
What percentage of income is earned annually by the 10%?
What percentage of income is earned annually by the top 1%?
What percentage of income is earned annually by the top 0.1%?
What percentage of income is earned annually by the bottom 50%?
What percentage of income is earned annually by the bottom 20%?
How have these distributions been changing over the last 10 years? The last 5 years?
Which is more unevenly distributed, income or wealth?

Poverty

What is the current poverty level as defined by the government? How many people are under this poverty level? What percentage of the population is this?
How many people are under the absolute poverty level as defined by the U. N.: US$1.25 a day?
How is the poverty rate changing over time?
What is the level of rural poverty? What is the level of urban poverty?
Are some demographic groups experiencing more poverty than others?

Unemployment

What is the official unemployment level as defined by the government?
How many people are unemployed? What is the real unemployment level?
Are some demographic groups experiencing more unemployment than others?
What percentage of the workforce is underemployed?
What is the minimum wage?
How much is a living wage that is enough to buy the minimum necessities?
Are real wages changing? If so, how?

Crime and Corruption

What are the total figures for violent crimes? How are these numbers changing over time?
What are the reported rates of domestic violence and rapes? What are the estimated rates of domestic violence and rapes? How many corruption cases are filed; how many are pursued and what percentage are convicted?
How many involve police officers, government officials and business owners?
What is the perceived level of corruption?
What is the total prison population? Is the population growing over time?
How many violent incidents occur in prisons?
What proportion of people in prison are people of color?
Are people of color more likely to receive harsher sentences for the same crime?

Media and Advertising

How many TV stations exist? How many are government, pri- vate, pro-government, opposition, cooperative, public? How many broadcast over the airwaves and how many over cable? How many radio stations are there, and what are their affiliations? What are the 10 largest magazines and newspapers according to circulation? When was each formed?
How concentrated is media ownership? Are TV, radio and print media owned by the same company?
What is the “beauty myth” and how does it affect this culture? What is the total amount spent on advertising?
How is that divided among TV, radio, print ads, billboard signs and others?
How is that divided among sectors, such as alcohol, fast foods, cigarettes, soda and cars?
How much money is spent on political advertising? In what ways do advertisers exert editorial pressure?

In what ways does the government exert editorial pressure? Does the government have direct censorship authority?

Urban Migration

What is the rural population? What is the urban population?
How have these percentages changed over time?
What are the principal reasons for these migration patterns?

Land Ownership

Who owns most of the land? How concentrated is the ownership? How much land does the government own, and how is it used? Is mining, grazing or timber harvesting allowed on government land?
Can foreigners own land?
How is land taxed? Urban? Rural? How is it calculated and what are the rates?
Have there been occupations of rural lands? If so, how many?
Do the media call these “invasions” or “occupations”?
Is there land reform? If so, how many hectares have been redistributed by the government? How many more hectares are being considered for redistribution? Has the government taken land and not redistributed it?

Racism

What are the demographics of the major ethnic groups in the population?
What are the population and languages of the indigenous people? What proportion of businesses is run by people of color? What proportion of university professors are people of color?
What proportion of elected officials at each level are people of color?
Do people of color receive equal pay compared to others with equal qualifications?
What are the demographics of all the models and actors in two hours of prime time TV ads?
What are the demographics of all the models in the ads in a popular magazine?

Sexism

What proportion of businesses is run by women? What proportion of university professors are women?
What proportion of elected officials at each level are women? How many shelters are there for victims of domestic abuse? Are there telephone hotlines for victims of domestic abuse, either government or private?
Do women receive equal pay compared to men with the same qualifications?
What is the divorce rate?
How long does the average marriage last?
How many single mothers are there? Single fathers?
Are women and children more likely to live in poverty?
Are unemployment rates higher or lower for women? (If they are higher, consider why this still might be evidence of sexism.)

Education

What percentage of the GDP is spent on education? What is the expenditure per student?
What is the average teacher/student ratio at different grade levels?
How do teacher salaries compare with other professionals with similar qualifications?
How many students are enrolled in universities?
What percentage of eligible students attend university?
What percentage of students complete high school?
What is the cost of an education in a public university and a
private university?
What is the total number of teachers?
What is the total number of schools?
How many schools are public and how many are private?
What are the UN statistics for the number of children not in school and their ages?
What is the literacy rate?

Mental Health

What are the suicide rates for males and females? What are the facilities for mental health treatment? What is the number of admissions?
What is the estimated population and proportion of mental health patients?
What are the import totals and consumption estimates of anti-depressant medicines?
What are the drug abuse estimates? What are the alcohol abuse estimates?

Health

What are the leading causes of death? What are the major infectious diseases? What is the infant mortality rate?
What is the population growth rate?
How many people are malnourished? What percentage of the population?
What percentage of children is malnourished?
What percentage of expectant mothers receives prenatal care?
What is the diabetes rate?
What is the average life expectancy?
How many doctors are there per 1,000 people?

Pollution

What are air pollution levels? What are the carbon dioxide levels? What are the main causes of air and water pollution? What is the estimate of kilometers per capita driven?
Are auto emissions inspections required? Is carpooling encouraged? (HVO lanes)
Are bicycle lanes available and well maintained? What public transportation options are available?
What is the trash production per capita?
How much recycling is done by government and by non-governmental organizations?

Global Warming

Which have been the hottest years on record in your country? Are rainfall and snowfall patterns changing? If so, how?
Are natural storms increasing in number or intensity?
If sea levels rise one meter, how would that change the map of your country? By four meters? How many people live in those low-lying coastal areas? (see http://flood.firetree.net/)

Excerpted from After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action by Dada Maheshvarananda (Puerto Rico: Innerworld Publications, 2012): www.aftercapitalism.org

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