Monday, January 27, 2014

If You Were King....?

What follows here is so startling that even the calm Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News cautioned his viewers that they would have a hard time believing it.

85 people own as much as the poorer half of the entire human race.

I'm going to say it again:

85 people own as much as the poorer half of the human race.

Yes, you read it right.  85 people own as much as do 3.5 BILLION people.

Note that I didn't use words for the term "85" even though correct usage mandates such when a numeral begins a sentence.  I wanted you to have the full impact of the smallness of this number:  85.  A two digit number.  Far less than the number of people it would take to fill one very small movie theater.

They own collectively $1,100,000,000,000.  That's one point one trillion dollars.  They own, on average, about twelve billion apiece.  As an individual you virtually can't spend the interest on twelve billion fast enough to keep interest from accruing and thus enlarging your holdings.  That's true even if you put the money out at the chump-change rate of one percent, which is what the rest of us get on our chumpy little savings, if we have any.

What some business person would answer is that these very rich individuals don't necessarily own all this loot as disposable income or posh luxury homes and yachts.  (Though you can bet that they have lots of these goodies.)  Much of their wealth is invested in businesses that produce jobs for many people.   So say the defenders of the super-rich.  Well, let's hope that's true.  If so, the numbers above remain startling but arguably don't rise to shockingly criminal.

What is shocking is how pathetically small are the individual  holdings of one half of the people of the world.  They have virtually nothing.  They have on average about $315.  It's not clear if the folks compiling these statistics are counting only money as "wealth" or including everything one has.  I suspect it's the latter.  So 3.5 billion people essentially have nothing.  Maybe a tent or a cardboard dwelling, some raggedy clothes, possibly a pair of shoes, a cooking pot, part ownership in a small cooking device that burns wood or coal and increases global warming a lot (3.5 billion small fires are a lot of carbon going into the air).  They likely have a drinking cup though lack clean water.  They probably get their water out of a river or communal well.  Maybe they have a goat or a sow or a few chickens.  (Flu arises in China each year because the poorest people share their living space with pigs or fowl.)  They may have a share in a tiny piece of land to grow a few edibles.  Mostly they trade their labor  -  the labor of beasts of burden  -  to buy their subsistence diet.  There are no toilets, lights, books, schools, or piped warm water for bathing.  Nothing.

Bill Gates has just addressed his club of the super-wealthy whom he has pressured into pledging to give away all their wealth.  He's just told them that the number of poor nations is dropping to an "all-time low" due to the successful efforts of his group and the IMF and the World Bank, etc.

Well, that's nice.

But it's sort of meaningless.  Other studies show that the economic inequality in these no-longer-dreadfully-poor countries has made the poor people even poorer.  Some people in those countries are doing better because of Bill Gates; most are not.  Gates and his guys have helped only those who turned around and helped themselves to the whole pie.

The answers in these poorer countries is the same as the answers would be here in the USA where economic inequality has become outrageous.  End corruption.  Fund all schools equally well.  Tax fairly.  Let the workers be adequately paid for their labor, especially teachers.  Let everyone own stock in something, preferably the company they work for.

But even then can capitalism provide for all?  It seems to be the only system that even comes halfway close.  But it also seems to require "growth", the ever-increasing exhaustion of the world's resources.  Isn't there anything else that can give people a decent level of living and an escape from squalor?

Yes, there is.  But that's for next time.  Meantime, see if you can think of a better system.  What would you do if you were king of the world?


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