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We Are All Wealthy - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Jan. 6th, 2007

07:49 pm - We Are All Wealthy

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DID YOU KNOW?

The world's 225 richest people now have a combined wealth of $1 trillion. That's equal to the combined annual income of the world's 2.5 billion poorest people.

A person living in the US at the federal poverty level for a one-person household ($9310/year) is in the top 13.46% richest people in the world. At $50,000/year a person is in the top 0.98% of the world.

Current Mood: shockedshocked

Comments:

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From:obfuscate
Date:January 7th, 2007 01:57 am (UTC)
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Goddamn. I feel like a really horrible person for aspiring to pass the $30K mark.
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From:tmesser
Date:January 7th, 2007 02:00 am (UTC)
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Similarly, I don't know whether to be happy or extremely sad that I'm in that 0.98% group.
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From:herbivorous
Date:January 7th, 2007 04:31 am (UTC)
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Oh, yeah. Every now and then when I get a bit sorry for myself about my "money troubles", I remind myself that I am driving around in a car, with a cell phone and clean clothing, worried about having *too much* to eat. Really puts things in perspective.
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From:skywind8
Date:January 7th, 2007 07:15 am (UTC)
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And I'm in the top 10% (or so) of incomes in my metro area... and still can't really afford medical bills and other aspects of a good standard of living. What does that imply about the other 90% of the residents? What does it imply about the costs of healthcare and its availability? Blah. Mixed up world.
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From:tinyshel
Date:January 7th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
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Exactly what I was going to comment on. Having lived in England and the US and having family in Italy, I can say that these approximations are usually overly simplistic. What I make in England makes me feel rich when I travel, but it's just because the pound is so strong right now. While in England, I'm living in a moldy house in one of London's poorest counties.

I'm not saying that I live an awful life or something (far from it! I realise I'm fortunate!), but I'm just saying that one could live a comfortable life within their country, but then when the currency is translated into some simplistic 'world economy' scale it makes them look poorer than they really are.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 7th, 2007 07:22 pm (UTC)
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Yah, I think these statistics definitely say a lot more about trends and distribution of wealth than about individual comfort.

See my comments below.
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From:vahkvahk
Date:January 7th, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I was going to ask the same thing. I'm not a global economist, but I notice that when I'm travelling in third world countries, everything is cheaper. So, yes, a peasant day-laborer in rural Mexico (which is not that poor as countries go) only makes $10/day or whatever, but that is enough to pay for housing, food, basic medical care, and even beer. I feel worse for the guy making $5/hour on the south side of Chicago, even though he makes "more money".
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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 7th, 2007 07:15 pm (UTC)
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I don't disagree. See my comments below.

But keep in mind that the guy working for minimum wage on the south side is much more likely to have things like a TV or a car. He's probably less likely to be killed by random violence (though he's certainly more likely than someone in a nice neighborhood on the north side...security and cost of living are often closely tied). He's probably more likely to receive high quality medical care in case of severe trauma (e.g. if his life depends on it, it doesn't matter if he can pay). He has access to public transportation, public parks, libraries, clean water, workplace safety standards, cheap gas. His expected lifespan is longer.

None of this is at all enough to not "feel bad" for the guy. He's in poverty. He can't support his family. He doesn't have what he needs. But there are non-abstract reasons why his cost of living is higher. It isn't arbitrary. He has access to more wealth. Sadly, he can't pay his bills with that wealth but it's still there. That's the point of this exercise, to see how wealth is distributed around the world. To see how much the US has at the expense of the rest of the world.

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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 7th, 2007 06:48 pm (UTC)
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Of course not, but that is part of the point of the site. It goes on to make some suggestions about how our money could be used to address poverty elsewhere in the world. For instance what it costs us to buy a few dozen apples could be used to buy a Honduran farmer a few dozen apple trees.

Why is our cost of living high? Because our nation is wealthy. Because we are surrounded by resources and infrastructure that are valuable to us. Because we enjoy a fairly high level of security. I suspect that most poor Americans would not want to leave for a place with a lower cost of living to be, for instance, well off Somalis.

This isn't at all meant to trivialize the very real poverty and hardship that many Americans face. It's just meant to show how widespread the inequities in wealth distribution are worldwide.

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From:xymboulos
Date:January 8th, 2007 03:29 am (UTC)
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Another key element to factor into the disparity is the difference in monetization. In the US, we are highly monetized with very many services and products going through the formal market. Our diverse consumer market, for better or worse, makes us highly specialized and interdependent on each other for key services. In other countries, people produce many goods for themselves that we would purchase from others.

A good example of this would be to compare two families. In the first, both parents have salaried jobs. In the second, one parent has a salaried job and the other works at home, taking care of the children and maintaining the household. Let us assume that all three salaried jobs have the same income, X, and all four parents are highly satisfied with their careers. Let us also assume that the first family must spend one entire income (after taxes) on services like day care, restaurant, and cleaning services. The net result is that both families have comparable qualities of life, yet economists would determine that the first family has twice the income of the latter.

Beyond the questions of cost of living and monetization, I am also always curious to find out the methodology behind these calculations. Does income just include individual currency receivables or does it also factor in self-developed or in-kind services and goods? How is wealth calculated; simply by adding securitized and currency instruments or does it also factor in real estate and intangibles like education and public services?

The specific comparison above is of particular interest as it compares static wealth ($) to income ($/yr). I'm not sure what this comparison really tells us, aside from being a dramatic illustration of financial disparity (which I certainly do not disagree with).
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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 8th, 2007 06:51 am (UTC)
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Yah, I think dramatic illustration is all we can really hope for from this. Certainly if the numbers were anywhere near the same orders of magnitude it would be important to look into these details.

But when we're talking about monetary amounts that are disparate by a factor of thousands, millions, or billions...it kind of cancels out considerations about different standards of living, monetization, comparing wealth to income (multiply the income figures by 50 years and it's still a staggering difference). The income-wealth comparison is useful for illustration because the vast majority of people have negligible or negative net wealth but most people have some kind of income.

These aren't meant to be numbers for calculating how my life really compares to the life of someone from china. These are for showing in plain terms using basic data how grossly disparate the distribution of wealth and income are.
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From:poppins17
Date:January 7th, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the link! I can totally use this in my essays for the hunger fellowship I'm applying for.

As sickening as it is, I find it interesting that, as far as the government's concerned, I'm not in the top 13%. (I don't think I made $4,000 in 2006.)
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:January 8th, 2007 04:08 pm (UTC)
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Check out goodmeasure.org, they have some interesting stats. I think the fact that they limit "available" discretionary funds to that spent by self-identified Christians makes the numbers all the more striking.
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From:samwize
Date:January 8th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)

But then, I'm an extropian.

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See, I look a those numbers and don't think "I'm wealthy", I think "We need to create more resources so that we are not all so desperately poor".

There is no reason we should not have (or at minimum aspire to have with great vigor) the buying power of billionaires in the hands of everyone.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:January 19th, 2007 05:37 am (UTC)
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Yah this was pointed out later by some friends of mine on another forum. They suggest that perhaps the scale does something funky in terms of normalizing wages to some standardized currency value and/or that the scale is doing something weird with how it distributes household incomes among the members of the household. In anycase, I would hope that anyone in their right mind would realize that statistics like this are deeply generalizing and flawed. I consider any stats presented in the same format as "What Buffy Character Are You?" memes to be just about equally credible. Fact of the matter is that even with the errors you point out, the answers are still in the right order of magnitude. Perhaps the median american is in the top 5% instead of the top 1%...still a big deal.

Regarding the unfriending...it really just seemed like every time you have posted in my journal it has been to argue with me, to contradict something I said, or to generally question/belittle my activist/progressive/anarchist/decent-human/comic-fan/whatever credibility/identity. I certainly don't mind friendly disagreement or correction of incorrect facts but for whatever reason your comments consistently struck me as combative, competitive, or nitpicky. For whatever reason, I feel uneasy/insecure around you..dunno if it's your attitude or my own false observations or what. I can't really deal with the feeling that I have to justify myself to someone I barely know and who barely knows me. I'm well aware that this is more my issue of how I am reading and responding to your words than how you are _actually_ trying to communicate with me. If we just have incompatible communication styles then so be it...either way I figured that after a few years of coping and getting nowhere, an unfriending was the best for my psyche.

It isn't that anything you have said is even incorrect. It's just that these kind of corrections are the ONLY thing you ever post. It'd be a lot easier for me to take if we also shared a fair amount of friendly banter. (For instance my long time friend xymboulos frequently critiques my more political posts and I love it...he and I have been close friends since high school and I understand where he's coming from.

The first time it happened I tried to engage you in dialog over email about it, so we didn't have to debate about personal issues with an audience and you didn't respond. That led to me taking further comments in the light of being made more for the benefit of some audience than for me. That this discussion is taking place in LJ rather than in email is similarly strange to me. But here I am being a party to that strangeness by responding here instead of in email. "It's not you, it's me."

I also find that for whatever reason your LJ is one of the many that I just skim because I don't have time and I don't know you well enough to need constant updates on your life. I have unfriended dozens of such people over the past year and continue to do so. Part of my time management work has been to pare down my friendslist and I have to become increasingly aggressive in my criteria as I do so.
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