The World as a Pyramid Part II

By | October 23, 2021

6: Where do the poorest live?

The new UN goals look not only at countries as a whole, but also at differences within countries. In one state in India, 80 percent are poor, in another it is not much more than 10 percent. In this country, with an explosive technological development and modern ICT sector, 85 percent of the population lives on less than $ 2.50 a day. The number of Indian mobile phone users is far higher than the number of those who have access to toilets, and who therefore have to work outdoors. The proportion of malnourished is higher than in Africa. Hardly any country in the world spends as little on public health care as India. A growing middle class sends children to private schools, visits private clinics and drinks bottled water. Therefore, they care less about welfare benefits for the vast majority. So poverty is not fate, but a result of political choices and power relations both in the individual country and in the world as a whole.

According to CITYPOPULATIONREVIEW, poverty is usually associated with Africans living in countries with crises, wars and conflicts. However, the latest UN figures show that more than half of the world’s poorest people live in India and other countries in South Asia, compared with just under 30 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa (UN figures and MPI). At the same time, three quarters of those who starve in the countryside live – small farmers with too little land and underpaid farm workers. The World Bank’s figures also show that 70 per cent of the world’s extremely poor live in China and India, even though they have had high growth and are considered to be fairly stable “middle-income countries”.

7: A historical perspective

It is not enough to calculate the conditions in today’s world. Poverty must also be understood in a historical perspective , and then there is less reason to be happy. When in the past there has been a far greater proportion of humanity living in poverty, it is also because there has been a lack of production, technology and resources to prevent this. In a world with a dramatic increase in consumption, military spending and trillions of kroner to banks in need, it is clear that there are resources and knowledge to eradicate all poverty.

Despite all the progress, according to the report on the UN Millennium Development Goals , six million children under the age of five die of hunger and poverty every year. That’s over 16,000 every day. How many Norwegian school classes make up it?

8: Distribution and inequality

It is also not possible to discuss poverty without emphasizing distribution and inequality. Several new reports from the UN state that high inequality is one of the main reasons why the reduction in poverty has been much slower than one might hope for. A key point in the UN report Inequality matters is that not only individuals, but also society, lose out on poor health, low education and malnutrition. It’s not about creating first, and then sharing. Rather, the development experiences say that through sharing, more is also created.

In reality, the trend is in the opposite direction. The share of the poor in income, wealth or value creation is decreasing. A survey
by the UN organization UNICEF shows that the richest 20 percent in the world seize over 80 percent of income. For the poorest 20 percent, there is only 1 percent left to share. The differences are even greater if we look at wealth, which is a better measure. Those at the top have more power to shape the world in their image, and they can buy influence and lobbying services. The result is also that earnings on shares, currency and speculation increase much faster than ordinary wage income.

As mentioned, the question must be raised whether there are resources to eradicate poverty. We get the answer from the major Swiss bank Credit Suisse, which publishes the Global wealth report . In Figure 3, the world is depicted as a pyramid. In reality, a tiny minority of 0.7 per cent alone accounts for about 40 per cent of all wealth, while just over 8 per cent accounts for well over 80 per cent. The latter is more than 25 times as much as over two thirds of the world’s population combined. Based on these figures, the British aid organization Oxfam has calculated (2014) that 67 people have a fortune equivalent to half of the world’s population, ie 3.5 billion people.

9: Rubbish and poverty

Given the link between poverty and inequality, our ethical challenge should not just be to measure poverty in better ways. Instead, we should find out how many millions of people are unnecessarily poor. Norwegian researchers (Moene / Lind) have therefore compiled what they simply call the miser economy . The main point here is that there is a huge gap between a country’s economic opportunities to fight poverty and what is actually being done. (In any case, the distance between words and action is not halved). Worst are countries like South Africa, Brazil and Argentina; in the Nordic countries, Norway comes out worst.

We see the same way of thinking in the international organization Social Watch , which has a large number of members around the world. A key point in many of their reports is that the improvements in living conditions (“social capabilities”) are very modest when they are set against the record growth in trade and gross national income per capita (see Fig. 4).

Human rights instead?

Based on the knowledge we have now gained, many hope that power and inequality – together with the environment and decent working life – will be central when the UN these days prepares new development goals . But the signals so far are that several of the most powerful countries in the world show little interest in this. It is often the case that UN goals that all member states must agree on (consensus), lead to many of the most important and controversial issues being pushed out into the dark. Perhaps there should be no need for new goals that are diluted through political compromises, and which give a false impression that today’s rulers take the development and climate crisis seriously. Maybe it should be enough to gather around UN declarations and human rights obligations that already exist?

The World Pyramid 2