Who owns the world?

Just in case you doubted that the world population is divided between a small percentage who own most of the wealth and the vast majority who must work for them in order to survive, here are some facts:

The net wealth of the 10 richest billionaires is $133billion, more than 1.5 times the total national income of the least developed countries (UNDP 1999).

The following are some key quotations from the UNDP Human Development Report 2003 that show the current extent of global poverty:

“More than 1.2 billion people – one in every five on Earth – survive on less than $1 a day. During the 1990s the share of people suffering from extreme income poverty fell from 30% to 23%. But with a growing world population, the number fell by just 123 million – a small fraction of the progress needed to eliminate poverty. And excluding China, the number of extremely poor people actually increased by 28 million.” Hence “in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Arab States, Central and Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa the number of people surviving on less than $1 a day increased.”

“Some 54 countries are poorer now than in 1990. Of the 54 countries with declining incomes,20 are from Sub-Saharan Africa, 17 from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), 6 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 6 from East Asia and the Pacific and 5 from the Arab States.”

“Poverty has increased even in some countries that have achieved overall economic growth, and over the past two decades income inequality worsened in 33 of 66 developing countries with data.”

“More than 1.0 billion people in developing countries – one person in five – lack access to safe water.”

“Every year more than 10 million children die of preventable illnesses – 30,000 a day. More than 500,000 women a year die in pregnancy and childbirth, with such deaths 100 times more likely in Sub-Saharan Africa than in high-income OECD countries. Around the world 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, 39 million of them in developing countries. Tuberculosis remains (along with AIDS) the leading infectious killer of adults, causing up to 2 million deaths a year. Malaria deaths, now 1 million a year, could double in the next 20 years.”

The evidence shows that global inequality has not been reduced over recent years and some recent research has argued that ithas increased (The Economist 26/04/2001). A study by Branco Milanovic at the World Bank is based upon household survey data for countries covering 85% of the world population. Milanovic measures inequality within countries (most of the previous studies had focused solely upon inequality between countries). His paper(Milanovic 2002) concludes that global inequality in 1993 had a Gini co-efficient of 66, having increased by 3 from 66 in 1988 (The Gini co-efficient is a measure of inequality on a 0–100 scale, with 0representing perfect equality). As The Economist points out,5 years is a relatively short period of time to draw conclusions about trends in inequality and their causes, although 66 is still a very high level of inequality: “This level of inequality is equivalent to a situation where 66% of people have zero income, and 34% divide the entire income of the world among themselves equally!” .

  • Footnotes:
  • (1) Economic journal, Jan 2002, Vol. 112, № 476, pp.51–92

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