Who’s the One percent and 99 Percent?

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been successful in framing much of the political debate in this country around the concept of who is the 1%, and who are the 99%.  Obviously, for those in the United States, it is usually quite easy to ascertain whether you are in the top 99% or not.  The confusion probably only arises among Americans whose income is at least a few hundred thousand dollars per year.  The actual break off for the top 1% income in the United States is about $380,000.

However, as Morgan Housel, the Motley Fool blogger, has written in his article, Attention, Protestors: You’re Probably Part of the 1%, the profile of who is the 1% and who are the 99% changes drastically when looked in the context of occupying the entire planet.  When considering all humans on this planet, earning about $34,000 per year or more will place you in the top 1% of incomes.  Further, an income of about $70,000 per year would place you in the top .1% of incomes worldwide.  Now, in dollar-denominated economies, you can probably discount such income about 10% or 20% when comparing incomes worldwide.  Thus, to be among the top 1 percent of incomes worldwide, would be about $40,000 per year or so in the United States.  Likewise, to be among the top .1% of incomes worldwide, you would need to have an income of about $80,000 per year or so in the United States.  This is a humbling reality for many Americans, most of whom consider themselves at least cash poor and middle-class.  Somewhat ironically, most of the 99% in the United States are actually the 1% in a worldwide context.  Even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off economically than more than two-thirds of the world’s population.  Thus, in American discourse, the discussion of rich and poor, wealth and poverty, would be greatly enriched my understanding and appreciating the massive income inequality both between and within different countries.  A common thread in the American discourse of rich and poor is about “earnings”, and about who are deserving poor.  To shed some light on this discussion, we need to realize that our country of birth determines more than 60% of the variability in incomes worldwide.   Apparently, picking parents who resides in the right country account for most of our economic success!

There many things that we take for granted living in the United States.  One example would be having access to clean water and adequate sanitation.  This is nearly universal the United States.  However, according to the blue planet network, over one billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, roughly one-sixth of the world’s population.  Over two million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.  Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water related illnesses.  In the past 10 years, diarrhea has killed more children than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II.  Half of people on earth lack adequate sanitation. Another way to look at it: Nearly half of the world’s population fails to receive the level of water services available 2,000 years ago to the citizens of ancient Rome.  80 percent of diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water.  The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is six kilometers.  The average person in the developing world uses 2.64 gallons of water a day.  The average person in the United Kingdom uses 35.66 gallons of water per day. The average person in the United States uses between 100 and 175 gallons every day at home.  It takes 5 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water.  It takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce one quarter pound hamburger (just the meat).  The UN estimates it would cost an additional $30 billion to provide access to safe water to the entire planet.  That’s a third of what the world spends in a year on bottled water.

If we are going to have an evolution or a revolution that changes the world, we certainly can’t settle for fixing the perceived problems in the economically developed world.  The vast income inequalities across the planet must be addressed with eyes wide open and hearts wide open if we are to have any hope of bringing justice to this planet and its inhabitants.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply