With Globalization, Poverty Is Optional.

Author:Gates, Jeff
Position:Brief Article

Assets held by the world's 200 wealthiest individuals total $1 trillion, for an average of $5 billion each. After doubling since 1995, their total wealth now equals the combined annual income of the world's 2.5 billion poorest people. Meanwhile, eighty nations report incomes lower than a decade ago. Sixty countries have grown steadily poorer since 1980. Three billion people presently live on $2 or less per day while 1.3 billion get by on $1 or less.

With global population expanding by 80 million each year, World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn cautions that, unless we address the "challenge of inclusion," three decades hence we could have 5 billion people living on less than $2 per day. With 2 billion people presently malnourished, that suggests the human family may by then include 3.7 billion people who suffer that indignity, including 100 million living in industrialized nations. That's a future the global community can choose to avoid.

The United Nations calculates that $35 billion per year is sufficient to fund the minimum conditions required for the flowering of human potential worldwide: safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, sufficient nutrition, primary health care, basic education, and family planning for willing couples. Those essential building blocks for human decency could be financed with the proceeds from a 3.5 percent levy on the assets of the world's 200 richest people--less than a typical value added tax. Three-quarters of those with such "affluenza" live in the world's thirty most developed nations; sixty reside in the United States.

Rightly viewed, that levy would be seen as a "capital commons user fee." Capital markets are a global commons, similar to a shared meadow in which everyone grazes their livestock. No one owns the pasture, yet everyone benefits from its use. Financial assets are rightly called "securities" because international law enforces the security of property rights--from which a markedly small portion of humanity pockets the bulk of the benefits.

For instance, the 400 wealthiest U.S. citizens hold financial assets equivalent to one-eighth of the gross domestic product of the world's largest economy. Their personal wealth grew by an average $940 million each from 1997 to 1999--a per capita daily increase averaging $1,287,671 ($225,962 per hour). Eighty-six percent of stock market gains between 1989 and 1997 flowed to the top 10 percent of U.S. households while 42 percent went to the most well-to-do one percent.


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