Friday, May 25, 2007

An unequal world

Writing a week or so ago in the Miami Herald Jeffrey Sachs offered the following:

The G-8, representing nearly one billion people, has promised to increase aid to Africa to $50 billion in 2010 from $25 billion in 2004 — a difference that represents less than one-tenth of one 1 percent of the income of the rich donor world! To put it in perspective, the Christmas bonuses paid this year on Wall Street — just the bonuses — amounted to $24 billion.

Yes, you read that correctly, Christmas bonuses on Wall Street this year totaled more than the entire some of money given by the G8 to Africa in 2004

In a similar vein Sachs wrote recently in Time Magazine:

According to Forbes magazine, there are some 950 billionaires in the world, with an estimated combined wealth of $3.5 trillion. Even after all the yachts, mansions and luxury living that money can buy have been funded many times over, these billionaires will still have nearly $3.5 trillion to change the world. Suppose they pooled their wealth, as Buffett has done with Bill and Melinda Gates. By standard principles of foundation management, a $3.5 trillion endowment would have a 5% payout of about $175 billion a year, an amount sufficient to extend basic health care to all in the poorest world; end massive pandemics of AIDS, TB and malaria; jump-start an African Green Revolution; end the digital divide; and address the crying need for safe drinking water for 1 billion people. In short, this billionaires' foundation would be enough to end extreme poverty itself. All in all, it's not a bad gig for men and women who have transcended the daily economic struggle faced by the rest of humanity.

The salient point here is not, I think, the potential for global philanthropy that Sachs is talking about. To be honest I'm not optimistic about philanthropic giving of this scale taking place any time soon (the alternative - tax wealth - seems more plausible). The salient point to me instead is a simple ethical one: on this planet there is already more than enough money to eliminate the worst aspects of poverty. All that is required is a global social contract where a small proportion of rich country wealth is diverted to the developing world to provide sanitation, education and basic health care. If we did this we would save many millions of lives every year. But we don't, it's not even on the cards. Something that reflects very, very, very poorly on all of us.

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