Should there be a new way of living for the top one billion?

Andrew Revkin asks on his blog, Dot Earth:

“Would the world benefit from a set of millennium development goals for the ‘top billion’?”

He notes:

There’s a set of Millennium Development Goals for the poorest of the poor — a cohort of humanity sometimes described as the “ bottom billion.”

But, as yet, there’s no set of such goals for those who are already living lives that many analysts say are consuming resources at a pace well beyond the planet’s carrying capacity…

There are plenty who contend that unrestrained pursuit of prosperity is a prerequisite for a mix of environmental care and technological advancement that will continue to improve the state of the planet. But there’s self interest in an examination of how much is enough. Some analysts have found, for example, that diseases accompanying affluence exact a toll in lost years of human lives that is not far behind the losses from diseases of poverty. And then there’s the issue of what’s being pursued — the good life as defined in Vegas or by Plato.

My answer:

There’s a cute saying, “Live simply so that others can simply live.” It’s complete hokum. It’s not that simple because it’s not a zero-sum equation. (To paraphrase P. J. O’Rourke) Life is not a pizza, if I eat two pieces you don’t have to eat the Dominos’ box.

Wealth is not a pizza. If I eat too many slices, you don't have to eat the Dominos' box. (Creative Commons License photo credit: Adam Kuban)

According to Charles Kenny at Foreign Policy magazine, “[I]n 1990, roughly half the global population lived on less than $1 a day; by 2007, the proportion had shrunk to 28 percent — and it will be lower still by the close of 2010.” This is not despite the way the top billion live but because of the way the top one billion live. Without the consumption of goods and services by the T1B there would not be demand for the goods the bottom one billion produce.

To the point about disease, (again according to Charles Kenny) “The overwhelming global picture is of better health: From 2000 to 2008, child mortality dropped more than 17 percent, and the average person added another two years to his or her life expectancy, now just one shy of the biblical standard of three score and 10.”

“On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?” – Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1830

In other words, for the bottom one billion to continue to be better off, the top one billion need to continue living as they have.

P. J. again:

We have to kill ideas like the wealth gap. The world doesn’t need to be thinking about the wealth gap; the world needs to be thinking about wealth. Wealth is good. Everybody knows that about his own wealth. Wealth improves your life; it improves your family’s life. You invest in wise and worthwhile things, and you help your friends and neighbors. Your life would get better if you got rich, and the lives of all the people around you would get better if you got rich. Your wealth is good. So why isn’t everybody else’s wealth good, too? I don’t get it. Wealth is good when a lot of people have it, and wealth is good when just a few people have it. And that is because money is a tool, nothing more. I mean, you can’t eat money, you can’t sleep with it, you can’t wear it as underwear very comfortably. And wealth, accumulation of money, is a bunch of tools. Now when one person, a carpenter for instance, has a bunch of tools, we don’t say to him, “You have too many tools. You should give some of your saws and drills and chisels to the guy who is cooking the omelets.” We don’t try to close the tool gap. – P. J. O’Rourke

Your thoughts, am I off base?


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