Extract from ‘The beguiling sins of industrial capitalism’

Ch 2:  A Haves and Have Nots World

A much greater hunger

In 1800 the world’s population was about 1.36 billion. If we are to believe statistical analysis, most people lived, in income terms, relatively similar lives.  According to Gapminder statistical analysis (admittedly conjectural, given that data before 1900 is ‘highly uncertain’) the world’s poorest countries in 1800 (most of them in Africa) had average incomes around $US 340 (Cape Verde) to $US 800 (Mauritius) a year, while the world’s two richest nations were the United Kingdom ($US 2,717 per capita) and the Netherlands ($US 2,412). Both of these are of course in Western Europe. The US (the world’s third richest country) had an average income of $US 1913. These statistics (all dollar figures are adjusted for inflation to 2005 purchasing power figures)  indicate that a person in the poorest country (Cape Verde) is 7.99 times poorer – on average – than a person in the richest, the United Kingdom. A gap exists but it is not that statistically significant. Most of the world’s wealthier countries are in Europe. Japan has an average income of $US 1055, China’s average income is $US 986, Australia’s is lower at $671, while India’s is $US 563…

In 2010 (population just under 7 billion), a person in the world’s richest country (Qatar – ah, the joys of oil wealth) had an average income of $US 93,818, while a citizen of the Democratic Republic of The Congo, the world’s poorest country, had an average income of $US 387. As such, a citizen in the Congo is 242.42 times poorer than a citizen of Qatar (and 80.95 times poorer than an average citizen in the UK, where the average income in 2010 was $US 31,330). The gap between rich and poor, between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has become statistically significant. (See Gapminder’s interactive graph Wealth and Health of nations at http://www.gapminder.org/world/ for a visualisation of the statistical development of this haves and have nots world.)

OPINION BOX:

F. Scott Fitzgerald was fascinated by the rich. Below is a paragraph from his 1925 short story, The Rich Boy.‘…Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. The only way I can describe young Anson Hunter is to approach him as if he were a foreigner and cling stubbornly to my point of view. If I accept his for a moment I am lost — I have nothing to show but a preposterous movie.’

Fitzgerald, F. S., (1925), The Rich Boy, retrieved from http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/f/fitzgerald/f_scott/short/chapter9.html

Interestingly, studies done by sociologists (see New Internationalist 459) seem to  accord with Fitzgerald’s idea that they are ‘different from you and me’.

 

National gaps

This disparity between rich and poor has not merely grown internationally; it has also increased within nations. Chrystia Freeland notes in her book, Plutocrats, The rise of the new global super rich (cited in the New Internationalist # 459, January February 2013, p. 23) that the average 1980 CEO in the US had a wage 42 times the average income in the country; by 2012, the multiple was 380. According to the UK’s Guardian (cited in the New Internationalist # 459, January February 2013, p. 23), there has been a 117% increase in wages for the wealthiest 1% of Brits (in real terms) since 1986, compared with an average wage increase of 47% for the rest of the population. The Poverty program [http://www.povertyprogram.com/statistics.php] estimated that, in 2011, 1 in 7 people in the European Union lived in poverty, while the ratio was 1 in 6 in the US.

One of the measures that can be used to assess equality of income distribution is the GINI coefficient. Multiplied by 100 it yields a figure which allows a ranking: the GINI index. The GINI index measures the extent to which the distribution of income or consumption expenditure among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution; countries are given a rating from zero (perfect income equality) to 100 (perfect inequality) [World Bank; http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI]. The Central Intelligence Agency publishes a ranking list of the GINI index which may be accessed at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html. China has relatively high levels of income distribution inequality, with a GINI index figure of 42.48 (2005) or 48.00 in 2009. (Figures are from, for 2005, Global Finance (see Global Finance; Wealth Distribution and Income Inequality by Country [http://www.gfmag.com/tools/global-database/economic-data/11944-wealth-distribution-income-inequality.html#axzz2LtZpdJtl] and from the CIA’s world fact book, for 2009.) The US GINI index, by comparison, was 45.00 (2007 – CIA figure), the United Kingdom’s was 34.00 in 2005 and Australia’s was 30.5 in 2006 (CIA figures). The GINI index lists Namibia as the world’s most unequal income distributor (70.7 in 2003) and Sweden as its most equitable (23.0 in 2005). In general GINI coefficient is larger when calculated before tax than when calculated after tax, indicating that the government has a role in most nations in income redistribution away from the very wealthy.

The world’s asset shares

The graph below indicates that the rich (liquid assets over $US 1 million) and super rich (assets over $US 50 million) possess about 83% of the world’s wealth. Those who are comfortably off have a little more than 14%, while the world’s poor get less than 3%. For an interesting alternative perspective on this wealth distribution, see  the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2011[https://infocus.credit-suisse.com/data/_product_documents/_shop/323525/2011_global_wealth_report.pdf] .

Image

[Statistics supplied by New Internationalist 459, January – February 2013, p. 22. ]

Now let’s examine the population breakdown for these groups.

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[Statistics supplied by New Internationalist 459, January – February 2013, p. 22. ]

SEE also Wealth Shares in 2011 by region, Credit Suisse Global wealth report, 2011, p. 9 and p. 14 {https://infocus.credit-suisse.com/data/_product_documents/_shop/323525/2011_global_wealth_report.pdf} ]

Less than 1 in a 100 people are super rich while only about 8 in 100 are rich. Nearly 70 in 100 people are less than comfortably off, according to these figures.

What are the consequences of these gaps, both internationally and nationally?

Here are some ‘facts and figures’; an examination of the consequences of a haves and have nots world.

Half the world’s population have total assets valued at less than $US 4,200. (Credit Suisse , Global Wealth Report, 2011, p. 9)

Half the world’s people own less than 1% of its wealth (op cit, p. 11)

At least 80% of the earth’s people live on less than $US 10 a day. (Global Issues, Poverty Facts and Stats, 2013 [http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats])

The World Hunger organisation estimates that around 925 million people went hungry in 2010. (World Hunger, 2012, 2012 World Hunger and Poverty facts and statistics  [http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm].)

A whole raft of ills

Apart from the obvious consequences…

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Little Hatshepsut

Like a miracle, a light rain had drifted in from the sea. The sea was a long, long way off and Ahmes looked at it as if it was strange emissary from Hapy[1].  Rain was rare in her world. Little pock marks on the river below her. It looked pretty but she still thought the rain was sad. It was also a little cold, and Ahmes retreated beneath the roof of the shrine… Still she could see the water below her.  The river did not mind the rain at all; it simply took those pock marks and swallowed them up. The river is, it just is, she thought… I should not be sad either.

But she was.

She sat in her family’s shrine on the low cliff above the river, a favourite spot of hers. From here you could watch the fishing boats with their nets or spearmen in the bow, or you saw a full moon ride the river and thought of sesame cakes and feasts when no work was done, or you could watch the river race and froth across the lowlands on the other side. It was Hapy’s gift; the flood with its rich silts and water. It grew the barley her family made into beer, the beer had made her family well to do and so they had a shrine to Hapy on the low cliff above the water near where they’d build their new house.

She’d come here, her face still stinging from her father’s slap, because here she was happy. She liked the river, with its eternal flow, its rages and its quiet times. She liked Hapy and always said hello to him when she came. Even now, with her red face and the ugly sound of her father’s ‘you will obey me’ ringing in her mind.

Ahmes felt a tear run down her face and rubbed it away with a grimace. She did not like the weakness of girls. Her older brother Mahsut never wept. Nor did her mother. She resented the tear, almost as much as her father’s brute slap… She closed her eyes and wished him gone, then opened them, afraid that Hapy or perhaps a more powerful god may have interpreted this as a prayer. She even smiled then for she did not want her father dead, merely replaced with a more understanding version.

The water below her looked uneasy. Perhaps it had been a crocodile. She could not be sure, but she knew crocodiles lived here. She was forbidden from descending the stairs cut into the cliff and going near the water. They’d lost a slave once. Memet, her younger brother, had come back with the tale; of a swirl, a cry, and a bubble of blood on the surface. The slave was gone and her father cursed the river. Now they used a long pole and counterweights to collect the water from below and then the water was carried up the stairs. The water for the house came from here; it was always fresh and cool even in the greatest of droughts. So her father cursed the expense but he built a safe way of collecting water. Slaves were too expensive to feed the crocodiles, her penny pinching father had said.

It was always money with him, Ahmes thought. And that was why he wanted her married to Nitocris, whose father’s shipping trade would expedite the growth of their business. Skinny Nitocris who whined and told on others and with a nose that always ran – sickly, infuriating Nitocris. She did not love him and in Egypt a woman could marry for love. Her mother had told her so.

‘I loved your father,’ she said, ‘when I married him.’

Why did she say loved, Ahmes had wondered… But she giggled and laughed with her mother’s remembered joy. Her father had been tall and proud, with a hawk’s eyes, and he had a good head for business, even then, and her mother, named Nephrasut, loved him.

Where did love go? Ahmes wondered.

She did not love anyone, certainly not another, which was what her father had suggested, but she was not some chattel of his to be sold in business. That was what she had said, and then, surprising them all, he had slapped her. Time had stood still and then she had simply turned and run. Her mother called out after her to stop, to wait… but she did not stop.

Her mother had called out Ahmes, a name she hardly ever used. For normally, in a kind of shared joke, Ahmes was Little Hatshepsut, in honour of the long gone pharaoh whom her mother said she resembled. When she was little, Ahmes had wondered if she looked like Hatshepsut, whose image it was hard to find [2]… But no, so her uncle told her, the resemblance was not physical. He’d laughed and said no more and little Ahmes had stamped her imperious foot…

She worked it out – the resemblance was her character.

‘Stubborn little Hatshepsut,’ she was when she stamped her foot, crossed her arms and said ‘no’, or ‘my wilful little Hatshepsut’ when she would not eat her dinner,  and ‘little queen,’ when her smile and honest laugh had won the heart of a trader in pots and stolen a good deal for her father.

‘Beware’ Nephrasut sometimes said, ‘for though we women in Egypt have a good life, it is still, in reality, a man’s world.’

And there, standing on the bank in the rain above the troubled river, she realised something else. Her mother must once have stood and looked down at some troubled place, just as she was now doing. And Nephrasut had known that you had to acquiesce… but she had still done it on her terms. It was all a compromise. Compromise, her mother had said, is a woman’s art.

 

 

And now that rare rain fell harder. Her heart felt broken all of a sudden for she knew what her mother meant. It was a man’s world. Her father’s world. Because it was good for business she would marry Nitocris and she would do so willingly. She might divorce him later, it is true, but the deal would first be stitched up with a marriage and at least one child for Nitocris’s father. The merchant’s dynasty would be assured. The men would go on. The women would take their offered freedoms… but in the end it was a man’s world.

The rain splattered in the quiet water of her family’s little bay beneath the shrine of Hapy. And a crocodile with just its snout and two yellow eyes showing, so Ahmes saw, looked up at her. The rain, rare inundation of the sky, fell harder.

The crocodile must think itself unobserved, Ahmes realised. It was taking a liberty in the rain-troubled water. Ahmes suddenly laughed out loud. So would she. She’d have her revenge on men before she fell in with their wishes and married repulsive Nitocris.

She peeled off her linen robe, wet now. She took the little knife that hung in the shrine and cut her arm a little. Blood dripped onto the linen dress, soaked in, turned pink with rain. It was only a little cut she’d made, and though it hurt she laughed as the last drips fell into her robe. She took it to the cliff and looked down at the place where, with a dimpled little wave, the crocodile had just disappeared … and she simply threw the robe into the air. It opened a little, fluttered like some wounded bird, then settled on the river’s surface. A swirl, a splash and the crocodile had it. It boiled and rolled and then let the cloth go. Waves washed it ashore.

Ahmes smiled and walked away from the river. She walked toward the desert but she was not going there. She knew a grove of dates where there were rushes to lie down and wait out the next day. On the next day she would be obedient and fall in with a man’s world but for now, for just a little while longer, she would be little Hatshepsut.

 

[1] Hapy was a minor god of Egypt, associated with the yearly flooding of the Nile. This was the inundation which brought Egypt’s prosperity.

[2] When Hatshepsut died, Thutmose III, who became pharaoh, had ordered her images and temples destroyed because he was angry that Hatshepsut had kept him from the throne. This is why Ahmes would have had trouble seeing an image of Hatshepsut.