ABOUT OBSCENITIES, POVERTY AND INEQUALITY IN A CAPITALIST SYSTEM
(from Forbes Magazine 1997, and Human Developmen Report 1998)
(Summary prepared by Dr. Róbinson Rojas Sandford)
OBSCENITY NUMBER ONE: The ultra-rich
New estimates show that the world's 225 richest people have a
combined wealth of over $ 1,000,000,000,000, equal to the annual
income of the poorest 47% of the world's population (2,500,000,000).
The enormity of the wealth of the ultra-rich is a mind-boggling
contrast with low incomes in the developing world.
* The three richest people have assets that exceed the combined
Gross Domestic Product of the 48 least developed countries, with
a combined population of 585,000,000.
* The 15 richest have assets that exceed the total Gross Domestic
Product of Sub-Saharan Africa. The population in Sub-Saharan
Africa is 570,000,000 and its GDP (year 1995) was US$ 290 billion.
* The wealth of the 32 richest people exceeds the total Gross
Domestic Product of South Asia, with a combined population of
1,571 million and an aggregate GDP of US$ 439 billion (year 1995).
* The assets of the 84 richest exceeded the Gross Domestic Product
of China, the most populous country, with 1,200 million inhabitants
and a GDP of US$ 745 billion (year 1995).
Another striking contrast is the wealth of the 225 richest people
compared with what is needed to achieve universal access to basic
social services for all. It is estimated that the additional cost
of achieving and maintaining universal access to basic education
for all, basic health care for all, reproductive health care for
all women, adequate food for all and safe water and sanitation for
all is roughly US$ 40 billion a year. This is less than 4% of the
combined wealth of the richest 225 richest people in the world.
The country with the biggest share of the world's 225 richest people
is the United States, with 60 (combined wealth of US$ 311 billion),
followed by Germany, with 21 (US$ 111 billion), and Japan, with 14
(US$ 41 billion). Industrial countries have 147 of the richest 225
people ( US$ 645 billion combined), and developing countries 78
(US$ 370 billion). Africa has just two (US$ 3.7 billion), both
from South Africa.
The ultra-rich, by origin, 1997
Distribution Combined wealth Average wealth
of the 225 of the ultra- of the ultra-
richest rich rich
Region/country group people (US$ billions) (US$ billions)
United States 60 314 5.2
Germany 21 111 5.3
Japan 14 41 2.9
Other industrial countries 48 174 3.6
Eastern Europe and CIS 4 8 2.0
TOTAL INDUSTRIAL COUNTRIES 147 645 4.4
Asia 43 233 5.4
Latin America/Caribbean 22 55 2.5
Arab States 11 78 7.1
Sub-Saharan Africa 2 4 2.0
TOTAL DEVELOPING COUNTRIES 78 370 4.7
TOTAL WORLD 225 1,015 4.5
47% OF THE WORLD 2,500,000,000 1,015 0.0000004
Average wealth of the 225 ultra-rich US$ 4,500,000,000
Average annual income of poorest 47% US$ 406
OBSCENITY NUMBER TWO: The priorities of the capitalist system
ANNUAL EXPENDITURE IN US$
Basic education for all 6 billion (*)
Cosmetics in the USA 8 billion
Water and sanitation for all 9 billion (*)
Ice cream in Europe 11 billion
Reproductive health for all women 12 billion (*)
Perfumes in Europe and the USA 12 billion
Basic health and nutrition 13 billion (*)
Pet foods in Europe and the USA 17 billion
Business entertainment in Japan 35 billion
Cigarettes in Europe 50 billion
Alcoholic drinks in Europe 105 billion
Narcotic drugs in the world 400 billion
Military spending in the world 780 billion
* Estimated additional annual cost to achieve universal access to
basic social services in all developing countries.
SOURCE: Euromonitor 1997; UNDP; UNICEF; UNFPA 1994; Worldwide
Research, Advisory and Business Intelligence Services 1997;
Human Development Report 1998.