Global inequality: Why 91% of the population gets a real raw deal

If you’re reading this, you’re actually in a pretty privileged position – and for once, that’s not just me being incredibly conceited about my writing. It’s statistical inevitability.

Because if you’re reading this, then you’re either using a computer, or holding a smartphone – that fact alone puts you well into the top 10% of the richest people on the planet. You made it, kid.

This excellent video from Hans Rosling for the BBC shows the average daily salary for the world’s seven-billion-strong population, and why it’s so hard, from our privileged position, to tell apart poverty from extreme poverty.

The video doesn’t show the granularity of that top one billion, of course. The average may be $100 per day, but towards the top of this scale, as Rosling touches upon in his video, there are people who can afford not just air travel for holidays, but space travel. How many exactly? This YouTube video does a good job of spitting out the data, but the screengrab below gives you an idea of just how uneven things are.inequality_graph

Serious enough to break our formatting, which is very serious indeed, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But that’s with our current population of seven billion, and procreation is as popular a pastime than ever. The United Nations reckons we’ll hit eight billion in 2024. We hit seven billion just four years ago, so things are moving fast. Here’s how we got to where we are now:

Global population growth
1974 4bn 
1999 6bn 
2024 8bn 

The worry about Earth becoming overpopulated has been around for centuries. The term “carrying capacity” was coined by Thomas Malthus to describe the problem in 1798, but writing around the one-billion point, he didn’t foresee the technological advances we’ve made that have made our exponential growth possible.

Still, as things stand, scientists agree that there must be a carrying capacity at some point. Ten billion is an estimate stated by some scientists, but that’s mainly based on food stocks and humanity’s continued failure to endorse vegetarianism. If climate change affects sea levels in the way scientists expect it to, things are likely to get even more crowded – especially when you consider that the rate of population growth is not even. As this chart from Wikipedia shows, the majority of population growth comes from the developing world:growth_developed_nations_developing_nations

To put that in perspective, between 1990 and 2010, while the United States population grew by 22.5%, the population of India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan and Nigeria moved by 40.2%, 41.3%, 30.3%, 55.3% and 62% respectively.  

With this uneven population growth, the kind of inequality mentioned in Hans Rosling’s video is really tough to tackle in any meaningful way, and the challenges of a more populous planet are something technology has a real challenge facing.

On the positive side, simple, cheap technology is doing amazing things at helping out in the developing world.

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