Wednesday, September 16, 2015

If It All Came Out Even

An unused remnant from my sermon research a couple of weeks ago stuck around in my head, a peculiar datapoint about faith, wealth and poverty.

It came out of my challenging an assumption I've had for a while about globalization.  My assumption, rather simply, had been this: the process of globalizing our economy means that the economies of formerly industrialized nations like the United States are slowly "leaking" into the broader world economy.

Meaning, in fifty years, there will be no difference between the average American and the average Indian.  Or the average Mexican.  Everywhere, the rich will be just as rich.  The global elite look pretty much the same, wherever you find them.  But the average person will have...well...what?

I looked around for the primary datapoint relevant to a globalized economy: the Global World Product.  How big is the planetary economy, when you fold in everything humans do everywhere?

It's not something that's regularly out there as part of conversation, as we still--stupidly--think in terms of nation-states and localized economies.

I found the data on Wikipedia, of course.  $87 trillion in US dollars as of the last year it was calculated, or so the impossibly vast numbers run.

As that's currently divided up, with the lion's share going to the rich, we know what it looks like.  But what if it was all divvied up equally?

I assumed that we'd all be barely above the poverty line.  From the grasping anxiety of my privileged position, I assumed it would be a disaster, because really, when you get down to it, surely there's not enough to go around.

What surprised me was that there is.

If we divided the Global World Product up even-steven, everyone getting exactly the same share, in 2014 my datasource tells me it would have come out to $16,100 United States dollars per human being.  That's sixteen thousand one hundred dollars per soul, $16k for every man, woman, and child on the planet.

Hey, you say.  I don't like the sound of that.  That information probably was fed into wikipedia from some commie leftist.  Bernie Sanders, most likely.

It's from the United States Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook.  Buncha pinkos.

Huh, I thought.  Because looking at my household, the four of us could live on that.  Sixty four thousand, four hundred bucks?  It's way less than we make now, but we'd get by.  Totally.  No problem.  Not so many years back, we had two kids, two nonprofit jobs, and made less than that as a family.

It'd get hard, as the boys grew up and moved on, but we'd figure out a way.  Life would go on.  We'd learn to work together, and how to pool our resources.  We'd neither freeze to death in winter nor starve.

For the average American, it'd be a hit.  At 2.58 persons per household on average, that yields an average household income of $41,538, about a 20 percent hit from our current average household average of $51,939.  Honestly?  Dude, that's completely doable.  Here in the DC area, where your debt dollars have fueled a huge surge in the cost of living, that might seem untenable.  But average folks in Alabama seem to manage it.

Because then I thought of the billions who do starve, the billions who struggle in backbreaking labor in dry, grudging fields.  I thought of those who work insane hours in the globalized factory floors of Asia, doing the work that used to provide for middle class American incomes for a tiny fraction of the wage.

For a Sudanese, what would $16,100 a year mean, if it was everyone in their household? It'd be ten times the average.  For a Bangladeshi?  Fifteen times the average.  For the average Chinese worker?  Four times as much.  It'd make the difference, night and day.

In the event the robots took over and imposed such a system, we'd pitch a major hissy.  It wouldn't be fair, of course.  What about the lazy goodfernuthin's who don't deserve it?  What about the vaunted creatives and producers?  Don't they deserve so very much more?  In the metric of our worldly economy, sure.  That's how they run this planet.

But I wonder if our resistance has to do with "fairness."  Does it reflect our real needs?  Or is it a factor of our jealous hungers, and the wild imbalance of our system?

And I was reminded of Jesus, asking us to pray for our daily bread, for only what we really need.  No, what we REALLY need.  Not our wants.  Not what we're used to, or have been taught to expect.

And I was reminded of Jesus, and that crazy commie story about laborers in the vineyard, the one he told about how in the Kingdom we're all the same.

Because the Kingdom economy and the economy of the flesh are very, very different things.


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