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A strange silence seems to have descended over blogdom, or at least my little corner of it, of late. I myself, who was blogging madly for most of the month, have put up nothing in over five days. My friend Davey, who used to be a little blogging machine, has put up nothing at theopolitical in more than ten days. Little of interest has reached me from any other corner. Moreover, there has been virtually zero comment activity on my more recent posts. All very odd. Could this be the calm before some great blogospheric storm? I definitely have a few big-time thunderbolt posts rumbling in the background of my mind right now, waiting to be unleashed. But for now, I thought I'd do something rather unlike myself, and post all about statistics.

See, a friend of mine was telling me all about this book, and these statistics, which proved that globalization was, in fact, the global poor's best friend, and that it narrowed the gap between the richest and the poorest, instead of widening it. I was quite skeptical, as everything in my Theology and the Global Economy class seems to take for granted that the opposite is true, and that globalized capitalism is helping the rich increase their comparative advantage over the poor. But, I followed the link to the super-cool statistics site, gapminder.org, to which I was urged by my friend, and found that, in fact, the statistics demonstrated the exact opposite: the gap between the richest and the poorest countries has widened vastly over the last 200 years.

My methodology was quite simple--take the GDP per capita of the poorest country in 1800, in 1850, in 1900, in 1950, and in 2007, and compare that with the GDP per capita of the richest major country (excluding, e.g., Qatar) at those times. Now, of course, these countries were not the same in each time frame--this is not to say that there was no upward mobility among some countries that were originally quite poor, it is not to say that globalization cannot facilitate improvement. The question is whether it works to bring the countries of the world into greater equality of income, or into greater inequality. Apparently, the latter.

Here are the stats: In 1800, Guinea-Bissau had a per capita GDP of 289; the Netherlands was 2659. Ratio: 9.2/1
In 1850, Guinea-Bissau was at 285; Netherlands at 3417. Ratio: 12.0/1
In 1900, Guinea-Bissau was at 276; UK led at 6284. Ratio: 22.8/1
In 1950, Guinea-Bissau was 284; US led with 12,922. Ratio: 45.5/1
In 2007, Congo was lowest at 358, and the US had 42,952. Ratio: 120.0/1

Now, lest you say that Guinea-Bissau and Congo are just odd outliers, and are to blame for their own backwardness, how 'bout we use the bottom quintile of nations, compared to the richest? Here I can just give approximations right now, but here they are:
The ratio is 5:1 in 1800, 7:1 in 1850, 10:1 in 1900: 16:1 in 1950, and 40:1 in 2009.

Now, one can argue that this is not morally significant, for various reasons, or one may appeal to Mark Twain's excellent remark about statistics (of which I am generally quite a fan). But if you appeal to statistics, then to statistics you must go.

8 comments:

Silence? Clearly, you missed this: http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/10/26/geocities.closing/index.html?eref=rss_tech

An article, but nonetheless, quite titillating.

October 30, 2009 at 4:01 AM  

Now, one can argue that this is not morally significant, for various reasons

Right. What is morally significant is the material well-being of the global poor, in absolute terms, regardless of how that wealth compares with other nations. That said, the fact that there is such gross inequality strongly implies, to me at least, that the wealthier nations have the capability to be doing a lot more to aid impoverished people around the globe.

October 30, 2009 at 8:03 PM  

Donny, actually I did see that. Sorry I forgot to mention it.

David, I happen to disagree; such growing inequality seems very difficult to reconcile with a Christian understanding of justice, and historically, the facts seem to amply justify the hypothesis of injustice, though that's another post, to be sure.

November 1, 2009 at 2:31 PM  

So what would be your understanding of Christian justice? Does it require one to share one's wealth out equally? That seems more like mercy to me, if anything. Justice would seem to be more of a "the wicked punished, the good rewarded."

~Laura R.

November 2, 2009 at 2:16 AM  

Apology accepted.

November 2, 2009 at 9:39 PM  

Hey Laura,
A very sharp question. I am far from having a clear answer yet on the relationship between love (the heading under which "mercy" would fall) and justice; although I have recently started paying close attention to the matter. I actually have a friend here who is doing his Ph.D on the relationship between justice and love, particularly with reference to politics and economics.

Of course, one might ask whether it really makes much difference--the natural virtue of justice, as Aquinas and the tradition following him has taught, is perfected in the theological virtue of love, so that Christians should never see their task as merely one of pursuing justice on its own, but its perfection in love and mercy.

But even in the arena of justice, the tradition has distinguished between commutative justice, which is concerned with a just transaction, the giving of each what is due to him, and distributive justice, which is concerned with a fair and proper distribution of resources. Or, we might say, commutative justice is concerned with just process; distributive justice with just result. Traditionally, Christianity has insisted that both fall under the heading of justice. Capitalist modernity has espoused only commutative justice, and oddly, conservative Protestantism has broken with the rest of the Christian tradition and followed suit.

November 3, 2009 at 2:18 PM  

Did you take into account in your calculations the fact that in 1800, in what is today known as the "Third World," the people doing all the gross national producing were colonials and local power-brokering fat-cats, who left the common people in the lurch?

December 23, 2009 at 5:12 PM  

Did you take into account in your calculations the fact that in 1800, in what is today known as the "Third World," the people doing all the gross national producing were colonials and local power-brokering fat-cats, who left the common people in the lurch?

December 23, 2009 at 5:12 PM  

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