mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

I'm rich! Now I'm going to go steal bread from starving children!

I'm rich. At least according to this calculator that someone posted in the off-topic forum of a deal discussion message board I frequent. I don't know how trustworthy it is - it's dated 1999, and the "main page" and "how you can help" links give me 404 Apache error messages.

What it seems to tell me is even when I barely had any money, I was an evil repressive capitalist pig, or something. I started out by plugging in my current income (including overtime) and got that I earn more than 99.1% of the population. I then ran it with my base salary, and found out that even without overtime I was stealing bread out of the mouths of 98.5% of the population.

So I decided to run some other numbers. I plugged in my income from about 5 years ago, when I was a college student whose sole source of income was a summer temp job in the mailroom of an insurance company. Even with an annual income generated by 12 weeks of opening mail and pulling files, I was richer than 81% of the world populations. Even if I had only made $1000 a year, I would be richer than 60% of the world's population.

Which tells me that this calculator is pretty much useless. If you live in a first-world economy like the United States, then income is a pretty valid measure of your level of comfort. (Even then it's not perfect - what will buy you a comfy house on a couple of acres in the midwest will get you a burned out shell in DC). But if you live in a really poor country - one where there really isn't an economy - it doesn't mean as much. If you are living in a country with no property rights, then you don't have to pay rent for the land you live on, because nobody owns it. (As Hernando DeSoto demonstrated, it also means your economy will have trouble expanding since nobody can use their property as collateral). If you grow your own food and barter, income doesn't matter as much. And if you live in a country like Russia, where much of the economy happens off the books, the official income figure is useless.

This isn't to say that there aren't people in the world who are desperatly poor. But the goal of sites like this seems to be to make those who live in the US feel guilty about their income level, and they do it by distorting what those figures mean. They also tend to do it by making it seem that the financial sucess of the U.S. is due to some accident, or by oppressing the rest of the world or the poor of the U.S., when in reality it's sucess is from having a reasonably correct level of government - a strong legal system and a fairly free economy. Once again, it's not perfect, but it's better than most. At the same time, many poor countries are poor in part from bad policies, such as attempts to expand government socialization, or by not having enough government to have a court system, enforce property rights, ect.


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