If you’re reading this essay, I have some good news for you today: the odds are that you are very well-off in the financial sense. In fact, in case you’ve never realized it before, you are incredibly rich. Surprise!
You may not have realized how rich you are, so I thought I’d show you how it breaks down in real, measurable terms. And don’t worry—there are no guilt trips or anything messy like that. It’s all good news, at least for you.
But first, a breaking story—apparently, you are not rich at all. Sorry for misleading you with the introduction. In fact, all of us here in the land of too much have suddenly become very poor.
If you’ve watched the news recently, then you probably know this already. You remember, that housing crisis that has forced all of us into homelessness. The stock market that refuses to behave (isn’t it supposed to keep going up?). The $4 gas that makes us begin to consider alternative transport for the first time.
Hey man, can you spare any change?
Yes, poverty has struck middle-class America, followed by the other middle-class people around the Western world who look here for their economic cues.
At my local Chipotle restaurant, they are apparently feeling the pain too. Prices are up and the formerly enormous portions have shrunk. When I asked why my vegetarian burrito is more expensive, they were prepared with talking points.
“Oh, well, we are using organic chicken now which is better for the environment.”
Go figure that one out.
So yes, it’s all so bad out there. What’s an iPod-listening, city-dwelling, world traveler to do?
“Though we are poor…”
If you’ve been to a few church services in your life, you may think you know where this is going. You think I’m going to say that even though times are hard and we are financially poor, the many other good things in our life are enough to make us spiritually rich, so let’s all hold hands together, blah blah blah.
I’ve heard that one a few times too. But guess what? It’s great that all is well in the spiritual camp, but that has nothing to do with what I’m writing about right now from my seat on a nice Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to the U.S.A.
What I am talking about instead is that the vast majority of people who read this essay will also be extremely well off in the material sense. College students and starving artists, you are not exempt from this. Readers in India and Jordan, at least those who read English and use computers, you are not exempt either. And for everyone else, we are definitely in the wealth club, even if we aren’t lottery winners.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet that more than 97% of the people on the other side of this screen are extremely rich, including groups that traditionally like to think of themselves as poor, as well as my friends in most places of the world.
How is this possible?
Reality Check #1
Have no fear, because I’ve prepared a good reality check for you today. First of all, go take a look at this great site, GlobalRichList.com. Put in your income (no one will keep the data and they don’t know who you are), and see where you stand in comparison with the rest of the world.
Chances are it will be fairly enlightening no matter who or where you are. Check out these comparisons:
In the $2 a day range, life is not bad. You’re getting by OK. So if you’re reading this on your 20″ monitor and only make $2 a day, well, that’s not great, but it’s OK. You are richer than 60% of the world.
If you are fortunate to make $5 a day, WHOA. You are on the road to wealth. Your children will probably not die from malaria. You are richer than 80% of the world, and you might be able to get a cell phone.
I’m not entirely sure, but I have the suspicion that some of you guys might actually make really big bucks, which is ten times the $5 a day folks, or a whopping $50 a day. Here’s how that works out, along with numbers for the super-wealthy who make $75 or $100 a day:
$50 a day = ($18,250 / year) = Top 11.53%
$75 a day ($27,375 / year) = Top 8.69%
$100 a day ($36, 500 / year) = Top 4.18%
As you can see, life is pretty good. And if you’re reading this, the chances are that you are in the incredibly rich category of the 80th percentile or higher. But wait! It gets better.
Reality Check #2
Sorry to bring this up; I know we would all rather not think about it. I’ve promised not to guilt trip anyone, and that promise is still in effect, but I’ve also promised to present the unblemished truth.
You know all of those places we only hear about when something bad happens? Another day, another earthquake… or was it a flood this time, or maybe a civil war? It’s kind of a drag to watch that stuff when you’re at the mall.
See, I know it’s no fun when our McMansions are in foreclosure and Seattle condos still start at $350k. But we’re not dying over here. No one is burying thousands of people in unmarked graves. Seriously, that’s what they are doing to the China earthquake victims.
As inefficient as our government may be, at least you can say that they are not prohibiting food aid from coming to our poorest people. Burma should be a relatively prosperous country, just like the others in its neighborhood (Thailand, Vietnam, India), but instead it is a desperately poor country because of the actions of its government.
When I visited Burma 18 months ago, I was greeted by this friendly welcome sign, thoughtfully provided by the kind officials there:
Image by DC – Click to enlarge
The text reads, in part, “[It is the] people’s desire to crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy.”
I’m not sure who runs the tourist board of Burma, but they certainly have a different approach to hospitality than, say, New Zealand.
Keep all of this in mind the next time you’re in a discussion about whether our Western nations are truly democratic or not. Whatever problems we may have, I can assure you that you would probably rather live where we are than in a thugocracy like Burma.
$11 a Gallon vs. 14 Cents a Gallon
One more story before we wrap it up.
A friend of mine just came back from a long trip to England and filled up his S.U.V. at a gas station. He was amazed at the price he paid.
“$4.18 a gallon!” he said. “That’s incredible!”
He could hardly believe the bill… which was exactly HALF of what he had been paying over in England. Across the water, gas costs $8.20 a gallon.
In Scandinavia, it’s the same – about $8 a gallon.
In Turkey, it’s even worse — $11 (!) a gallon. No kidding, really.
(Of course, you could also live in Venezuela, where gas costs 14 cents a gallon. But like Burma, you probably don’t want to live there for a lot of other reasons.)
Anyway, it’s just something to think about. Which reminds me…
Other Things to Think About
Yes, the downsizing economy affects many of us. As for me, I have taken to sleeping in airports in Europe and drinking more Nescafé instead of cappuccinos. Life is really hard.
I am not suggesting we nationalize the Coca-Cola company and send the money to Bangladesh. I am suggesting that we stop complaining.
In other words, go out there and drink those lattes like a good citizen. Just don’t take them for granted.
By the way, how does it feel to be so rich?
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Image by Sharyn