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You Are Incredibly Rich

Why you are incredibly rich

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:

Welcome to Burma?

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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27 Comments

  • Cheng says:

    I’m in the top 4.33%! And yet I feel so poor. It’s perspective I guess. The situation is what it is, but if I look at my situation from other perspectives, it’s interesting to see the change. Subjective reality perhaps? I guess I always knew that I wasn’t poor in the true sense of the word, but still, I don’t mind a slap of reality every now and then.

  • Sara says:

    The only thing I’ve never liked about the wage-comparisons to the rest of the world is that standards of living are so different for someone making $2/day in what we consider a third world country versus someone making $50/day in the US. $2/day in one country might be the equivalent of $75/day in another. It’s all relative.

    Just FYI, Chipotle vegetarian burritos have over 1000 calories and way more than the RDA of sodium. Go figure.

  • Rick says:

    I stumbled on the Global Rich List site about 6 months ago, and it was an awakening. I never would have guessed I had it that good. I never thought I had it hard (I have always been aware of how tough it can be in some of the countries you mentioned), but it was truly humbling to find myself just outside the top 10%. Another calculation after my upcoming career change puts me at just over 8% and after finishing a few months of training, at about 7%.
    I feel truly lucky to live in a country where I have the option of a career change to make my life more comfortable (and increase my charitable donations, thereby improving other less fortunate people’s lives).

  • Chris says:

    Hey guys, thanks for the comments. I will not have good email access this week (more on that later) but I will respond to all comments at the end of the week.

    In the meantime, please keep posting your thoughts. 🙂

  • Ryan says:

    Like you said, people are starting to look at alternatives. If they think the situation is desperate–which you point out that it’s not–but if people think it is then they will come up with all sorts of creative ideas and ways to save or make money. I think that’s great, whether it’s just riding your bike to work or taking the time to turn of your computer at night.

  • Psiplex says:

    In my case, it is my mental apprehension of wealth that is the pivotal point. I try not to define myself with what I have or don’t, and try to place my worth as a being in another light not aligned with ownership or lack thereof. The stress of losing what you have falsely attached by ego, to your self-image can be devastating. If you can work out the separation, life is better and less frought with burdens associated with making and keeping your nuggets.

  • Great post. Two years ago, in our kooky Canuk version of non-conformist living, my husband and I downsized and simplified and started going green, selling our house in the burbs of Toronto – giving away or selling about 85% of our stuff – for a simple little 500 sq ft place on Lake Huron we love.

    And I gotta say it’s amazing how much more life we have when we didn’t need to spend all our time making money for this keeping-up-with-it-all lifestyle we live.

    Having said that, the global wealth scale link was mindblowing. Yikes! If you’re feeling wealthier when you’re done, and a little charitable too, check out http://www.ModestNeeds.org.

    Oh, and anyone finding the whole comparison idea unfair (cost of living and all that) might find this interesting: http://www.storyofstuff.com. But buckle your seatbelt – it’s a trip too!

    But some trips are better taken than others…

    Lissa

  • Chris says:

    Hey everyone, I’m on vacation with the family this week and internet access is pretty much non-existent… but the vacation is great!

    On Friday morning I’ll be running a marathon in an unusual location, which I will reveal and write about on Monday when I’m back in Seattle.

    Oh, about Chipotle- yes, those burritos are no small snack! But when doing long-distance running, I usually eat 3,000-4,000 calories a day, and the combination of rice and beans makes a complete protein and carbohydrate source.

    OK, I am paying 55 cents a minute for a slow connection, so I’m logging back off– everyone else, please feel free to add more comments about the essay. 🙂

  • Well, this was a very intersting article and supports much of what I teach, which is life is a matter of perception. All we have to do is look at how other countries are doing compared to ours and take that little income comparison test to find out just how blessed we really are.

    I’d like to add something with a different twist here. As a writer who happens to maintain a blog (how’s that for wording?), I’ve learned through various sources including the Problogger book that only 1 percent of your subscribers will be active commentators. If that’s true, then I’m a very wealthy blogger because I am blessed with an active community of commentators. Depending on Feedburner’s mood, my subscriber count varies between 450 to 510. If you take 1 % of that, I’d be lucky to get 4 or 5 commentators per post. But I’m thankful that more than that participate at any given time.

    I don’t know about your stats but you certainly seem to have an active community here as well.

    The point? We are richer than we think even if we seem to have “so little.” The moment you widen your focus and perception, the more you realize you have it good.

    Great article! Reasonated with me, as you can see.

  • Chris says:

    @Everyone who is linking to the article,

    Thanks!

    @Stephen,

    That is great insight. Yes, blog participation in any form (comments, emails, links, etc.) is usually around 1% or even less. It’s like the 80/20 rule on steroids. But I also know that much more than 1% are active readers, and for years I read blogs and actively followed other writers without ever commenting or otherwise contacting them. Keep up the good work over there.

  • SunGirlTan says:

    OMG. I just did the wealth calculator on point 1. I’m top 11 percent and I’m a student!! My partner is top 0.59% – could be sick with guilt!

  • Reese says:

    Thank you so much for posting what has become a serious gripe of mine. It sounds like you’re in a similar boat: the more you see abroad/elsewhere, the more you realize just how incredibly well off we are in North America.

    Lissa, your links were great. This notion that an American is impoverished because he or she can no longer afford the rent-a-tv stuff bought on credit years ago is just baloney.

    I could really get going on a rant here, but I’ll keep it clean, and say to anyone living in North America that as bad as it might be, there are people living on far, far less in the rest of the world, and many of them are incredibly happy, relaxed and thankful for the lives they lead.

    Moving to a developing country (Malaysia) forced me to get rid of stuff; some expats move here with the whole house shipped with them, but we came with 4 suitcases. Cutting down on STUFF is liberating. WHen I purchase something (a service, an item, a coffee) I appreciate it more because it does not compete with my other “stuff” for valuation and attention.

    If the small kampong (similar to a tiny village, where the people don’t own the land, and at some point will likely be uprooted from the tiny dwelling they call home) near us is filled with such happy and kind people (who work 50+ hours a week and earn perhaps the equivalent of $200 USD a month), why are so many of us with much more fortunate circumstances complaining?

  • Justyna says:

    Wow, I am in the top 0.91%. It looks like I am super rich although I can’t stop worrying about money…but this is what happens when you live in one of the most expensive cities in the US – San Francisco. You can barely pay rent for that much money if you live by yourself. Being rich is truly relevant but this just reconfirms that I am very grateful for what I have.

  • enya says:

    wow! top 13%, and yet i feel so POOR!!! i keep praying and working towards making more money. guess it’s time to stop, think, and live gratefully! thank you for this.

  • like says:

    Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content.

    Please let me know. Thank you

  • Daleska Pedríquez says:

    Hey! I just stared to read your blog and i am from Venezuela and i was wondering if you ever visited here and what did you think about it. I know you probably wont answer but its nice to try. Lovely site, keep traveling i wish i could. Sorry for comment in the 2008 post, you mentioned Venezuela in here.

  • Pique Dan says:

    I searched for” I am rich” on Google and it showed me this article.
    Great points.I was out for my morning walk and saw a man sleeping in the streets.That was when I felt rich.Man I have everything.If that man can sleep so can I.

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