Friday, July 7, 2017

wealthiest poverty in the world

Under a recent post calling into question the legitimacy of American exceptionalism, I commented that the US is exceptional in one particular way, generally considered positive.  We're number one in prison population, and military spending, but lots of people are against that.  The one thing we do clearly have going for us though, is that we are the wealthiest country in the world.

I was actually surprised how many people laughed at this.  We can bicker about whether it makes more sense to measure wealth per capita, or in total - but even per capita, the US ranks way up there.  It's simply a fact that this country is one of the wealthiest in the world.  I certainly didn't expect that to be so controversial that people would laugh.  

That's kind of shocking, right?  The wealthiest country in the history of the world has half its citizens thinking it's broke.  Literally, no money to do anything.  We're too poor.  I don't think people even understand what wealth means, let alone the national debt they claim to be so concerned about.

Some pointed to Dubai as an example of what wealth looks like, so this was my response.
 America doesn't spend its wealth on infrastructure or its people. It just redistributes it to the top, where the wealthiest people horde it. The way that they put it, they're allowed to keep their own profits, instead of being taxed - but where do they get those profits? From the American people, from workers to consumers.  
It's all part of the same economy, and by not paying into it enough, relative to what they're extracting, it makes America look a lot poorer than it is.  
Yeah, we could have cities like Dubai, but we don't. 

On the other hand, people take issue with the idea that anyone in America is really poor.  One posted an article about how many of these so-called poor people have cellphones and computers.  I've mentioned that I even had video games, growing up.  My parents were new to credit.  My father didn't seem to understand or care that they couldn't afford the things he bought.  Computer stuff, mostly.  At least we didn't live somewhere that throws people in prison or beats them to death for that sort of thing, right?

I think a lot of the issue isn't really just personal wealth, but how much spending there is on infrastructure, mass transit, public education, public places of all kinds.  In all of that, America has been on the decline for decades, because of the idea that wealth is personal, and those who have it should be able to keep it.  Well, turns out, they don't like spending on that sort of stuff, when they have jets and properties all over the world.  Personal wealth inequality makes the absence of public spending all the more glaring for those that don't have other means.

The inadequacy of a cellphone to substitute for luxuries like healthcare, education, or owning any land at all.  These things being much more expensive than a phone or even an old computer.  The problem is largely one of wealth inequality, where the richest Americans drive up the costs of everything.  In the US, a person can get a few hundred a month, which would be enough to live well in many places - but in the US, it's not enough to even pay the lowest of rent, let alone food, utilities, or anything else.  Simply having money is not wealth.  It's all about context, and what the wealth is worth, relative to everything else in society.

Wealth is a measure of the economy, the flow of goods and services, resources, labor, and consumers.  Wealth is nothing without the economy that gives it value.  Yet there seems to be this widespread belief that the more a person takes from the economy for themselves, the more they must inherently deserve it.  Americans think their country is poor, yet don't understand how national wealth has anything to do with those making millions of dollars from the rest of us.

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