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Too Tall To Fail

"Luxury Crime" by Indonesian artist Agus Suwage.

"Luxury Crime" by Indonesian artist Agus Suwage.

One of the big problems that development specialists have with the “economic-growth” model that has dominated thinking for decades now (the idea that a country is healthy only if its economy is growing and the faster it grows, the better the country must be doing) is that it doesn’t take into consideration the problem of unequal wealth distribution.

And unequal wealth distribution is a problem that grows exponentially; after all, the old saying is definitely true that, all other things being equal, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Is it good news, as “The Economist” reports this week, that there are now more millionaires in the world (24.2 million) than there are Australians? Wealth tends to concentrate, and the globe’s tiny wealthy elite is taking more and more of the pie. That is the cover story of this month’s “Atlantic” magazine and it makes for some dismal reading.

“The Economist” – which cannot shirk its responsibility as one of the global cheerleaders for the blinkered thinking that got the world into a situation where billions suffer while a handful imagines ever more bizarre and disgusting ways to spend their money – reminds us this week of an image that the late Dutch economist Jan Pen used to help us visualize the state of the United States today:

Imagine people’s height being proportional to their income, so that someone with an average income is of average height. Now imagine that the entire adult population of America is walking past you in a single hour, in ascending order of income.

The first passers-by, the owners of loss-making businesses, are invisible: their heads are below ground. Then come the jobless and the working poor, who are midgets. After half an hour the strollers are still only waist-high, since America’s median income is only half the mean. It takes nearly 45 minutes before normal-sized people appear. But then, in the final minutes, giants thunder by. With six minutes to go they are 12 feet tall. When the 400 highest earners walk by, right at the end, each is more than two miles tall.

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