For three weeks this past winter we toured parts of northern and western India. Ironically, in this land of widespread poverty we stayed in some of the most luxurious hotels we had ever experienced. Agra, best known as the home of the exquisite Taj Mahal, was the most poverty-ridden of the cities we visited, Mumbai, of Slum Dog Millionaire fame, notwithstanding. Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), we understand, is a helluva lot worse than Agra.
Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director. Photo – Wikipedia
India has more than one-and-a-quarter billion people, about four times the population of the United States. According to an article in the February 5, 2014 Times of India, the net worth of the billionaire community in this mostly poor country has increased twelvefold in 15 years. And according to former International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, that fortune is enough to wipe out poverty in India … twice over.
Sometime this century, India’s population will surpass that of China. Nigeria’s population will exceed that of the United States. According to the article, Lagarde made the point in a speech that young countries–Those with high percentages of young people–are seeing a “youth bulge” of almost three billion people under the age of 25, making up more than 40 percent of the global population. What this means is that, as the populations of developing countries expand, so do economic pressures.
Said Lagarde: “Some of the numbers are stunning—according to Oxfam (an international nonprofit that fights poverty and injustice) the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.”
One of the consistent themes in discussions of international economics is wealth disparity; the gap between the incomes of the haves and the have-nots. Which leads us to the inevitable question: With populations soaring, especially in poorer countries, and the wealthiest individuals increasing their financial resources in near-geometric increments, why aren’t world leaders putting population issues and income inequality on their front burners?
How can humanity achieve social and economic justice in a world that refuses to open its eyes to the realities of overpopulation?