Wednesday, December 07, 2005

B: The richest in what

I have been thinking lately that the declaration people are always making on talk shows that we live in the richest nation in the world is pretty stupid. It is arrogant to point out if it is true, and I don't think you can make that statement without qualifying it. What does that really mean? Does it mean:

  • We individually enjoy the best standards of living in the world?
  • We each have the most servants?
  • We have elimnated poverty?
  • We have the most cash reserves?
  • We live the most fullfilled and enriched lives?
  • We take care of our sick and our old?
  • We give the most to charity?
  • We spend the most on our army or our government?
  • We give the most to charity?
  • We have the highest average standards of living?
  • We have the richest rich people?
  • We have the lowest level of debt?

I don't know how people are measuring that wealth because some of these statements are true, and some aren't. When middle class people come here from developing countries or even from developed nations they are sometime surprised at how much lower the standard of living is for middle class america. We have no servants, we work too hard, and we have very little free time. To these people wealth means luxury, and freedom. What does wealth mean to us? I am afaid we have come to measure our wealth soley based on our possesions. Maybe we are wealthier because our citizens don't have to work as servants, or that it would be too expensive to pay these people what they would deserve to be paid.

I am proposing what makes us wealthier as a nation is not the living conditions of our wealthy, or even our middle class, but the living conditions of the poor. Maybe our wealthy are wealthier than the third world countries, and our middle class is less so, but our poor are almost definitely better off than most developing nations. So my new yard stick for the wealth of a nation is going to be the living conditions of our poor.

I am not saying that we have an extreme poverty problem when compared to developing nations. That is just absurd. I am however suggesting that other nations viewed as poorer than us actually take better care of their citizenry than we do. Some would like to believe that wealth must be built on the backs of the poor, that the extent of resources is limited creating this division in the citizens based on their own levels of effort and circumstance. Analytically this is true and always will be, but I suggest that the true measure of a wealthy society, is it's ability to eliminate that dichotomy and increase the standard of living of all it's people.

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