Is the World Too Prosperous For Its Own Good?


In the future, global prosperity will present more of a threat than poverty, according to a recent Post op-ed. Is this just rich-American rhetoric, or is the world really getting too prosperous for its own good?

Posted by Lauren Keane on January 22, 2008 10:36 AM

Readers’ Responses to Our Question (28)

JRLR :

Is there a prosperity dilemma? I very much doubt it.

Yet there are, no one can seriously dispute UN statistics to that effect: 1. an extreme world poverty problem that concerns the vast majority of mankind, 2. a major overdevelopment problem that concerns the happy few (the West, headed by the USA, to be precise), and 3. the fact that the latter problem is the cause of the former, as any assiduous student of both colonialism and imperialism has had the opportunity to review and to appreciate. If the vast majority of mankind has, so far, been “underconsuming”, it is in good part because it has been prevented from doing so by those happy few who, as Mr Gerson knows full well, have been themselves overconsuming… at their expense.

Michael Gerson himself states: “… America has only 5 percent of the world population while consuming 30 percent of global resources.” As expected, however, Mr. Gerson keeps conveniently silent on the methods the US has used, and continues to use, so as to appropriate 30% of global resources at other people’s expense. Despite the lack of historical and of socio-political perspective, Mr. Gerson’s statement is nonetheless clear enough, at least on what is the fundamental problem this world now faces, i.e. the fact that the obscene, non-viable overdevelopment of the happy few provides no adequate model for world development leading to global prosperity..

I agree with Mr. Gerson that those he calls “the rising billions” are currently giving pause to the happy few, for which they seem to have become more and more, lately, a serious cause of concern. Incidentally, this is a welcome occurrence, for it provides us with a healthy opportunity to reflect on the future of mankind.

It is worth repeating, I believe, what elementary mathematics show, i.e. that if only China, that is 20% of humanity, now wants and is in the process of acquiring its share of world resources proportionately to its weight and importance in this world, it means that at the US rate, China is entitled to claim for itself 150% of this earth’s resources. Not to mention that India, Russia, Brazil, and others too, want their fair share… Anybody can readily see, one imagines, that it is not any kind of “moral achievement” (as Mr. Gerson would have it), but elementary mathematics, plain and simple, that do “create strains and problems of their own”. Alas, ours is a finite world where resources are limited commodities.

Where does the world go, from here, has therefore become the fundamental question, the only one worth asking, which is why, presumably, it is so seldom asked and debated publicly.

It is no answer to keep claiming that the “rising billions” are not only the ones causing all sorts of problems, including our own (even in L.A., of all places!!!), but that, essentially, those rising billions ARE the problem. Not only are those claims silly, they are unlikely to lead us anywhere, more particularly as long as each and every American citizen continues to consume, to pollute and to waste world resources more than scores of its Chinese counterparts (or of those rising billions, wherever they be from), every minute of the day, including in most wasteful, destructive military adventures it cannot “win”.

We, who claim to lead, WE are the problem; not only are we the source of our own problems, we, the happy few, the overdeveloped, the predominantly obese, are the major source of the world’s. The fact that most of us do not even seem to suspect that we are the problem, only confirms how hopelessly we are it.

Meanwhile, the billions keep on rising, Go visit, investigate, read, study, reflect and see for yourselves! With an impressively healthy appetite, they are already sitting at the human family table, soon to tell us what we shall eat, drink, wear, drive, watch, etc., where we shall travel and where we shall go for medical treatment, what future this world will now be heading for, and in what languages all this will take place.

Anatole Kaletsky wrote, recently: we are witnessing “a decisive shift in the centre of gravity of the world economy towards Asia after five centuries of financial, economic and therefore political dominance by Europe and America.” (“The London Times” online, January 17, 2008)

That the happy few of this world feel threatened by the scope of those dominant trends is understandable enough. It is not that prosperity is threatening! After all, what is prosperity? To the rising billions, prosperity is not “oil, cars and air conditioners”, as Mr Gerson believes. To the rising billions, prosperity means moving away from destructive need, gaining access to a truly human mode of living, having at last the possibility of developing one’s full human potential, and ultimately reaching human fulfilment in one’s lifetime. If not for themselves, at the very least, that is what the rising billions want for their children.

The prospect of prosperity for those rising billions calls for us, the happy few, to develop a renewed world view, and to discover in that process unknown ways of thinking and of acting in our lives; for it is a new world that is now emerging, at an accelerating pace. Like it or not, want it or not, this is not about to stop anytime soon: those lagging behind are already rushing to follow suit behind the fast leaders who are hurrying up, ahead, impatient as they are, on that new Long (Forced) March, to be at the forefront of modernity, in the early twenty first century.

Technology will be needed, of course, just as alternate sources of energy are urgently needed, at present. Technology, however, is unlikely to provide us soon enough with what we need to alleviate all those gigantic problems we have left unattended for too long already. Above all, technology will not solve the fundamental problem, which is nothing short of the happy few having to share the world resources in an unprecedented way, in the history of mankind, i.e. with Mr. Gerson’s “rising billions”.

It is my opinion that the more we resist inevitable change on vital issues, as Mr. Gerson himself does in his very subtle way, at times, the more deeply we shall suffer, as the pain grows. Already, the planet is giving us unmistakable signs it will not tolerate our nonsense much longer. “Mother” Earth has no feelings. Should some of us prefer to avoid having to learn the way dinosaurs and fossils have learned, i.e. the hard way, it is high time they indicate what they believe is the way to our collective future.

We are billions.


MikeB :


Hogwash! I have been writing to this forum for nearly two years now predicting the mess we are just entering into. Lou Dobbs and others have been talking about it for a lot longer than that. This is no normal "recession". We WILL NOT be recovering from this. Our problems are many, but the chief one affecting our economic future is that we have outsourced the production capacity and squandered the technical advantage we had. It's gone and it is not coming back. For the past 10 years, beginning under the CLINTON administration, we embarked upon an insane guest worker program (the H1-B and L-1 visas) that saw over 30% of our own engineers, scientists, and computer programmers being displaced by cheap young Indian and Chinese workers. As the children of those laid off engineers saw their parents loosing their jobs, they avoided those fields of study in college. Moreover, even if someone wanted to get into one of those programs, they could not and cannot! Over 50% of the slots in our engineering, science, computer, even medical programs are allocated to Chinese and Indian students here in blocks from their countries! For the universities, they receive up to four times the tuition and fees for those students, and avoid the headaches of finding financial aide for the American students. Moreover, "multiculturalism" or "better qualified" provide useful excuses for passing over U.S. citizens. Never mind that these programs are critical to this nation's survival, that education is a national security issue.

The end result of has been that we lack the technical capability to even reproduce that infrastructure if we so desired. In even more bad news, it has become apparent that the voting public has elected to form circles and drink poison cool aid. Romney and Clinton, the most likely nominees from the Republican's and Democrats are both true believers in "globalization", or at least richly rewarded for supporting that gigantic Ponzi Scheme.

The net result of this is that the U.S. has no future. There is a critical two year window, one that has been written about repeatedly, that we are entering into. By the time we get rid of the disastrous Bush-Cheney Administration and just about one year into the new (likely) Clinton Administration, the wheels are going to fall off and this country is going to simply and completely collapse. The economies of China and India have become completely dependent upon our insane "take" on free trade and they are not going to go gladly off the economic cliff with us. They own enormous parts of our infrastructure and hold huge U.S. cash reserves. They will use that the lever every last concession from this country, bleeding us dry in the process. Once that happens, look for some sort of useless (but violent!) backlash - China to invade Taiwan and expel any U.S. military presence from their new sphere of influence in the Far East, India to form alliances with Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. Too, global warming will have a part to play as the glacial fed rivers of Asia simply dry up as the melting glaciers recede and disappear (Beijing, Calcutta, most of the large population centers of Asia depend upon water from glacial fed rivers and those flow is already being effected). The inevitable result, however, is war and chaos, devastation on a level not seen in human history….and the end of this country.

Everyone is familiar with the old phrase “history repeats itself”, but few actually seem to believe it. The tragedy being played out here is that of Rome, of pre-revolutionary France, when they gave free reign to their wealthy, their businesses, and they embarked upon the same “free trade” policies.

berry, ecuador :

Prosperity?

I am not a wealthy person, at all. But I have been to Washington DC a couple of times, first as a foreign student, and later as a professional participating in an conference about international development.

Washington DC suffers the same "Prosperity Dilemma": there is absolute luxury at those offices, exquisite food at those hotels, state-of-the-art technology at those impressive conference centers; then, you walk around the city and you find countless beggars and homeless people. Near Dupont Circle, I was assaulted by a beggar who was happy to get my lunch bag and a few coins.

If Mr Gerson doesn't understand why poverty remains a big problem at the heart of Washington DC, then it's silly to expect him to understand larger phenomena regarding poverty and prosperity around the world.

Halo :

Capitalism DOES mirror evolution in that it is survival of the fittest. Socialism is for lazy people that are afraid to try and achieve on their own. Communism, at the worker level, is for deluded people that have no real understanding of human nature. 1000 years ago 6 billion people wouldnt not have been possible at the level of technology available.Who can say what is possible even 100 years from now? Humans are survivors. We didnt get to the top of the food chain by being afraid to achieve. I think we will do just fine.

Dwight :

with prosperity everyone on the planet wants what they see on tv, home comfort, cars, etc...the more people that want it the more they have to build and the more resources have to be wasted.

soon enough in the not so near future, the cost of this prosperity will cost the lives of half the people on this planet, the earth simply cannot sustain them and the earth has taken care of them.

hopefully it will not be too late for the rest of us.

Occom :

There is one economic truth that is universal in all economic systems. If everyone has money then money is worth nothing. That being said we can breakdown the three primary economic systems: communisim, scocialism and capitalism.
Communism is a concept that is completely counter to the basic instict that has been engrained in us for millions of years of evolution. Self preservation. Every person inately looks after their own needs before looking after others (even if it is at the subconcious level). A communist scociety forces one to look after everyone else first in hopes that they will be looked after in return. In order for it to work everyone must buy into the system whole heartedly. As soon as one person has reservations the whole system starts to degrade and will eventualy collapse (reference the USSR). Socialism is a concept in that the people invest in the government and in turn the government invests in the people (communism by proxy). This is an easier concept for the psyche to buy into. A person only has to put faith in one entity (the government). However the problem here is that it is only sustainable as long a the birth rate and death rate remain even. If the birth rate exceeds the death rate then the population expands and the number who require help from the government will out pace the number of people who can invest into the government and ecomony will eventually bankrupt (there are serveral European countries that are now starting to feel the squeeze). Capitalism is the only self sustaining economic engine. It mirrors the natural world. Survival of the fittest. Those who are most able to ADAPT to the changing world are the ones who benefit the most. Those who can't adapt are left behind. Simple isn't it? Now here's the catch. like in nature, with each advance the percentage of people who naturaly move on will shrink eventually reducing to zero. In the natural world we call this extinction. In the economic world we call this the collapse of a civilization. In order to prevent this, those who do move on have moral obligation to devote some of their resources to help those who struggle but are willing to adapt make the transition and carry forward. At the same time, however harsh, those who are not willing to adapt must be cut loose to ensure the health of the whole.

Tim_G :

Prosperity seems to require consuming a lot of energy. If there were only 1 or 2 billion people instead of 6.6 and rising, expected to reach 9 billion in 2050, everybody could live well and the environment could also be protected at the same time.

My proposal: Educate and empower women. Let them have lucrative professional careers and control over whether and when they will have children, and how many. Most developed countries with a certain level of women's rights have birthrates less than 2.1, which is replacement level.

Once the population is down to a balanced sustainable level, increase incentives again to have children such as subsidies for parents and for childcare services.

gedamg :

There is a crisis of prosperity only if one assumes that prosperity requires the same extent of wastefulness as we (in the US) exhibit. However, it is possible to be prosperous and not be wasteful. That is our challenge.

anjanaya das :

Thanks, James B, for explaining the simple truth!

And thanks for the apology in advance, that kind of unvarnished truth can really sting. I have no idea what you think you're talking about, but I do have a favorite in mind when your holy, Invisible Hand comes to relieve us of one of the mouths we feed with what we grow.

Promise not to weep or try and defeat your human mortality. Please, more about entropy!

anjanaya das :

Thanks, James B, for explaining the simple truth!

And thanks for the apology in advance, that kind of unvarnished truth can really sting. I have no idea what you think you're talking about, but I do have a favorite in mind when your holy, Invisible Hand comes to relieve us of one of the mouths we feed with what we grow.

Promise not to weep or try and defeat your human mortality. Please, more about entropy!

Yousuf Hashmi :

The important part of this question is that by what angle you see this issue.

If you are a socialist then of course it suits all your ideas and theologies. the world should have equal distribution of wealth and no question of rich and poor should be raised.

the problem is that this idea was rejected by the followers of those people who gave this theory.

If you are living in G8 country then of course you can just shrugg off the question outright. For you as long as you have strong currency in your hand you have a divine right to use all the resources of the planet earth and distribute them at your wish.

Again the problem is not so simple the 90% of world population now is not ready to buy these ideas.

If you are living in a thirld world country ruled by incompetent , and corrupt governments then it suits the ruling elite. for all the sufferings to the nation the blame can be put on faulty economic indicators.

Again the awareness in middle class is spreading so fast that they can undersand the motive behind.

But we need the solution to this serious problem. No doubt that the difference between rich and poor is increasing so fast that a revolution bound to come in near future.

Again we are coming to the days of kings and queens where for one bath honey and roses were used and outside the people were starving for one hand full of grain.

Today the world leaders are meeting in Devos. I do not know what they will talk. but definately there will be a line of luxury cars, most epensive cuisines highest quality of dresses and ultra luxarious environment.

Definately when you are in such paradise you can not think that on this planet earth still the majority of population have no access to one tablet of Aspirin .

So writing one good Op-Ed column is just part of the job for which the writer should be appreciated and that is all . close the topic . shut the door. now a days lot of virus are emerging from the slumps.

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Unamerican :

Let me write down what we all know.

The problem, possibly horrid things, will come
when the disparity in incomes...in the

UNITED STATES...
"that grand democracy" become too large for the former middle class to put up with.

The current problems stem from GREED ON WALL STREET: the mortgage bankers, the buy out artists, the hedge funds--and the $70M bonuses and PENTHOUSES that are the all too obvious reward for the few.

It is disgusting. Obscene. UnAmerican at least.
And the fed chairman and the first words out of the governmenet are protecting Wall STreet, rather than the American people.

But of course. The media, same ilk, don't tell the truth about it all. Just scream for more bailout. Wouldn't it be wise to
start talking about it, at the very least???

tunatofu :

I dont think the issue is really about being "rich" but about everyone being "equal" - obviously we would rather be rich than poor so the assumption is that we will all be equally rich.

But...Let's be honest - there will never be "equality" - there will always those who will have and those who will have not. People are rich or poor for a variety of reasons - not all of them "fair". Some folks work hard, some dont work at all. Some cant get ahead no matter what they do, others just draw money in like a magnet.

I hope to be rich, I hope to leave enough money for my son to be rich and all my grandchildren through the ages to be rich. It just isnt human nature for me to wanting to be poor or have less so that that someone else can be equal or rich. I would neither deny or promote the third world kids having their little green laptops - I am too busy getting a computer for myself and my own kid to care.

John Bailo :


You know that old saying about getting what you wish for...well, my life proves the opposite. At various times I've gotten what I asked for, and you know, it felt pretty good! I was more miserable when it was taken away...shades of the handiwork of George Spiggott from "Bedazzled".

However, there are a whole lot more things that I didn't explicitly ask for that I got that have made me wonderously happy! A son. A new bicycle path I found on Sunday. The Indian Combo all you can eat lunch buffet on Kent East Hill.

So, dealing with the 3% who own 84% is a mixed bag. A linear thinker would be wanting to even that out. On the other hand, I went to a very expensive Ivy League college which was loaded with very wealthy progeny...many of whom were complete mental cases.

Diversity is good, even in wealth. And eventually Darwin takes over and culls the high and the low and things tend to the mean....or, favors one or the other and everything gets bigger or smaller.

egalite :

profit is inherently unfair; poverty is fair. the kind of poverty we see in third world nations isn't poverty, it is undue exploitation without reciprocation in the name of profit.

hinamanu :

Historically, politicians have stated money doesn't solve problems. Naturally they don't state that as public policy, but it is their excuse for keeping large numbers of the populace within the margin.

Of course the Iraq war has proven without a shadow of doubt politicians will use money destructively before constructively.

Where ever there's a war you'll find Republicans.
A vote for the Republican party is always a vote for war. Obviously I could go on and on. The rhetoric expounding the wastage and shallowness of Republican ideals is predictable to a lamentable degree. One word to sum up neo con philosophy is simply; obscene.

Wealth is not going to be an inherent factor of the future and raising this debate is surreal, irrelevant and profoundly insulting. Donald Trump speaks of the demise of the middle class and a huge divide between wealthy and poor. Fiscal empowerment is the direct target of the neo con establishment that will gradually diminish middle America until a political power base to the right is firmly and fundamantally entrenched.

The stock market plunges now being experienced have to some how tie in with the Bush administrations huge deficit blow out and irresponsible, undisciplined spending and borrowing over Iraq. If the Republicans are not punished for their overt treasonous policies that could take a generation to heal, this November, America has only itself to blame for being fools in their hearts to each other and before their creator.

hinamanu :

Historically politicians have stated money doesn't solve problems. Naturally they don't state that as public policy but it is their excuse for for keeping large numbers of the populace within the margin.

Of course the Iraq war has proven without a shadow of doubt politicians will use money destructively before constructively.

Where ever there's a war you'll find Republicans.
A vote for the Republican party is always a vote for war. Obviously I could go on and on. The rhetoric expounding the wastage and shallowness of Republican ideals is predictable to a lamentable degree. One word to sum up neo con philosophy is simply; obscene.

Wealth is not going to be an inherent factor of the future and raisng this debate is surreal, irrelevant and profoundly insulting. Donald Trump speaks of the demise of the middle class and a huge divide between wealthy and poor. Fiscal empowerment is the direct target of neo con establishment that will gradually diminish middle America until a political power base to the right is firmly and fundamantally entrenched.

The stock market plunges now being experienced have to some how tie in with the Bush administrations huge deficit blow out and irresponsible, undisciplined spending and borrowing over Iraq. If the Republicans are not punished for their overt treasonous policies that could take a generation to heal this November, America has only itself to blame for being fools in their heart to each other and to their creator.

karhu :

A research team at the University of California, Berkeley, has released a study (The Ecological Footprints of Nations) that assesses comparatively the ecological costs of human activities.

The study (The Debt of Nations and the Distribution of Ecological Impacts from Human Activities = http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0709562104v1 ) appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition: January 22, 2008.

This pioneering study focused on whether and how environmental damage caused by developed nations disproportionately impacts poor nations.

The global accounting study of the dollar costs of countries’ ecological footprint estimates that costs incurred by poor nations exceed their combined foreign debt.

what a moron :

Go read the world is flat


Jeff :

Material things are extremely important. We saw this with Katrina. Hurricanes that strike Central America often kill hundreds if not thousands. Homes collapse, mudslides happen, people are trapped and have no means of evacuation, etc. etc. In the US the same storms kill very few.

"Intangible development" etc. is nice to have, but money is sort of like air - when you have enough, it doesn't matter how much. When you don't have enough, it's a time of desperation. It's hard to develop one's soul when your house is being blown into flinders because it wasn't built to a high enough standard.

Economic prosperity is a positive-sum game, by the way. When people trade, they are both generally better off than before.

AMviennaVA :

There is a crisis of prosperity only if one assumes that prosperity requires the same extent of wastefulness as we (in the US) exhibit. However, it is possible to be prosperous and not be wasteful. That is our challenge.

James Buchanan :

And now the simple truth emerges again. Economic prosperity is a zero sum game. Actually, its even worse than that, given that resources consumed aren't easily replaced. Entropy's a witch, ain't it?

Now the bleeding hearts will come screaming about sharing or some such tripe. Damn, those tears will taste sweet.

Sorry, but those on top are going to do whatever it takes to stay on top. While India and China might have emerging middle classes, its only a fool who imagines that that prosperity is going to reach even a modest fraction of the two billion people in those countries.

Communism and Socialism have been repeatedly demonstrated to be grossly ineffective systems of resource distribution, because to work, they must exist in a culture that places no value at all on individual prosperity. There isn't a nation in existance that fits that bill.

The bottom line is that there are too many people playing the game of life. Six, nearly seven billion people consuming resources. Too many by any measure. We'd be better off if defeating human mortality were a lower priority and there were fewer mouths to feed with what we can grow. The West avoided the resource trap because prosperity translated into lower population growth, and even contraction in some areas. If these developing nations continue to explode, the population bomb may just go off, and no amount of resource distribution efficiency will save them.

RAS :

The article that spurred your question came from the pen of the pusillanimous hypocrite Michael Gerson, who spent six years pimping for the Bush administration (before rushing for the exit ahead of the remaining fools).

Nothing written or espoused by Gerson deserves even a moment's serious thought.

Dismiss it instantly as the meaningless pap it is and move on to something that might have a shred of credibility and common sense.


Antoinette Green :

Any thing in a person's hands that they are not taught to respect or simply use as a tool, can be a threat or outright poison to them and everything around them--Money has claimed that title for many people.
Our society thrives on the notion of gaining more stuff because it gives the false idea that stuff will make us happier, more powerful or more fulfilled. Not so.

We have to realize that they intangible development of our character, heart and spirit will always reward us with those 'things' that are most priceless

Recent Comments

  • JRLR:
    Is there a prosperity ...
  • MikeB:
    Hogwash! I have been ...
  • berry, ecuador:
    Prosperity? I am not ...
  • Halo:
    Capitalism DOES mirror...
  • Dwight:
    with prosperity everyo...
  • Occom:
    There is one economic ...
  • Tim_G:
    Prosperity seems to re...
  • gedamg:
    There is a crisis of p...
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