January 23, 2019

Seven Billion and Counting

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Recently a good friend of mine said that there are “too many” people in the world. This made me think of a blog I wrote two years ago about the world’s population hitting 7 billion. If you look at this population clock, you will see that the world’s population is now about 7.2 billion. My friend would probably be alarmed by this number, but I’m not. What troubles me is the inequitable distribution of resources.

There are plenty of resources in the world to provide a decent standard of living for all, but the problem is that they are not distributed equitably. In the market system individuals with highly desirable and rare skills, e.g. surgeons or professional footballers, are well-rewarded in the labour market, while those with no skills to offer receive no income at all.

Globe showing Asia - Satellite image - PlanetO...

Photo credit: PlanetObserver

The same principle applies to countries. Some have lots of resources which are valued in the global market. Think of Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth, or Germany’s highly productive and innovative workforce. Others have little in the way of natural resources and a low level of productivity. Those with little to offer end up very poor.

While the market system is a beautiful thing, it falls down in certain areas. By far the biggest problem in my view is that it fails to distribute income in an equitable manner. Economists have never solved this fundamental issue and there are no easy answers. Collective action is required and if we are looking at the global population, we need collective action at a global level.

As I said two years ago, it all boils down to this:

“… at present we are not able (or willing?) to arrange the world so that suppliers have sufficient incentives to get food to those who have none.”

Is there a solution?