The Problem with Consumption

Sorry for my complete lack of blogging since August, I’ve been utterly consumed with starting a new job and moving to a new city. Came across some interesting articles about world poverty and consumption today, which got me thinking about where my personal priorities lay in terms of what I spend my money on, and what kind of things I want on a day-to-day basis. Below is some information from the UN about the matter – they can probably sum it up better.

The Conclusion: Global inequality is predominantly found in consumption choices and preferences of wealthier individuals in the world.

Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%. More specifically, the richest fifth:

  • Consume 45% of all meat and fish, the poorest fifth 5%
  • Consume 58% of total energy, the poorest fifth less than 4%
  • Have 74% of all telephone lines, the poorest fifth 1.5%
  • Consume 84% of all paper, the poorest fifth 1.1%
  • Own 87% of the world’s vehicle fleet, the poorest fifth less than 1%

Source: Human Development Report 1998 Overview, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

And consider the following data, which reflect stark world priorities:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions
Cosmetics in the United States 8
Ice cream in Europe 11
Perfumes in Europe and the United States 12
Pet foods in Europe and the United States 17
Business entertainment in Japan 35
Cigarettes in Europe 50
Alcoholic drinks in Europe 105
Narcotics drugs in the world 400
Military spending in the world 780

And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions
Basic education for all 6
Water and sanitation for all 9
Reproductive health for all women 12
Basic health and nutrition 13

(Source: The state of human development, United Nations Human Development Report 1998, Chapter 1, p.37)

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