A Brief Thought on Wealth

One of the pieces of data that turns out to be nearly impossible to find is a direct comparison of the median income by quartile on a PPP basis between countries.  In other words, how does the income of, say, the US lower quartile compare to other countries?  There are a zillion sites with metrics of income inequality and GINI indexes and such, but to my mind these are meaningless.  OK, the poor in the US are much less wealthy than the rich in the US, but how do they compare to the poor of other nations.  The few studies I have seen have reluctantly (remember, these are leftish academics) admitted that the US poor do pretty well vs. the poor in other nations.  Here is data for US vs. Europe.

I got a lot of grief a few years ago when I said, related to Kwanzaa:

Every African-American should wake up each morning and say "I give
thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the slavery passage,
suffered the indignity and humiliation of slavery, and suffered the
poverty and injustices of the post-war South so that I, today, can be
here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and
better off financially than I would have been in Africa."

I wanted to actually make this comparison more real.  I used the CIA Factbook to estimate the share of per capita GDP on a PPP basis earned by the top decile, or top 10% wealthiest individuals, in a number of African nations (Example page here for Ethiopia -- calculation would be [25.5%/10%] x $700 per capita). 

So here are the results:

  • Ethiopia top 10%:      $1,785
  • Nigeria top 10%:        $6,972
  • Zimbabwe top 10%:    $800

Hopefuly this is enough of a sample to give you an idea of the range.  Only South Africa is a real outlier from this range.  Now, by the same methodology and source, here is the average share of the per capita GDP for the bottom 10% of earners in the US:

  • United States bottom 10%:   $9,160
  • United States African-American avg (est):  $32,060**

Wow!  This means that the average person in the bottom 10% in the US, most of whom we classify as below the poverty line, would easily, by multiples and orders of magnitude, be in the top 10% richest people in most African nations.   And the surviving decedents of those poor folks who got dragged to the US in slavery would be the Bill Gateses of their mother countries.

The point being, of course, that the size of the pie is typically more important than how you divide it up.  And it is nearly an axiom that government efforts to divide the pie more evenly almost always make it smaller.

** estimated based on 2006 median black household wages being about 70% of the US median household wages.  Yes, I know, we are wildly mixing apples and oranges here to get African American share of GDP per capita in the US, but its in the ballpark -- certainly close enough to make my basic point.  And yes, I know there are flaws in measuring income across countries even on a PPP basis.  If anyone knows of how to get this data more directly, please email me.


  1. chaz:

    All of the wrongs that have stemmed from slavery that still have a negative effect on African-Americans today in no way compare to the lifestyle lived by blacks in this country. We are still systematically discriminated against because of the ignorance of people like you. You would never understand the pain and continued suffering of blacks in this country and it's more than clear that race relations and empathy are beyond your level of thinking. The amount of money and lifestyle of the poor in this country is beyond that of many third world countries as it is in almost all first world nations. So your stats might look good on a graph but anyone with a brain would be able to decifer their inaccuracies in the context you present them in. Lastly do not forget that a lot of problems that are going on in Africa to this day derive from American-European imperialism, but we should probaly thank our lucky stars they helped us that much too huh?

  2. AJ:


    I think the man who will likely be president in 3 weeks kills most of your points. He's a poor black kid with enough brains and work ethic to get into harvard law (and make the bar-review no less). His wife is also a highly paid corporate executive and a graduate of harvard law. Now, I know you can't quite hold up two people to speak for an entire race of people in this country, but you must admit this is pretty damning evidence that your conclusion of widespread systematic racism isn't entirely valid. It might be valid in concentrated areas. It might be true that it's harder to get a cab off the street at night, or you get a funny look more often than I do, but I don't think it's widespread and systematic.

    If it were, how do you explain the meteoric rise of Obama, a smart, inexperienced, black kid from Chicago? White people have to be voting for him Chaz.

    As to your assertion that the poor in this country are worse off than the poor in third world countries, I'd implore you to do some traveling. Go to any African country. Go to the middle east. Go to China. Go to India. Those earning minimum wage in this country can live better than even the rich in those parts of the world. The squalor that exists in the third world countries I've been to is staggering, and to say that the lifestyle of the poor in this country equals it is just ignorant. Sure, you can find homeless people that might make your argument for you, but I'd agrue that those folks still live better off the scraps of our great nation (not to mention its charity) than many of those in the third world. Go ask someone in the sewers of Mumbai or in the trashpits in Kenya when the last time they bought a bigmac, a bottle of booze, or took a shower in a shelter.

  3. John Moore:

    There's systematic racism in the US all right. It's called "Affirmative Action." In some cases it directly discriminates based on race. In others, it's more subtle. Ask an asian American or a white male about discrimination if you want to see people discriminated against.

    When my daughter applied to Stanford, she mentioned her (small) Native American heritage. She got back a bunch of paperwork that the Nazi's would have been proud of. Blood percentage? Eh?

    For that matter, one has to wonder why Barack Obama chose his race as black rather than white. He's half each, so he has the choice. But as a black, he was subject to helpful racial discrimination (I don't know if he took advantage of it).

    Many of us are really tired of "minority" groups constantly whining. You've got the odds stacked in your favor. if you can't make it, it's your own damned fault.

  4. The other coyote:

    Chaz ~

    Please stop with the discrimination nonsense. Title VII was passed 45 years ago. Native-born American blacks still can't get their acts together. But black Haitians do really well for themselves here. Why is that?

    You know who else does well for themselves here? Indians. So do the evangelical South Koreans who have moved to my suburban neighborhood and opened a dry cleaner, a donut shop, and a framing shop. They are the best Americans I know. They work hard, they value family and education, they stick together and help each other out, and most importantly, they provide a superior product at a good price and good, quick service with a smile. Whining and complaining and demanding payback isn't going to get you or anyone else anywhere. Suck up the fact that life isn't fair and get out there and earn your way. Quit feeling sorry for yourself and work. I have zero sympathy for anybody who won't take advantage of what America has to offer and prefers to blame their problems on the color of their skin than on their character.

    To all posters: despite his latest them of poverty, Barack Obama was never poor. His grandparents had plenty of money. The real story here is that his mother chose to shack up with a guy who dumped her rather than take a scholarship at a lesser school than Harvard where he (Obama Sr.) could have gotten enough money in stipends to take both her and their son with him. Senior chose not to take his wife and child; he chose Harvard instead. Since Obama Jr.'s mother was an undergrad, and chose to stay in school rather than drop out and get a job, yes, he and his mother were *technically* poor. She had no income because she was in school. But her parents paid both of their way. But even though Mom and Jr. moved in with Jr.'s Grandma and Grandpa, they were still - because our entitlement system is completely screwed up - eligible for government assistance (WIC, I believe) because Mom had no income. Remember, once Obama's mother wandered off to Indonesia for good, and Obama decided he didn't like it there, he lived pretty high on the hog with his grandparents, attending a presigious private school. His grandmother was a bank Vice President.

    Bottom line: the only reason Barack Obama was ever "poor" is because his mother chose to be "poor."

  5. DWPittelli:

    Obviously the back to Africa movement has not attracted a majority of American blacks, because they know they would be worse off in any country in Africa. But people don't like the notion, even hypothetically, of wishing great ills upon their ancestors, or being glad of them, so I don't think it's a winning way of convincing American black people how well off they are.

    Note: "decedents" are deceased people, descendants are your offspring (or their offspring, etc.).

  6. Valens:

    I was going to say that Coyote's argument would be readily shot up by the left with the 'Africa isn't a nice place now because the Europeans screwed it up' thing, but looks like chaz beat me to it. Except he really belives it.

    In a former business I had a lot of contact with persons from locations all over Africa. Remember, chaz, that it is a continent, not a country, and all manner of races have lived there for many thousands of years. The thing that your argument depends on is that pre-European exposure, Africa was a utopian paradise. It was was nothing like that at all. In fact, one could compare it to Europe, Asia, North and South America, in that it was and is filled by a diverse group of bickering, complaining, warring peoples. That those in Africa haven't done well then or since in spite of exposure to agricultural, technological, governmental and cultural is a topic worthy of discussion, but obviously to broad to discuss here.

    I should mention that the black Africans I worked with have NO feeling of solidarity with the black Americans. In fact, they don't much like them. This is because they come here to do business and make money that they cannot in their home countries, have experienced and see everyday real poverty and deprivation, and can't stand listening to people who have it so good complain so much.