Seven golden men

Seen in La Croix (a French national daily newspaper) dated June 13, 1997 : “In today’s world, with its one billion illiterates, 160 million malnourished children and 110 million non-school-attenders, the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) remains resolutely optimistic. According to this agency, it would cost some 33 billion dollars a year for ten years to provide access to water, health and education for the entire world population. The same amount again would be needed to eradicate poverty every-where. The total bill, some 66 billion dollars, may seem gigantic, but it is perfectly within reach, according to the UNDP, which points out that the fortune of the seven richest people in the world exceeds that sum.”

Comparing figures may give people ideas, but it is important that those ideas not be wrong. After the first start of indignation, let us do a little reckoning. With 66 billion $/yr. spent for ten years, we are told, we could eradicate poverty. That means that at the end of those ten years, there would not be anything more to be done ; the problem would be taken care of once and for all ? Sure, we are agreeable...

According to the text cited, we understand that the sum of 66 billion dollars corresponds to the fortune of the seven richest people in the world. That means that by confiscating their fortune, we may finance the first year. What is to be done for the following years ? For the second year, we would have to go on to the next richest people on the list : since they are somewhat less rich than the first group, we would have to take more of them (how many is not said). The third year, even more rich people would be needed, and so on, so as to mobilize 660 billions, in all, rather than 66. How many people would have to be touched for our ten-year program ? Even if this number is quite small in regard to the world’s six billion human beings, it would be much less striking than the figure of seven announced here. Doesn’t throwing the figure seven at us seem somewhat abusive, if not to say a bit dishonest ?

René Padieu
January 1998

Penumbra, 2001 June