Q: If the wealth earned by all 7.5 billion human beings was distributed equally amongst everyone, how much would I be given? And, possibly more important, if all the food produced in a single year was also distributed equally to all, would world hunger end? Better yet, would Americans beat the obesity epidemic?
C.W., of Edwardsville
A: Let’s put it this way: If this world were miraculously transformed into the ultimate communist society tonight, you’d do a lot better at the dinner table tomorrow than you would at the bank.
That may surprise you, considering that 850 million (about one in nine) people the world over suffer chronic hunger, according to recent estimates by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). But experts seem to agree that if all food produced were consumed (e.g., no ethanol production), if waste could be eliminated and if distribution methods were ideal, every person in the world would have plenty to eat.
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In fact, regarding your obesity question, it would be almost perfect. In the United States, adult males usually are encouraged to limit their daily intake to 2,700 calories while females should put down their forks after 2,200. Compare these numbers to a 2009 FAO report stating that if all food produced could be distributed equally, every man, woman and child could enjoy 2,831 calories per day. That means they could maintain a healthy weight and still have some left over.
Poverty levels differ per country, but in the United States and other leading industrialized countries, you wouldn’t do nearly as well with an equal distribution of income. According to the most recent estimates I could find, total world income is about $70 trillion. Divide that by 7.5 billion and each person would receive about $9,330. Of course, this includes babies as well as the retired, so if you figure in only the 4.9 billion people ages 15-64, the figure goes up to $14,285. That might look fantastic to someone in the poorest parts of Africa but it’s just above the $12,060 poverty line in the United States.
Now, just for fun, let’s go one step further by redistributing all the wealth that currently exists in the world, including everything from money stuffed under your mattress to the value of the shirt on your back. According to research by Credit Suisse in 2016, the world’s total wealth is $256 trillion. If every person in the world were given an equal share, you’d have $34,133, again great for a homeless person but pocket change to Warren Buffett. As it stands right now, 10 percent of the world’s population own 85 percent of the wealth while a collective 3.5 billion have less than 1 percent.
For an interesting look at how much $250 trillion is, go to waitbutwhy.com/2014/03/combined-wealth-world.html. Here’s one letdown: If the world’s wealth were redistributed in gold, each person would have only a cube of the stuff about 11/2 inches on a side — or about the size of a golf ball.