Anthropogenic Effects: Progress Against People
Contrary to what the rosy narrative of progress would have you believe, the immense cost of progress has not come at the benefit of all. Conversely only a small fraction have benefitted from the desecration and destruction of our planet.
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution global inequality was fuelled by increased manufacturing output by Europe.
Since the 1800’s the industrial revolution has created a perverse restructuring of wealth, access and privilege between north and south.
This inequality has increased inordinately in the Neoliberal era in absolute terms. As we can see from the graph below in 2017 we there is a $35,000 difference in GDP per capita between the Global North and Global South. This difference in absolute terms, transcends any relative improvements in GDP per capita in the Global South.
“Take for example a poor country whose average income goes from $500 to $1,000 (a 100% increase), and a rich country whose income goes from $50,000 to $75,000 (a 50% increase). The poor country’s income has grown twice as fast as the rich country’s, relative to its starting point. According to the relative metric, this is a decline in inequality (and is represented as such in the Gini index, the elephant graph, and the log scale). But the gap between them has nonetheless exploded, from $45,500 to $74,000. According to the absolute metric, inequality has worsened.”Jason Hickel. How not to measure inequality.2019
Even though per capita income has increased in the global South, the North has captured the vast majority of new income generated by global growth since the 1960’s.
“The global economy has been organized to facilitate the North’s access to cheap labour, raw materials, and captive markets in the South – today just as during the colonial period. Sure, some important things have obviously changed. But the countries of the North still control a vastly disproportionate share of voting power in the World Bank and the IMF, the institutions that control the rules of the global economy. They control a disproportionate share of bargaining power in the World Trade Organization. They wield leverage over the economic policy of poorer countries through debt. They control the majority of the world’s secrecy jurisdictions, which enable multinational companies to extract untaxed profits out of the South. They retain the ability to topple foreign governments whose economic policies they don’t like, and occupy countries they consider to be strategic in terms of resources and geography.”Jason Hickel. Two Hump World. 2019.
It is the richest 1% who have been the sole beneficiaries of GDP growth in the last 35 years – a period where the biggest anthropogenic effects have been incurred on planetary life.
As we can see in the above graph, if we look at the absolute changes in income, we can see that the inordinate inequality of income between the 99th percentile and any other income group. The detail, in absolute terms, can be seen in more detail below:
From this we can see that between 1980 and 2016 (36 years):
- For the poorest 60% of humanity, the average person saw a $1,200 increase in their income
- The 70-80th percentile gained more than twice that amount
- The 80-90th percentile gained four times more
- The richest 1% gained one hundred times more
- Finally for the richest individuals earning up to 14,000 times more than the poorest
It is important from this perspective to remember at what cost this has come at, as we have shown in Progress Against Life this unequal distribution of wealth has also brought about widespread ecological devastation, species extinction and climate collapse.