Freakishly Lucky

InequalityDo you ever think how freakishly lucky you are ?

We often tell ourselves that most of what we’ve achieved in life is down to our hard work and good choices, and while up to a point that’s obviously true (work hard at school kids), there’s also no getting away from the fact that stupid random luck is even more significant.

Now I obviously don’t know how educated, wealthy, safe or healthy you are . . . but if you’re able to read this, are doing so on some kind of computer connected to the internet, have time to think about these things rather than safeguarding your family or scraping enough money together to eat tomorrow, and aren’t distracted by the problems that come from lack of healthcare or clean water, then it’s safe to say you’re doing better than most people on the planet.

There are seven billion of us going about our daily lives today.

Around 0.8 billion of us are chronically undernourished (that means hungry)

Around 1 billion of us have insufficient access to clean drinking water

Around 1.5 billion of us don’t have access to electricity

Around 2.5 billion of us lack access to basic sanitation (that means toilets)

Around 3 billion of us survive on less than $2.50 a day

Around 5.2 billion of us survive on less than $10.00 a day (net income of $3,650/y)

If you’re lucky enough to be earning the UK average national wage (£26,500) you’re earning more than 99.3% of the people on the planet. Welcome to the global elite !

If things had turned out differently. If you’d been born into circumstances without clean water, toilets, immunisation, doctors, sufficient food, electricity, education, safety and security, how different would your life have been ? How different would your attitudes be as a result ?

I saw the film Elysium a couple of weeks ago.

In many respects it’s a fairly entertaining science fiction romp with spaceships, robots and futeristic firepower, with a hero saving the day, defeating the evil villain against all the odds.

But there’s something else going on.

It’s set between an overpopulated and polluted Earth, where everyone lives in grinding poverty, with little healthcare, education or prospects – and the gleaming hi-tech orbiting space colony home of the world’s super-rich, who exploit the labour of the billions of desperate poor, and will do anything in order to protect themselves, and their belongings, from them.

Queue existential angst as we wonder whether we identify more with the poor hero, or the rich villains!


The film’s South African director Neill Blomkamp is quoted as saying: “People ask me if this is my prediction for the future. I say no, this isn’t science fiction, this is now, this is today. It’s about the third world trying to get into the first world”.

The fact that the dystopian setting for much of the film was shot on one of the world’s largest landfill sites in Mexico City, where thousands of real people spent their working lives, scavenging the waste for recyclables to sell, until it’s recent closure, makes it hard to dismiss his view.

It seems as if the lives of the rich and poor have never been so starkly different. We’ve certainly never been so acutely aware of it.

Barack Obama has described inequality as the defining issue of our time.

It’s not wrong to be lucky.

But is it wrong to be lucky, but do nothing to help our less lucky neighbours around the world ?

“The main reason many are so poor, is that a few of us are so rich”

Something to ponder as you watch the inequality videos below.

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in my ebook The Year I Saved the World]

Photo by May S Young (creative commons), via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – Jubilee: A Shout for Joy,  More Equal than OthersThe End of Growth and Keeping Out the Giraffes; Citizen’s Income


  1. A rich western sciety is still a relatively new thing. Even 1900 London was a disease ridden urban jungle where cramped and inadequate housing was the norm. I would proffer that the squalor of 1900 London is not hugely disimilar to scaveging a landfill site. Neither is what anyone would term acceptable. Within the UK at the same time there would have been huge wealth shared around a tiny population.

    But since 1900 the UK has equalised wealth better and though the poorest are still poor, most live in acceptable conditions.

    So why has Britain (and parts of the West) improved and left so many people behind? Is it just a question of time and experience. To equalise an international macro-economy is a huge beast. Throw in some poor governments and less socialist ideologies and the barriers are grand.

    International trade is a way of spreading wealth. But it’s still OK for mainstream western companies to get their goods manufactured at a cost which would be deplorable in the country’s head office. Fair trade (hmmm, where have we heard that) is the way in which we will recompense that countries we exploit to help them build a standard of living that seems right. But, to draw the bottom up we also need to drop the top down.

    In the UK I see the following: dog grooming services (a service that takes care of your hobby so you don’t have to); fish pedicure (care for the feet that you do not walk enough on); lots of new cars (to drive the journey you would otherwise have to walk and meet people and take in freash air and lose weight).

    We need to be taxed more and send more aid abroad via altruistic companies to improve basic infrastructures abroad.

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