Wealth vs. Poverty

Political mentor of mine, David Hall, recently turned me on to a new Google labs web service – Books Ngram Viewer. It allows you to search for the percentage of occurrence of words or phrases in book published from 1800 until today.


While playing with it, I typed in the terms wealth and poverty. From 1800 until 1960 wealth doubled poverty consistently. In 1960, poverty is mentioned with increasing frequency.

I am not sure if it means anything, but I do find it intriguing that while actual poverty is in the decline, mentions of it are increasing. Could it be that bringing poverty to the public eye has influenced the decline? Could it be that people are writing about this decline more often?

8 thoughts on “Wealth vs. Poverty

  1. Ed – What is the supporting information behind your statement that actual poverty is on the decline? If we measure poverty on a global scale, I would warrant that the overall world is in dangerous waters with scarcity of key resources on the rise.

    Our ipods, plasma televisions, hybrid cars, computers, etc all need elements that are quickly being drained by the growing global economy. My guess is that we will see a brand-new definition of poverty either in our or our children’s lifetimes.

    One of the ills of an unchecked population growth combined with an effective free market system driving demand.

    Sorry to be a debbie downer.

  2. Thanks, Peter, for you comment.

    I am going to send you to my Facebook link to this post for more –> http://www.facebook.com/edkless/posts/482463792011

    Mike Lazarus and I had a wonderful conversation about this very question.

    Read that and please clarify this statement, “One of the ills of an unchecked population growth combined with an effective free market system driving demand.” This sentence has no verb (a fragment) and I am unclear as to what you are trying to say.

  3. OK, got it.

    First, population growth is slowing, we are on target to max out as a species in about 2070 at about 10 billion people. The big question is with birth rates fall below the replacement level. They already have in many countries in Europe.

    Second, I believe it is supply that creates demand. It is one of the things that Marx got right. Notice he wanted the people to control the means of production, not the means of consumption.

  4. To clarify my point, when I stated “an effective free market driving demand”, I meant that the companies involved are creating the supply and effectively marketing those products and therefore “driving demand”. People wouldn’t want iPods if they weren’t there or they didn’t know about them.

    On your other point, 7 billion or 10 billion… I’m not sure it really matters. It’s way too many people for the available resources. Mother Earth only has so much platinum, nickel, oil, etc. Consumption rate is increasing faster than population growth rate but the resources are not being replenished.

  5. Thanks for the clarification Peter.

    I disagree with your Malthusian assessment of the “available resources.” The greatest, some might say only, resource is the human mind. Resources, like platinum, nickel, oil, etc. only have value because we humans have applied our minds to them.

    If a comet containing twice the currently mined amounts of gold, silver, platinum, and nickel were to strike the Earth tomorrow, it would all be in vain because it would destroy human civilization.

    Lest we forget, it was John D. Rockefeller who saved the whales. Until the early 1900’s crude oil was a nuisance. Until the 1950s, silicone was only good for walking on.

  6. Ed – I’m thinking that all the wonderful ideas coming from the human mind will amount to exactly nothing if the materials to execute aren’t available. Where would an iPod be without the materials to build it? Plasma televisions? Assembly lines? Solar panels? Hydrogen fuel cells?

    Once we are left with dirt and rocks, there’s only so much we can do as a society.

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