In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (April 2013, Volume 4, Issue 1) Danny Dorling and I looked at the global geography of wealth. The map that I created for this feature displays data published by Forbes Magazine in spring 2012 (updated annualy). For 2012 Forbes counted 1153 billionaires across the globe (this figure includes families, but excludes fortunes dispersed across large families where the average wealth per person is below a billion). The total wealth of the billionaires was US$3.7 trillion – as great as the annual gross domestic product of Germany. Top of this league table is the US with 424 billionaires (or billionaire families), followed by Russia (96) and China (95). The following cartogram animation shows, how the distribution of billionaires and the distribution of their total wealth compares. Although there are only small changes between the two maps, it is quite apparent that the wealthiest in the wealthier parts of the world accumulate slightly higher shares of wealth than those living in the emerging economies such as China (though this may be some of the less worrying inequalities that exist globally):
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Looking at similar data collected by WealthInsight (extracts published in the Guardian newspaper) – which published more detailed statistics on the geographic distribution of 521 of the wealthiest billionaires – we can see that the plutocrats’ global city of choice is Moscow with 78 billionaire residents, followed by New York City (58), Hong Kong (40), and London (39). The most attractive place for foreign wealth appears to be the United Kingdom with 15 different nationalities represented in the richest of the rich there. This tops even Switzerland (14 nationalities) and the United States (9).
Much of the wealth of billionaires is held offshore and their wealth is the tip of an iceberg of hard-to-tax personal assets. In a recent Tax Justice Network report (pdf), James Henry estimated the overall global offshore financial assets held by the world’s richest to be between US$21 trillion and US$32 trillion (out of the total global wealth, estimated at US$231 trillion). Nearly half of these offshore assets are owned by the world’s richest 91,000, just 0.001% of the global population.
The distribution of this wealth is a story of extreme inequality. For each billionaire there are millions of people who can only ever dream of such wealth – the ratio is only slightly smaller in the richest countries of the world: in the USA one billionaire can be found for every 740,000 people, while in India one billionaire is found amongst every 26 million people.
Over time the inequalities in the distribution of global wealth have become ever more polarised. According to a 2006 study by the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER), half of all global household wealth was owned by the richest 2% of adults. The poorer half of the world’s population owned just 1 per cent of the global wealth between all of them. Their distribution is the reverse image of the wealth maps shown here.
But it is not only wealth inequality that becomes very apparent in these numbers. The gender gap is large among the rich: Of the countries with more than 10 billionaires, Sweden is the most equal. But even here only 27% of billionaires are female, followed by Germany (20%) and Brazil (19%). Russia, home to the second largest number of billionaires, only has one woman in the ranking, and the USA is not much better with only 10% of the country’s billionaires female. 37 of the 59 countries shown here have no female billionaires at all.
World military spending for 2011 is estimated to be over $1.7 trillion at current prices, and has come to a relative stagnation after it has been steadily rising in recent years. As summarised on the Global Issues website, “the 15 countries with the highest spending account for over 81% of the total; The USA is responsible for 41 per cent of the world total, distantly followed by the China (8.2% of world share), Russia (4.1%), UK and France (both 3.6%).” The data cited here comes from the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute who use publicly available data sources for its reports. Military expenditure is defined as “all current and capital expenditure on: (a) the armed forces, including peacekeeping forces; (b) defence ministries and other government agencies engaged in defence projects; (c) paramilitary forces, when judged to be trained and equipped for military operations; and (d) military space activities. Such expenditures should include: (a) military and civil personnel, including retirement pensions of military personnel and social services for personnel; (b) operations and maintenance; (c) procurement; (d) military research and development; and (e) military aid (in the military expenditure of the donor country). Civil defence and current expenditures on previous military activities, such as veterans’ benefits, demobilization, conversion and weapon destruction are excluded.”
SIPRI’s long term observations show how the decrease in military spending following the end of the cold war in the 1990s slowed down at the turn of the century, and has significantly been rising again over the last 10 years – now exceeding the levels of the 1980. A major impact on these figures has the revival of military spending in North America, as the regional breakdown of the data shows. Compared to that, the rise of Asia appears much less significant than one would expect, although the region is clearly gaining importance (see an interactive graphic of the data on the Guardian datablog).
The following cartogram uses the latest available figures of military expenditure from the 2012 update of the database, completed by own estimates for the missing countries. It shows the estimate absolute expenditure in current (2011) US$ for the year 2011:
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According to a BBC News feature, “trends in migration are changing. Once, migrants from the same country tended to cluster in areas where they had relatives or friends. But new maps of England and Wales, reveal that for more recent migrants this is no longer the case” The maps of which this quote speak are a short series of cartograms created in collaboration of the BBC with the University of Sheffield in which we took a look at the first set of data from the 2011 Census in the United Kingdom (with much more detailed statistics due early next year). This is how some of the trends analysed by the BBC look like, using a gridded population cartogram of the country as a basemap for the lower maps shown here:
George Osborne’s autumn statement on the government’s budget rekindled the ongoing debate about the fairness of the coalition’s spending cuts. How does it look like if you take a look at the richest and the poorest parts of society? In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (December 2012, Volume 3, Issue 3) Danny Dorling and I plotted the geography of the wealthiest of the wealthy in the United Kingdom in comparison to poverty.
The map that I created for this feature displays the distribution of the top 1% of the wealthiest 1% according to information published by the agency WealthInsight, one of the companies trying to gather information on this part of the publication that is a prime target for exclusive marketing. Displayed in the map are data on people with assets in excess of US$30 million and where they have their prime address registered in the UK. The extent of the data is very limited because WealthInsight releases data for only 20 UK cities and regions based on postcode areas (Northern Ireland is a single postcode area which is why we did not correlate that data with Belfast’s overall population). Here we have superimposed that data on a population cartogram of the country, drawing circles with an area in proportion to the numbers of super-rich (in red) over people living in each city (in blue). Where they overlap, the circles turn into a purple colour. Where there are more super-rich people than population alone would predict, there is an orange ring around a purple core, as shown around London. Where there are fewer super-rich than the population of a city might predict, there is a blue outer-ring, as around Birmingham. The underlying map shows the distribution of poverty in the UK in five shades of grey.
Cities such as Leeds, Birmingham and Nottingham have fewer super-rich than might be expected – partly because they are not especially affluent urban centres but also, most probably, because their postcode does not include nearby areas such as the North Yorkshire stockbroker belt or the Cotswolds. Aberdeen, in contrast, has some multimillionaires: beneficiaries of the oil boom with an Aberdeen postcode who live some distance from that city. With Manchester it is hard not to speculate that a few extra footballers may have tipped it over the limit.
Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved. (IFOAM 2009)
The practice of organic farming is not only relevant for soothing the bad conscience of wealthier societies, but it plays an important role in preserving croplands from degradation that is often caused by conventional intensive methods of farming. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognised this need and set up the Organic Agriculture Programme. Its objective is “to enhance food security, rural development,sustainable livelihoods and environmental integrity by building capacities of member countries in organic production, processing, certification and marketing“. With a still growing world population and the rising demand for food, more sensible (and thus sustainable) ways of agriculture are needed more than ever to stop damage to the world’s arable lands.
In a joint paper published last year in the European Journal of Social Sciences (Vol. 24, Issue 3) John Paull and I presented a new world map of organic agriculture that presents countries as proportional in size to their share of the total of world organic hectares (data sources are described in the paper, reference see below):
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