Monday, November 8, 2010

The 1% Project

Before I start, I want to say, this is less a political manifesto than a thought experiment.

The Credit Suisse estimates that across the 4.4 billion adults living on the planet, there is a collective net worth of 195 trillion US dollars in 2010. Of that 195, the study indicates that the top 1% own about 84 trillion. Given a World Bank estimate that the global population is about 6.7 billion (please excuse the quick, dirty math), the redistributed wealth of the top 1% would give every man, woman, and child on earth about 12,500 US dollars.

I have thought for some time that it would just be the most fascinating thing to do to get a bunch of authors to posit on that exactly happening, in a collection of short tightly focussed stories. Again, not out of a sense of populist rage, but just as a way to examine what that amount of money means around the world, and different people's take on what that loss or windfall would mean for the people who received it.

How many people quit the jobs where they were making dollars a day? How many people quit the jobs where they were making minimum wage? What does this mean to a man who worked his whole life to amass his fortune, and now finds himself with nothing, just on the whim of the universe? What about the man who has never worked at all? The addict? The wife who's trying to leave? The wife who's trying to make her husband stay? What does it mean to the fisherman on the Amazon who lives on less than ten dollars a day? What does it mean to a middle class American who is 70,000 dollars in debt? What does it mean to the American who was previously just middle class, but is now the new richest man in the world (the report indicates you're in the top 1% of the world if you have a net worth of over about 560,000 USD)? What does it mean to the village in a war torn or dictatorial country that can now pool their money to buy a used T-55 Russian tank?

What happens to that money in places where it's illegal for women or certain races or religions to own property? What happens to that money when it goes to a child, or a comatose adult? Do people pool their new money with their friends and family to take care of collective needs, or do they jealously guard it as something that's just their own? What does that money mean to someone three days walk from the nearest place with electricity? Do people use it to improve their means of earning a living, like with the micro-loan program (which gives out loans in averages of about 100 USD to help people own the tools of their trade, rather than spending all their income renting them)? Do they blow it on something silly? How many people, unused to having money, are immediately taken advantage of by someone just a bit more canny? How many are robbed, now that the people with guns know everyone has $12,500? What happens at the IRS offices? What happens to powerful political figures who were used to being able to hire guards? What happens to an illegal drug mogul?

How do people change their lives? How do they survive? How do they rebuild empires?

Obviously, in the end, it varies by person.

What I envision are small, character focussed stories from as many locales as possible, detailing the reactions of one character or one family to the changes around them. I think it's something that would be a lot of fun, especially if one was able to get the perspective of multiple people. This is the sort of thing it's very easy to get blinders on about, and someone's always thought of something you haven't.

I don't really have the infrastructure or time to make this happen right now, but I really do think it's a fun and fabulous idea. Sometime later.

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