Monday, August 26, 2013

Well being Gap

It has been a strangely surreal summer for me.  In quick succession, I spent time in Cambodia, Indonesia, Rwanda, Hong Kong, Canada and the USA.

Cambodia and Rwanda are comparable in terms of income per capita, US$946 and $620 respectively.  Both had gone through horrible genocides, and both are dirt poor.  Based on the numbers, Cambodia is doing better than Rwanda.

But in Rwandan, both the government and the streets are much cleaner.  The Rwandans are also better dressed, more optimistic, and much happier with the government.  I have not seen any slums in Rwanda but there are plenty in Cambodia.  The young people in both countries are equally friendly and eager to learn.

Indonesia is doing comparatively better at an income per capita of US$3,557.  They are generally cleaner. Even the places where the poor people live are not as bad as those in Cambodia.  They have reasonably good schools and many universities.  They seem hopeful.

Hong Kong, at US$36,796, is theoretically in the big leagues of rich countries. Some people are super rich.  But much of the wealth exist only in the real estate bubble. Most people live in cramped apartments. The streets are not any cleaner than Rwanda’s.  They certainly have more computers, smart phones, and higher-bandwidth Internet access. But the people are not necessarily any more optimistic or happier.

Canada, at US$52,219, is even richer than the Americans on paper.  The houses are big, the lawns big and green, the air fresh, the food healthy, and the air cool.  The people are friendly and tolerant.  They, however, have difficulties coming up with a national identity - except, perhaps in saying that they are not Americans, and they do not offend people easily.

USA, at US$49,965, is certainly rich.  They created the PC,  iPhone, Google, Facebook, ...   Everything is bigger here, including the people.  The percentage of people who are obese, at 33% (quite likely an underestimation), is one of the highest in the world.  They are also using more of the oil, trees, minerals, and almost everything else than most other countries. Their universities are excellent, but the fees are about 100 times more expensive than Cambodia’s.

There are myriad reasons why this is the situation - much of it historical, cultural, and economical.  We cannot change the past.  But what are we going to do about it?  To make it better for everyone?

No comments: