The world is reaching a milestone – nominally today – 7 billion people are alive in the world. I suppose there must be some uncertainty about that number; perhaps we have to give or take 100 million or so. It has been estimated that the total number of people who have ever lived is around 100 billion. Thus around 7 percent of people who have ever lived are alive today. That’s an incomprehensively large number.
Around the year 1800 CE, the world’s population was 1 billion. It took around 130 years for the population to double. Then in just 33 years (1927 to 1960) it went from 2 to 3 billion. Then it added a billion every 13 years or so, and the world reached 6 billion in 1999. Another 12 years and the world added another billion to reach today’s 7 billion. Wow!
Seven billion people. That means every year humans collectively experience 7 billion years. In just two years, the collective subjective experience exceeds the estimated age of the universe of 13.5 billion years.
Indians constitute around a sixth of the world’s population. India produces a lot of people every year. Sadly, India produces a lot of poor people because of two factors. First, there are a lot of poor people to begin with. Even if the poor people reproduced at the same rate as the non-poor, the absolute number of poor people born would be higher than the number born to the non-poor. Second, the poor breed relatively faster. Together these two factors ensure that India is tops the list of countries that produce poor people.
India is the largest producer of poor people in the world. I stress that point because too often the impression people have is that the poor magically appear as if by divine intervention. That is not so. The poor reproduce, they breed. I know the word “breed” is not very generous or polite. It’s an ugly word generally used in the context of non-human animals but poverty is an ugly thing and dressing it up as something pretty is not going to be very useful.
India breeds poverty. There are various causes of poverty, and a variety of factors affect the incidence and severity of poverty. Natural calamities, for example, could lead to poverty. Bad governance and flawed economic policies also breed poverty. But one of the prime requirements for the persistence of poverty is poor people. Poverty is inherited and it runs in the family.
Poverty, like illiteracy, can be cured by curing one entire generation of the malady. The children of illiterate parents are at a significantly greater danger of being illiterate than the children of literate parents. Having poor parents contributes more to one’s poverty than any other single factor.
Life is a random draw and one cannot choose one’s parents any more than one can choose one’s time and place of birth. No individual can be held responsible for the hand that nature and circumstances deal him or her. But collectively society is responsible for its poverty or prosperity.
The good news is that societies can and do change for the better provided it gets good leadership. Leadership is endogenous to society but in some instances due to some external shocks it can get leaders that it does not deserve.
The best we can do is pray for an external shock. Certainly praying is as effective as not praying. We pray only in the face of all despair. Still, unlikely events do happen. And given sufficient time, low probability events happen.
I think India will have an external shock soon. More about that the next time.