A few interesting economic and other titbits

The ramifications of the wealth inequality problem so troubling to Western economists and policy makers is also affecting China. A new research paper by five authors, including Piketty and Saez, reveals that in 1978 the highest earning Chinese 10% took home about 25% of national income before taxes. By 2015, the take of the top 10% had risen to two-fifths of total income. The richest 10% now control about 70% of private wealth in China, up from 40% in 1995. The inequality issue was somewhat mitigated by China’s rapid economic growth. Between 1978 and 2015, the income level of the poorer half of the Chinese population quintupled. During the same time period in the United States, the income level of the bottom half of the population declined by 1%.

According to a report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, if your assets total $2,222 you are richer than half of the world’s population. If your assets amount to $71,560 or higher you fit in with the world’s wealthiest 10%. If you have an asset total of $744,400 or larger, you are in the elite company of the globe’s wealthiest 1%. The report defines assets as the total value of bank deposits, investments and property minus debts. An astonishing 22 million Americans carry a debt load that exceeds the value of their assets. About 40% of America’s population ranks in the global top ten percent. Approximately 18 million Americans fall into the world’s richest one percent category. Most Americans in the elite categories are unaware of the fact that they are part of the global crème de la crème.

At the present time, the United States is the world’s largest producer and consumer of natural gas. Last November, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a report predicting that during the next 25 years the energy produced by wind, solar and natural gas will take over the role that oil and coal have played in meeting the world’ growing demand for energy. The IEA foresees a continued shift toward cleaner fuels in future global energy utilization. According to the IEA, about 1.2 billion people (16% of the world’s population) lack access to electricity. Sub -Saharan Africa has the highest level of electricity scarcity. There is no longer an electricity shortage in China, the country has completed a very large electrification program.

A recent book “A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy” claims that in the year 1000, the average person in Western Europe was slightly poorer than the average person in China and India. By 1900, the average person in Western Europe had become five times richer than their counterparts in China and India. Although economic historians debate the reasons for the divergence, the book argues that the changes in European beliefs, values and preferences occurring around 1500 played a large role in the outcome. It should come as no surprise to politicians and economists that ideas and culture have a profound effect on societies. In the aggregate, they may also subtly influence economic growth rates for better or worse.

Public sector corruption is a worldwide problem. According to Transparency International’s 2016 survey of 176 countries (a score of 100 being very pure) about two-thirds of the world’s countries scored below 50. Denmark and New Zealand were judged to be the least corrupt. The United States ranked near the top of the cleaner countries in 18th place, but behind Canada which held the number 9 spot. South of Arizona’s border, Mexico placed a poor 123rd out of the 176 countries in the survey.  At the bottom of the list, Somalia was in last place at 176.

The five years of drought in California has destroyed over 102 million of the state’s trees. Until the recent rains arrived, the risk of catastrophic wildfires in the state was severe. Most of the dead trees are located in the central and southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. California has established a task force to help find ways to remove the dead trees which are a threat to travelers and communities. If normal rainfall patterns continue, California’s dying tree problem may finally come a halt.

The proposed memoirs of President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, have earned the couple a reported $65 million. The publisher Penguin Random House has secured the right to publish the couple’s remembrances. The memoirs of the former president and first lady will be published as separate books in the future.  The price for the privilege to publish presidential memoirs has climbed steeply in recent years. Bill Clinton received $15 million, George W. Bush’s memoirs earned him $10 million.

Americans tend to love their firearms. One of the consequences of a heavily armed society is that there are over 30,000 gun deaths reported in the U.S. each year. About two-thirds of them are suicides and approximately one-third are murders. The American firearm homicide rate of 3.4 per 100,000 inhabitants (2014 data) is more than five times the rate found in any other developed country. Despite the high death rate, there is widespread disagreement among the American population regarding any resolution.

The medical problem of high blood pressure is on the rise throughout the world. According to a recent study, there are 1.13 billion people on the planet suffering from high blood pressure, almost double the number of people afflicted with the condition 40 years ago.

It is worth noting that China is the world’s largest market for automobiles. New car sales in China climbed 15% in 2016 to 24.3 million. Sales for the same period in the United States totaled 17.6 million.

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