What Is Relative Poverty?


What’s the big difference with relative poverty?  Aren’t we just splitting intellectual hairs instead of fixing a very practical problem?

In response to the above: quite a lot & no.  First, let’s recognise there are indeed good reasons for introducing and maintaining the concept of “absolute poverty”, or “destitution” as the poverty entry on Wikipedia states. It makes poverty binary: you are either poor or you’re not. You either fall into the poverty category, or you don’t.

poverty statistics, poverty line, refugees, solve poverty sooner

Such clear conceptual dividing lines help us identify who exactly are ‘the poor’, for example, when we are seeking to give aid and support to those that qualify as ‘poor’. It is also easier to take existing, well-documented national and regional gross domestic product (GDP) figures, divide them by the relevant population figures & hey presto: you have a measure of the average annual GDP per capita for a given population.


You can then do the maths to determine what the average GDP/capita figure per day is for that country, region, city or district & determine whether that location thereby falls above or below the notional ‘extreme poverty line’ of US$1.25 per person per day. (As an example of this, refer to the ‘Poverty Map’ in the ‘Resources’ section of the sidebar on the right of this post).

solving global poverty through education, overcoming poverty issues


There are “lies, damned lies and statistics”, as the quote attributed to Benjamin Disraeli goes. A lot of significant truth can be concealed within generalised statistics and we are thus right to be somewhat wary of them at face value. However, they can also be very useful for certain purposes, when used intelligently. Consider the excellent short video by the statistician Hans Rosling, called “200 Countries in 200 Years” on YouTube. You too will believe a statistician can be interesting!

apples measured  the meter, sports apples

Rosling brings out some important details from vast quantities of United Nations data, showing (for example) that averages for certain regions in China conceal vast differences in the diversity of the underlying reality. If this is true even when we are using simple measures like GDP per capita per day, consider how much more relevant detail on true, underlying poverty is being concealed, once you understand that there are multiple key indicators of poverty – and they are ALL relative.

poverty solutions, feed the hungry, solve poverty and make a difference

So our position is this: by all means KEEP the concept and associated measures of absolute poverty, but recognise that a better image of the underlying truth will be gained by understanding that poverty is fundamentally a relative concept. We understand how ‘poor’ a person is by comparing them with other persons – usually their community of ‘peers’. Just like we understand (internationally) how ‘tall’ a person is by comparing them with those around them, rather than some globally agreed, common standard for “tallness“.



Let us illustrate the point about relative poverty with some extreme examples. Imagine a billionaire flying her jet suddenly encounters difficulties & has to crash land on a remote Pacific island. She has plenty of money, but no immediate access to the basics of life, unless she can find water, food and shelter from the elements and potentially hostile local wildlife. In that sense, her money counts for nothing. For an entertaining exploration of this kind of experience, try watching the film Castaway, with Tom Hanks, or try reading the book ‘Robinson Crusoe‘ by Daniel Defoe.

poverty problems, poverty statistics and poverty at the Oasis

Now, consider a different, imaginary end of the spectrum: a remote Amazonian tribe that has little contact with the rest of the world and avoids using currency. They may not show up on the national GDP figures at all, but they know how to fend well for themselves in terms of what really matters for sustaining human life. Common sense tells us that in that way at least, they are ‘richer’ than certain otherwise ‘wealthier’ people, who for various reasons do not have access to the basics of life. It is ready ACCESS to those basics which matters most when overcoming poverty; it’s not always about the money.

communities overcoming poverty, eradicating poverty and solving global poverty issues


When it comes to understanding relative poverty, we refer to these core poverty indicators as the 7 Humanitarian Basics.  Poverty is therefore helpfully understood as “the relative absence of the 7 Humanitarian Basics”; or in simplified, 5-year-old language: “not enough of 7 things we need“.  In order, these are:  water; food; clothing; shelter; healthcare; engagement; and freedom from oppression. These are represented by different colours in the 7 Layer Poverty Model below. Can you guess which colour water is?

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

Other posts on this site cover each of those poverty assessment indicators in more detail, but each one of them is understood to be RELATIVE when it comes to measuring poverty. Yes, they can each be measured in absolute terms (eg how many litres of water drunk per day, how many calories etc), but their significance in the context of overcoming poverty is best understood in relative terms for the individual concerned. We are interested in the quality of the water being drunk, the suitability of the food available for the individual suffering hunger.

relative poverty, absolute poverty, poverty definitions, poverty models, poverty profile


It helps by better identifying the real problems we are seeking to tackle, in overcoming poverty. Being better informed helps us make better overall choices about the allocation of finite resources, our priorities and the focus of our collective attention.  Let me illustrate with a story. A friend called Gemma was sponsored by a charity to stay with a family in rural Kenya during her gap year, ahead of studying International Development at a UK university. The family she stayed with was well educated and relatively well-off compared to others in their community. While staying with the family, my friend said that another charity had distributed a number of water purifiers to the local community, intended to try to help them improve their water quality.

poverty figures, poverty issues, solving global poverty and eradicate poverty

Gemma explained that the locals had a reasonable understanding of the local water supply and what to do to keep it safe and drinkable.  However, they were rather distrustful of the water filters, as they could not be sure when they would cease to be as effective as just boiling the water. Also, the filters worked so slowly, they were impractical to use for a typical local household.  Thus, the clever filters were left on the shelf to gather dust.

woman hand in water splash

I am sure that the charity distributing the filters meant well and that they were able to report to donors just how many extra ‘poor’ households were now enjoying clean water, thanks to those filters!  I do not know how much the true end-to-end cost was of approaching donors, administering the donations, procuring the filters, shipping them to Kenya, distributing them to selected communities and providing training to the locals on their use. What I CAN say with confidence, is that the end result of all that effort, was that they did not improve that specific family’s daily lives one bit.

definition of poverty, relative poverty, absolute poverty, poverty figures

I don’t know about you, but experiences like that leave us sad, frustrated and wanting to be more effective. We believe a better global understanding of poverty as a relative term is important and it WILL make a positive difference on the ground – by facilitating better uses of existing resources and efforts to overcome poverty.

poverty footprint, poverty model, relative poverty and absolute poverty measures

We aim for a billion people to better understand the true nature of poverty, through the 7 Layer Poverty Model.  We want those people to help focus the fixers of poverty, by promoting a clearer understanding of the problems and hence a better idea of how to go about fixing them.  Look through our other material on how to Map Poverty with ‘assessments’ and ‘poverty profiling’. Also discover how the Model can help ‘Focus Fixers’.

Conceptual image of sphere and arrows. Isolated.

You will begin to see how these three logical steps all link together and can all play their part in solving relative poverty, together with the ‘absolute’ kind.

And thanks again for being…

One in a Billion!


How Close Are We To Solving Poverty?


We want to introduce the notion of ‘closeness’ in driving action towards solving poverty. We use it deliberately, as a term that most people can relate to and feel they understand, without requiring a dictionary definition of the term. Closeness is a ‘feeling-based’ summary of one’s overall attitude towards another. People use it in their most valued relationships, to describe how they feel towards each other, in a common language: “I feel so close to you right now”. The same common idea is used to describe matters when things are not going so well: “You seem so distant”. Although technically speaking, ‘closeness’ is meant to be a measure of physical proximity, we habitually use it to give a sense of how ‘unified with’, or ‘separated from’ another individual we think we are. It is a simple way of describing and summarising the complex way we may actually feel. We believe that the relative presence or absence of this feeling of closeness, materially affects how we collectively respond to the needs of the poorest billion people on the planet.

closeness drives action in solving poverty

Clearly, as human beings, we are used to our behaviour being driven by how we feel. If we are tired, we might sleep. If we’re hungry, we might eat. If we’re concerned over a given situation, we might act. Our simple idea is that people who feel closer to others are more likely to be motivated to ACT on their behalf. The closer we feel, the stronger the motivation to act. Agreed? Consider the strength of motivation a mother can have in protecting her child, based on the sense of ‘closeness’ she feels to that other human being. This is not simply a genetic thing. There are biological mothers who admit to feeling little for their own children, in some instances. While elsewhere, a person may feel an immense closeness to a child that is not even their own.



Whatever the reason, the idea of closeness has come to be used between people, to summarise their overall strength or weakness of feeling towards each other. Degrees of closeness then, though quite possibly hard to actually measure scientifically, certainly seem reasonably easy for people to express. While people may not ADMIT to any sense of absolute measurement of closeness, they can certainly respond more readily to questions of comparison: ‘Which of your friends do you feel closest to?’ We do not know how this concept translates into other languages. We hope that the universal experiences of touch, physical proximity and interpersonal relationships will mean a common language equivalent, via interpretation, throughout the world.



OK, fair point. To recap then, a sense of ‘closeness’ drives motivation and motivation in turn, drives our behaviour. Motivation MOVES you to action. When solving poverty, well-informed, timely, effective, sustainable ACTION is precisely what we want, so anything that leads to that outcome is of keen interest to us.  It is this kind of action that we look for among any or all of the 7 key poverty ‘fixers’ recognised in our 7 Layer Poverty Model. It is recognised that MANY other motivations and forms of action may abound in the realm of seeking to overcome global poverty.  Our own interest is in how EFFECTIVE a given course of action is and what helps motivate and focus the fixers towards that kind of action. We cannot reasonably ASSESS any such outcomes, without some reasonable approximation to MEASUREMENT. We accept that all attempts at measurement of progress against poverty metrics are, to a degree, “truth-substitutes”. They cannot tell us exactly what the situation is, but we accept the compromise in getting us the closest thing to the truth we can reasonably expect to obtain, under the circumstances and within given constraints.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014


‘Focusing fixers’ is the third of our proposed 3 steps to solve global poverty. When focusing fixers, we aim to use measurement in assessing action impacts and the notion of ‘closeness’ as a key variable when assessing various ‘fixer’ motivation levels. So the loaded question arises: “What are the key factors which then drive a sense of closeness between people?” We can think of a few categories of things. Chief contenders among these seem, to us, to be: emotional, familial, social, ethical, moral, religious, practical, circumstantial, physical, sexual, geographical, political, functional and awareness-driven. That’s quite a list, so allow us to unpack it just a little.


Imagine a circle broken down into many segments, rather like an orange cut in half and viewed from the top. Each of the potential factors in our list is like an individual segment of that circle. The thickness of each segment can give an indication of how relatively important a given factor is in the overall sense of ‘closeness’ between two people, while the bigger the whole circle, the stronger that overall strength of feeling. Got it? With that metaphor fixed firmly in your mind, we will continue. Let’s start with an easier one. Imagine the same mother and baby scenario we referred to earlier. There are reported instances where mothers have been motivated to go to EXTREME lengths in the protection of their children, in some cases lifting off massive weights from their physically trapped children, in order to rescue them from some disaster. By weights, we mean things like cars! That would be a powerful overall strength of feeling represented by a large circle and we would expect the biological relationship to represent a large segment within that whole. Now consider the size of the circle and the thickness of the segments within it, for other types of relationships you have.



If you ask parents around the world if they feel equally ‘close’ to all their children, the answer in many cases, will be ‘no’. It is not necessarily that they feel ‘close’ to some and ‘distant’ from others, but that they experience DIFFERENT DEGREES of closeness. You may have experienced the same thing with your FRIENDS. You feel closer to some than to others. In English, we even have the phrase “close friends”, to distinguish them from others who are – not so close. And there are certain things we would be willing to do for CLOSE friends, that we wouldn’t be willing to do for OTHER friends. This relative distinction becomes important when considering the relative motivations of our 7 key poverty fixers.


Yet not everyone fits neatly into one of those 3 categories: ‘not a friend’; ‘friend’; or ‘close friend’. There are billions of others who we don’t even know yet, including the vast majority of those facing poverty. So just how “close” do we feel to them? It is not even the simplest answer, which would be ‘not at all’ – because in fact we can and do feel DIFFERING DEGREES of closeness, even to people we don’t actually know personally. Have you ever witnessed the devotional behaviour of fans of pop stars and movie icons? Remember, we are not suggesting that such feelings need to be reciprocated by the person you feel close to, just that YOU can sometimes feel surprisingly close to those you don’t even know – whatever the degree.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in church

So, if we can feel different degrees of closeness to people we don’t necessarily know, then what sort of things drive that? We accept the more obvious things like family relationships and friendships, but there’s more. There are also other perceived ties, that bind two people closer. A sense of common religious views can be one. You may have witnessed references to the sense of ‘brotherhood’ between Muslim men worldwide. You might also be aware of Christians who describe themselves as ‘one in Christ’ with others who share the same faith. The differing extent to which those stated beliefs are felt, or actually practiced, is a different matter. The principle is that those of a common faith will often experience a greater sense of ‘closeness’ with those who share the same faith. But the tie of common beliefs and loyalties is not exclusive to religion. We previously mentioned fans of pop stars. Have you heard of teenage girls describing themselves as “Beliebers”, after the surname of their heart-throb, Justin Bieber? Similarly, sports fans will share a sense of closeness to others who support the same team – and a sense of distance from those who support an opposing team. They may even label themselves as ‘fans’ – which is short for ‘fanatics’. And fanaticism itself can become a common bond, increasing a sense of closeness between people.



We don’t debate whether the origin of such senses relates back to former times, when one ‘human tribe’  needed to know if a member of another tribe was ‘in or out’, friend or foe. We simply wish to acknowledge the fact that this sense of ‘closeness’ is common to human beings and is felt to varying degrees and for different reasons. Let’s briefly consider some more of those reasons. Social: if they are part of our community, sub-culture, country membership, language and so on, we feel a greater closeness to them than those that differ – all other things being EQUAL (which they often aren’t). Emotional: plenty to choose from here, ranging from the natural pity humans seem to have for nearly all babies, through to the intense closeness that can be felt for those you most identify with. Political: a greater sense of closeness to those from the same or other countries, who share the same political ideologies. Practical: a greater sense of closeness felt between people facing similar predicaments together. Functional: a greater sense of closeness felt to those who are deemed your ‘responsibility’ in your job, whether fellow staff, or those your job role specifically serves (customers, clients, the cared-for). There are clearly more, but you get the idea.

Rice field

Underlying it all, is the necessary sense of personal AWARENESS of and IDENTIFICATION with the other individual or group. If you are unaware of another person’s existence, then a sense of closeness simply doesn’t register. The greater the level of awareness of another person, the greater opportunity there will be to develop any sense of closeness based on OTHER factors – instead of the ultimate indifference and distance typically felt otherwise. Perhaps this partly drives the idea that: “charity begins at home”. We are naturally more aware of the possible needs of those in our immediate vicinity – in our home, in our community. There is less likelihood that we will have the same level of closeness to those who live in a different country, or on a different continent. Less likely, but not impossible.

Feeling closeness is not primarily driven by physical closeness, but by awareness and identification. Consider friends who met in one country, moved to completely different countries, but remained friends. Physical distance NEED NOT be an issue, but it is certainly one of the key factors to consider. People talk about the idea of the “global village”, where modern transport and the global spread of telecommunications means that people never need feel that far away from each other. You can now talk to someone the other side of the world as if they are standing in the other room.


Red thumbtack on globe. Isolated 3D image

So what of it? Assuming we now accept that awareness and identification drive closeness and closeness in turn drives motivation to action, what does that mean for solving global poverty?

It means this: That we will be MORE motivated to act on behalf of those we feel CLOSER to. Conversely, we will feel LESS motivated to act on behalf of those we feel more distant from. Campaigns on behalf of poverty charities realise this. If they are to get you to feel closer to the people needing help, they have some obstacles to overcome. Firstly, you don’t know the people involved, so they give you their NAME. The more familiar the kind of name given, the greater the probable sense of closeness. A name turns a ‘some thing’ into a ‘someone’. It is personal. It even works on paper and radio. But we want more closeness – so we give you a picture. When you SEE the person, then what was unfamiliar and unknown starts to become more FAMILIAR – and perhaps closer. If the picture is of the kind that you will respond to more readily (a wide eyed child, for example), so much the better. And a moving, rather than a mere photo image is best of all. It all helps to identify them as human and ‘like us’ in that way. That is why we at Give A Billion seek to use close up pictures of REAL PEOPLE on this site so often. We think it is important to remind all our welcome visitors that we are talking about the lives and livelihoods of real people. Photos help us do that. They help us to feel closer to the person we are seeking to help overcome poverty.



So then, we recognise the principle that an increased sense of closeness leads to an increased sense of motivation. We also understand that different sets of related FACTORS all add up to give us an overall relative ‘closeness’ measure. The strength of that sense of closeness can VARY over time, so our overall closeness ‘score’ would change with it. We also point out that our goal at Give A Billion is to facilitate a ‘coalition of the willing’, in overcoming more poverty sooner for a billion people. Hence, the greater the genuine sense of closeness we can help foster, between those who want to help and those who could use some help, the better.

7 Layer Poverty Model V1_Mar2014

So let us return to the 7 Layer Poverty Model once more, to check where this consistent notion of ‘closeness’ helps us and can be incorporated. Remember the person facing poverty stays central to the Model. Of all those feeling ‘close’ to that person, the individual themselves must surely feel closest of all. They are typically the most motivated to overcome their own poverty circumstances. They will remain so, long after others may have given up and gone home. Which brings us onto the next most motivated group typically – the individual’s own household. In most cases, if an individual is facing poverty, it is likely that their whole household may be also be facing certain similar aspects of that same poverty scenario. As the ones ‘closest’ to the individual, it is normal to anticipate that the household of the individual will be the first and next most motivated to ACT to end poverty for that individual, if they can.



If the household is NOT acting that way, then the household is not functioning as one would normally expect a household to function. It is being ‘dysfunctional’ in that sense. If the household is AWARE, has the necessary RESOURCES to act and does not – then the issue is with the dysfunctional household, not identifying closely enough with the individual. Let us call this a ‘Cinderella Syndrome’, after the fairy tale character who suffers neglect and maltreatment at the hands of members of her own household. In the same way, if the household exists as part of a wider Community, that is again AWARE of the poverty circumstances faced by the individual, has the necessary RESOURCES to help the individual overcome those circumstances, and yet does not act – then it is the Community which is now being dysfunctional. This then, is ‘Cinderella Syndrome by proxy’. We are not suggesting that the Community should prop up all individuals for any and every reason, but as we explain elsewhere on this site, there is a recognised minimum standard that we would want all people to exist above, in each of the 7 Layers of the Humanitarian Basics. On that assumption, the “why” reason to act is to be consistent with our own personal standards of being ‘humanitarian’. If we DO NOT act consistent with our declared aim of being humanitarian, then we should not be surprised if we lose that particular label in the minds of others – locally, nationally and internationally. If the immediate Community of a person facing poverty circumstances and trying to overcome them, will not ACT to help that individual, then it should not be surprised if the wider global community asks them to account for such inaction. Is that not reasonable?


Beyond Communities that are either dysfunctional, or lack the necessary resources to assist individuals among themselves facing poverty, then the issue naturally escalates to the relevant Government of the Country (or region) to resolve. Remember that Government is one of the 7 key poverty ‘stakeholders’ in our Model and one of the 4 constituent members of the ‘net’ that underpins the individual, the household and their Community. Perhaps you have heard the saying: “God helps those who help themselves”? Well, certainly Communities can be more inclined to help individuals who help themselves and in turn, Governments can be more inclined to help Communities who help themselves. But they first need to be AWARE of “what” the poverty issues are. That is where the Simple Assessment can help. Rather than giving vague, anecdotal stories of how bad poverty is for certain individuals within certain areas, Government politicians and decision-makers can be better informed and prompted, by more tangible evidence of actual circumstances.



A word of caution on this point. Do not expect too much of politicians. Remember that it is best that they are left to do the things they can do well. Keep in mind the issue of ‘closeness’. If a Community does not feel close enough to an individual who lives within their midst, why would anyone believe that a politician would feel closer and more inclined to act than the relevant Community? In the UK, by way of comparison, there is about one politician for every 10,000 people – and that is in a fairly politician-dense country! What is the ratio in your own country? We ask this, because this site is visited by interested thinkers from over 125 countries around the world, so we are always curious to know. Your own situation could be far worse – maybe even 50,000 people per politician. What can one such politician do to address the many and various needs among 50,000 people, within the constraints of time, budget, mandate, local law and other resources at their disposal? In our opinion, Politicians are best left to help in the best way that they can, through such things as supportive legislation, protection of the vulnerable, humanitarian constitutions, the effective national and local rule of law, freedom from oppression and policies that facilitate individual productivity and innovation. They can also help engage and co-ordinate with the relevant local ‘chapter’ of the ‘coalition of the willing’ stakeholders. When others know the Government is genuinely supportive, it helps increase levels of motivation to act. Solutions often involve the need for local politicians to play their part – and share in the positive impacts of practical success on the ground. Those are things a politician can reasonably spend their time doing. Individual projects and situations are a tougher call. After all, which of the 10-50,000 people in your area do they reasonably focus on? If they have to prioritise, how should they decide which community’s needs come top?

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai

Beyond the national level, we still have the NGOs, the Multilateral Agencies and the Social Entrepreneurs. In terms of closeness, it is variously part of their chosen and defined ‘roles‘ to help overcome poverty. Hence, a degree of empathy is already assumed. For NGO’s, their own reasons for being may limit them to a particular focus, or a particular issue, but they can still play their role within a co-ordinated whole. The larger organisations have the benefits of scale of resources, but greater volumes of need to respond to. The smaller scale social entrepreneurs have the advantage of flexibility and potentially local proximity to the point of need. Most international NGO’s are under pressure to fulfil their expected roles cost-efficiently. They often seek to achieve this through “local partners” in the relevant country. This way, they can show donors that much of the money donated is spent in-country, rather than on central administrative overheads. The local ‘partners’ have the benefits of local expertise, language, knowledge and resources. For these collaborators, ‘closeness’ SHOULD be less of an issue. But it still can be. Local operations can be subject to local prejudices. Preference can be shown in the allocation and distribution of funds and resources, that should have been shared equally among all. The UNHCR Handbook makes this clear in its guidance on fair and equitable treatment of all refugees within its camps.

Balancing stones


So what have we learned about closeness and its role in focusing the fixers? The ‘closer’ we feel to someone, the more likely we are to want to ACT on their behalf, when it comes to helping them overcome poverty circumstances. But that motivation is best CHANELLED into fruitful and effective action. Not all actions will prove equally effective. We believe that the 7 layer Poverty Model will inspire better focused action, on more relevant criteria, with more widely engaged resources, to overcome the relative lack of Humanitarian Basics in the lives of a billion people around the world. Closeness gives us a measure to assess ‘fixer’ motivations and potentially why a given Social Structure is not effectively performing its intervening function as expected. Closeness also helps direct our thinking, when it comes to engaging more people in the ‘coalition of the willing’. The ‘closer‘ we can get each willing volunteer to feel to the person they are helping, the more they will be inclined to invest their time, efforts, energies, attention and resources in helping THAT INDIVIDUAL overcome poverty. We encourage a one-to-one sponsorship relationship wherever practical. We encourage households facing poverty to demonstrate their own closeness by their own action on behalf of the individual. We encourage Communities to demonstrate their own actions on behalf of each individual, before they look to outside bodies to help. If someone is richer, they may be better EQUIPPED to help a poorer individual, but they will not have the same degree of motivation of ‘closeness’ that should be manifest among that individual’s own household and Community. If the Community is not already offering such help themselves, then such Communities should not be surprised when they are not offered such help themselves.

Conceptual image of sphere and arrows. Isolated.

There are some supremely wealthy individuals on the planet. Many of those are already major philanthropists. We believe that they will be far more likely to INVEST in projects, where Communities and Countries have already established a solid track record of ACTING EFFECTIVELY  themselves. As one commentator put it: they are keen to give ‘hand-ups, not hand-outs’. It is always easier to suggest that someone else should be doing what we are perfectly capable of doing ourselves.


We comment elsewhere on what any Community can reasonably do to demonstrate that it is already seeking to help itself. Such demonstrable action and results will more likely encourage others to lend their additional support. And some of those others may well be billionaires! And if every dollar helps in solving poverty, then a billion should help even more.

So it just remains for us to say, thanks again for being…

One in a Billion!

The Poverty Gap We Will Never Close


Our world of 7 billion+ people is an unequal place. ‘Beauty’ is unequally distributed. ‘Intelligence’ is unequally distributed. Height is unequally distributed. Genetic advantages are unequally distributed. Against that uneven backdrop, is it any great wonder that something as volatile as ‘wealth‘ is also unequally distributed? In fact, are not all those other biological factors a form of wealth in their own right? We would contend that they are certainly of value. Why then this selective focus on purely material measures?


But let’s not debate the origins, or significance of that right now. For the sake of argument, let’s just accept it as a given, that we are considering material wealth ONLY and that DIFFERENCES in material wealth between people really matter – and that’s why the GAP between them matters. For convenience, let us also use the simple term ‘wealth’ to cover both a person’s accumulated assets AND their annual income from all sources. This saves us having to find an alternative to the rather useful (but somewhat misleading) GDP per capita data, traditionally used to measure wealth between people from around the world and from different periods of history. Agreed?

Difference and Similarity. Abstract Concept.


Er, that could be tricky. Reading current literature on the subject seems to indicate that there is a ‘gap’ between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ – and it’s getting wider. Let’s assume that analysis is correct. Instead of our own consolidated ‘wealth’ figure, we guess they are referring more to GDP/capita figures. Apart from maybe the top few thousand or so most-scrutinized individuals on the planet, we suspect that nobody has a detailed picture of what individual asset wealth really looks like across a country, let alone across the world’s population. So we are all working with averaged figures, sourced from various Government and/or UN statistics.


The analysis seems to suggest that there has long been a gap between the ‘wealth’ of the richest X% and the poorest Y%. No great surprise there, as we recognise that there is bound to be SOME difference, driven by all sorts of valid factors: amount of hours worked, amount of skill required, amount of risk involved, shrewdness of investment decisions, variable regional house price  inflation and so on. In which case, the current heat of this ‘hot issue’ seems to be that this ‘gap’ is getting wider.

In summary then, difference itself is “acceptable”, but the AMOUNT of difference, or INCREASE in the difference perhaps IS NOT.



Nobody can credibly say, with any authority, what amount of difference is acceptable. Perhaps a reasonable best guess, removing approved variable factors, would be a ‘wealth’ distribution profile that looked rather like the ‘Normal Distribution Curve’. This curve is found again and again in the spread of values in nature.


You can take height, for example. If you plotted the exact height of all adult males (18+) in a given country, you would find that the spread of values followed an approximation to the Normal Distribution Curve of values, from the shortest to the tallest. While all sorts of variations can and will occur BETWEEN countries – from the lowest and highest values, to the values of the quartiles, means and medians – the shape of the curve itself will prove remarkably consistent. So we should not be surprised if ‘wealth’ follows a similar pattern.



The way in which ‘wealth’ is distinctively different, is the RANGE in the spread of possible values. You will NOT find any person over 3 metres tall – and certainly not over 100 metres tall! Nor will you find a person zero metres tall – which is the notional equivalent of a person with no ‘wealth’. So with height differences, we would be surprised to find the tallest person being more than, say TWICE the average for the population. Some might understandably look at that scale of difference in the NATURAL world, compare it to the degree of difference in the world of ‘wealth‘ and conclude that the sheer scale of ‘wealth’ differences are by direct implication, unnatural – and thus IMMORAL.

balls balance


However, consider TWO  counter arguments. First, consider how far a typical national adult population RUNS in the course of a year, on average. For the vast majority of the adult population in the developed world, the average for the year is unlikely to exceed much more than a few miles. Compare that ‘natural’ average to those who train for and run ultra-marathons. They are still human (we think), yet their average miles RUN in the course of the year will be hundreds – maybe even thousands of times the average for the rest of the population.


Secondly, consider gamblers.  How many BIG WINNERS do you usually hear about? In Europe, we have the Euro Millions lottery, that just about ANYONE over 18 can enter. Every ticket supposedly stands an EQUAL chance of winning. All completely fair then, right? If you want to INCREASE your chance of winning, you just have to gamble more and buy more tickets. In the UK, there have been a few winners who made over US$100 million. Imagine that! Compare that to what the ‘average‘ person typically wins each year. Statistically, for the vast majority it will work out to be slightly less than they have spent on tickets in that same year. In some cases, it could be a LOT less. That’s how gambling works. You will find similar stories in Las Vegas. There WILL be the lucky few who make millions – sometimes even maybe hundreds of millions. The global Stock Markets are the same. If it was that predictable, we would ALL be making money at it. But it isn’t, so we don’t. Agreed?



Running your own business is a little more tricky to call. There are more things you can do to try to MAKE things go well, but you could still make one bad decision after 99 good ones – and end up going bankrupt. You may not notice ‘those’ business people so much. The ones who ‘fail’ in this way often have a tendency to take themselves out of the game. Once you have suffered a major financial setback, it is harder to find the financial and emotional capital, to enable you to try it all again – pitting yourself once more against the tough commercial competition out there. Some people just don’t have it in them. Nevertheless, many DO succeed – and a few succeed quite spectacularly. Yet even then, it never stops being something of a gamble. These then, are the ‘luckier‘ ones who top the scales at the  upper end of our ‘wealth’ chart.


Because ‘wealth’ creation typically involves both elements of ‘effort‘ (like our ultra-marathon runners) and ‘risk‘ (like our gamblers), we should not be so surprised that there are such significant VARIATIONS in the spread of ‘wealth’ values at the top end. Similarly, as there is nothing to stop human beings making ‘bad’ decisions with their ‘wealth’, it should be no surprise to find some on our ‘wealth’ scale at-or-below zero. There is nothing intrinsically immoral, in our view, where variations in ‘wealth’ figures reflect differences in the contributing factors of effort and risk. That is even before we consider the morally-neutral, compound reinforcing factors of intelligence, inheritance, frugality, sacrifice, collaborative reward mechanisms and so on. We won’t even start on “being in the right place with the right face at the right time“.



We hope we have made our point. Significant DIFFERENCES in ‘wealth’ creation and accumulation can be explained with reference to morally-neutral factors. If those differences EXIST as a consequence of morally-neutral reasons, who is to say how wide a GAP is acceptable?  This is a serious question – and before we go on, we want YOU to come up with an ANSWER you feel comfortable with. Ready?

apples measured  the meter, sports apples

So, if YOU accumulate WEALTH from morally-neutral means, then RETAIN that wealth, even though you possess TEN TIMES the wealth of the poorest person in YOUR respective community, is that MORAL? Or shall we measure it by multiples of the AVERAGE ‘wealth’ in your community? We’re serious, which figure will YOU choose to make immoral? Imagine that whatever YOU decide is going to be made into a brand new Law, enforceable by imprisonment. Ten times the average sounds pretty excessive, right?

Career Opportunities in chess

So let’s just consider that choice for a moment. In the UK, there is Minimum Wage legislation, that basically means employers cannot pay an adult over 21 years old, less than about US$10 per hour, except in some special circumstances. Assuming a working week of 40 hours, that’s US$400 a week, or around US$20,000 per year. Nice and easy numbers for our calculations. So then, using our simple ‘wealth’ measure and our chosen tenfold cap rule, nobody should be ALLOWED to create more than US$200k per year, if we were to use the ‘Minimum’ measures as our guide. Agreed? Does that still seem FAIR to you, to penalise those who earn more than that with imprisonment?


But, you may rightly point out, that is the MNIMUM wage. What’s the AVERAGE wage? Well, since you ask, it is considered to be around US$40,000, or about TWICE the Minimum Wage calculation figure [Note: UK average GDP/capita figure using ‘PPP’, is around $36k by comparison].  So, sticking with the multiplier of 10, shall we still imprison those earning US$400k per year or more? If so, you don’t want to be a film or pop star – any significant success will land them ALL behind bars!

From impossible to the possible


We hope that this light-hearted example makes the very SERIOUS  point. Some people can and will earn more than ten times the AVERAGE income figure, even in more developed economies. The UK is considered one of the world’s top 5 economies (6th in 2012). Rich by both world and most people’s standards. Yet it is not so very unusual for some of the highest earners to make even 100 times the UK’s average personal income each year. Much (but we cannot guarantee all) of that will be via morally-neutral means.


So now back to you for a moment. What was the multiple YOU chose, beyond which you felt that the level of income being earned was somehow not morally ‘right’? In developed economies, people are NOT actually thrown into to the penal system for being high earners, but they ARE penalised. There is typically a penalty to pay for being a higher income earner – and it comes in the form of TAXATION.



Taxation is itself a system with its flaws and holes, but it is intended to take more from higher earners to invest in services that all citizens can benefit from. Or alternatively, those taxes are used to reduce the overall tax burden on lower earners. In that way, lower earners are meant to SHARE in the overall benefit of the earnings of the higher earners, albeit indirectly. This is intended to be an attempt at ‘fairness’, in that those earning more, pay a greater portion of their highest levels of income in taxes.


In the UK for example, the current top income tax level is 45% of income above around US$250k per year. So almost half of all income above that point is meant to go in taxes. Hence, although the headline income figure can be high, the take-home income figure can be just above half of that. And it is the take home figure that counts – as that is the bit you can actually spend.


Drawing a ‘moral’ line at any given income point is potentially fraught with difficulties and ambiguities – not to mention a fair amount of hypocrisy. If one ‘caps’ citizen income per year at say 10 times the national average, then does 9.9 times still count as moral? Also, does that ‘moral compass’ extend beyond your national borders globally? For example, Somalia’s average GDP per capita is estimated at around US$600. Should we then cap international earnings at US$6000 – or even US$60,000, if we allow an upper limit multiple of 100 times the Somalian figure?


Our point is, if you decide it is IMMORAL for one person to earn 10, or even 100 times what the average income is in ONE country, why not extend that same principle to other less privileged countries all around you? Why should that level of DIFFERENCE in ‘wealth’ be immoral WITHIN a country, but not BETWEEN countries? Our view is that trying to claim that any AMOUNTS of relative ‘wealth’ creation is intrinsically immoral – is futile.

The Poverty Gap We Won't Close

We see no obvious immoral amounts, just potentially immoral MEANS. Any moral focus is more fruitfully directed to what to DO with ‘wealth’ AFTER it has been accumulated. And when it comes to such MORAL arguments over ‘wealth’, we feel it is best if people FIRST try to ‘step into the other person’s shoes’. Before attempting to make any such judgements, you must first seek to imagine what YOU would be willing to do if you were in ‘their’ position. Because for SOME of the world’s ultra-poor, you ARE precisely in ‘their’ position.


We like to use the idea of the world’s 7 billion+ people, all ranked in ‘wealth’ order. The ‘wealthiest’ at the front of the queue (obviously), the ‘poorest’ at the back. Again, a reminder that we are choosing to use that very simplistic view of ‘wealth’, based on basic GDP/capita type figures. So where are you going to put yourself? Even among the so-called ‘middle-classes’ in more developed nations, there can be a tendency to look ‘ahead’ at those wealthier still, wondering why THEY are not doing more to help ‘the poor’.


Despite average annual wages in the UK of around US$40k per year, with a figure of almost 30 million in some kind of employment, those near the Minimum Wage will still tend to think of themselves as relatively poor. After all, the very phrase ‘minimum wage’ implies they are at the very bottom of the imaginary ‘pile’. But considered  alongside the ‘average’ Somalian, perspectives can change. Could millions of Somalians be looking at the UK’s minimum wage earners and wondering why they are not doing more to overcome poverty for Somalians? After all, there are a LOT more of them than the UK’s richest elite.


Yet those same UK minimum wagers are looking further up the notional queue, towards others in their own nation making a million dollars a year or more – with both envy and perhaps a sense of moral outrage. Who needs that kind of money anyway? Even people earning those millions could, with the same kind of forward-blinkered view, be looking at the world’s billionaires and wondering why THEY don’t do more. And so it could go on. When one person has a billion dollars and another has 50 times as much, even the former could believe the latter is the one who should be “doing more for the poor”. After all, THEY can afford it.



And so we return to the Poverty Gap that we believe will never be closed. There will always be DIFFERENCE in the wealth earned and owned between individuals. If you have difference, then some will always be ‘richer’, while others will always be ‘poorer’. In THAT sense, it is true: “The poor you will always have with you“, as Jesus is quoted as saying.

Our concern is that those best-placed to act against the worst extremes of poverty should be encouraged to do so. This does NOT mean the richest – but all those with the power, the opportunity and the inclination to act. THOSE are the people we hope to co-ordinate into a ‘coalition of the willing’.


Why spend ourselves and our energies trying to persuade a limited group of theoretical ‘OTHERS’ to act on closing a notional poverty gap, when WE are already (apparently) so fired up to take action OURSELVES?  Better the few with a willing heart, in our view. That is more likely to build an enthusiastic momentum among the masses – a billion of us, we hope.


We regularly have visitors to this site from over 125 COUNTRIES, collectively representing over 90% of the world’s population – so you are already in good company. We welcome all those best-placed to act, among this coalition of the willing. Inform yourself – educate others. This is our way. The do-ers do. The don’t-ers don’t.

If a person is more closely bound to keeping a billion dollars they don’t need, than helping a billion people who can’t read – they have become poor in a way that you won’t find in any dictionary.

If you are one of the many globally who wants to be more effective in closing the extreme poverty gap – then we have higher hopes for you.

And  we thank you again for being…

One in a Billion!