Imagine you’re having dinner with four friends, and your host serves up a cake. Great. Everyone loves cake. When it is cut up into five slices however, it looks like this.
Did I say five slices? You need to look closer – the smallest slice is at the top there, between the green one and the red one. Can’t see it? Shame – that was your slice.
Now imagine you complain and say you’re going to go hungry. “I’m sorry”, says the host, “I see you haven’t got enough there. I clearly haven’t made a big enough cake.” And they do away into the kitchen and come back with a larger one, only to slice it up exactly the same way.
This isn’t a hypothetical cake. The percentages here show the distribution of global household wealth, according to the World Institute for Development Economics Research. The red slice shows the wealth of the top 20% of the world’s population – North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and so on. The richest fifth of people own 85.2% of all the wealth. The little black line is the share of the world’s poorest fifth – less than 1%.
I wrote this slightly facetious example for Beyond Growth, but I was reminded of it by Rupert Murdoch this week. He doesn’t speak publicly very often, but made an exception to present the inaugural Thatcher Lecture. You can read the full speech here if you’re so inclined. The line that caught my attention:
Without pride, people will not prosper. And without a bigger cake, the portions will get smaller, and the vulnerable will suffer most.
Damn those fools who call for better slicing. What we need is a bigger cake!
These are the small thinkers, who believe their job is to cut the cake up rather than make it bigger.
Well, that puts me in my place. Believing in fair distribution makes me a ‘small thinker’.
Rupert Murdoch owns The Sun, The Times, and Sky TV in the UK, and Fox News in the US. To my mind, that makes him one of the world’s most dangerous people, but at least we now know that he’s only thinking of the vulnerable when he calls for his bigger cake.