The Economist has a special report this week with relevance to the topic of this blog. It includes the following articles:
- The rise and rise of the cognitive elite: Brains bring ever larger rewards
In America, for example, in 1987 the top 1% of taxpayers received 12.3% of all pre-tax income. Twenty years later their share, at 23.5%, was nearly twice as large. The bottom half’s share fell from 15.6% to 12.2% over the same period.
- The global campus:The best universities now have worldwide reach
Global universities are “reshaping the world”, argues Ben Wildavsky, the author of “The Great Brain Race”. Because big problems often transcend borders, many ambitious students demand a global education. The number of people studying outside their home country jumped from below 2m in 2000 to 3.3m in 2008, according to the OECD.
The most popular destination is the English-speaking world, led by America, which hosts 19% of the world’s mobile students. French and German universities are also popular, but more narrow in their allure.
- They work for us: In democracies the elites serve the masses
Today there are well over 400 billionaires in America alone, many of them in fine fettle and eager to embark on a second career. Such people are often workaholics and have no wish to retire.
The charitable rich do their bit to soothe the social tensions that arise from growing inequality. Yet their work should be seen in perspective. Even in America voluntary transfers of wealth are dwarfed by public spending. Americans gave away $217 billion in 2009, estimates Mr Schervish. Government spending on health care and pensions was ten times that.
By and large, global leaders change the world more by doing their day jobs than in their spare time. Even Mr Gates, who was widely reviled for his business activities, probably did more good by amassing his fortune than he is doing by giving it away. The computer revolution he helped to bring about transformed the way people handle information. Perhaps his foundation will spur some equally momentous change, but it seems unlikely.
I fear that that increasing disparity between the rich and the poor within nations will be bad for society and will need to be redressed. More fundamentally, there are billions of people who are in desperate need of resources for their very survival, and policies that emphasize increased riches for the already very, very rich rather than survival for the poor seem immoral.
For the first time in centuries, the production of the rest of the world has surpassed that of Europe and America. It is not surprising that ten percent of the worlds people concentrated in a relatively small area would not permanently out produce the other 90 percent of the world's population occupying the rest of the world. On the other hand, the growing economic power of the East, based upon the growing knowledge power of the East, will lead to major changes in international relations.