19 February 2013

How Rich are We?

It's a "fact" I've heard many times before, usually written/spoken to induce guilt in Christians about how materialistic and ungrateful we are.  It is, more or less, this: you think you are poor, but compared to the rest of the world, you are filthy rich, like "we are the 1%" rich.  

Now it's true that much of the world lives on very little, as in less than $1/day.  In India, we certainly saw extreme poverty, and where we lived, Chennai, a decent middle-class, pay-all-the-bills salary equates to roughly $300-400/month.  So, if you could take your American salary of, say, $4000/month and live in India, you would live like a king.

That said, you should feel really bad about making so much money and still struggling to make ends meet because, compared to the rest of the world, you are Bill Gates.  That's what they say.

But I've never really bought into (no pun intended) that line of thinking.

I would feel really fortunate/convicted/generous if I made $40,000/yr where the standard of living were $4800/yr.  But in America, it's not.  Consider a few examples:

  • College tuition: the cost of a Bible college education at OCC (where I attended and what is probably average) is approximately $7500 per semester (15 hours tuition @ $310 per hour, misc fees, books, double occupancy room, and meal ticket), or $60,000.  Now, at Lakeview Bible College, in Chennai (a place where I taught a couple of undergraduate classes, and a quality Bible college for sure), a similar degree will cost you about $500 per semester, or $4000 total.
  • Food: we could eat out every single meal in India at nice restaurants and spend less than $5 per meal for two people.  Try that in America!
  • Medical care: Here we go.  We didn't have health insurance the entire time we were overseas, because medical care was so cheap we didn't need it.  For example, one time Heidi spent 4 hours in an emergency room, receiving three IV solutions (saline and antibiotics), and a couple of prescriptions, and all of it cost less than $75.  Granted, I'm not sure I would want to go to that hospital for surgery or some life-saving treatment, but still.  And prescription drugs were about 1/20th of the price they are here.
So it's not an apples to apples comparison.  Even in the US, wealth is somewhat relative: $80,000/yr means two very different things to a person living in Martelle, IA, and a person living in New York City.  There are better ways to convict us of our materialism and to rouse compassion for the world's poorest people. 

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