Counting my blessings

If you took all 7.3 billion people on the planet and lined them up according to material wealth, you would find the following representative of the global middle class:

  • A family of four living in two rooms totaling about 200 square feet.
  • Plumbing (a sink, toilet, and bathing room) is out back and shared with the family next door.
  • They eat enough, although not extravagantly, and can afford some medical care, if they are frugal.
  • They probably have a few luxuries like a TV, a fridge, a gas cook top, and/or cell phones.
  • They need to work very hard to maintain what they have; if they fall behind they don’t have a big cushion.

Global middle class sink

Two to three billion people on the planet would consider any of the above to be a magnificent improvement over their current circumstances.

Back in the early 80s, my brother taught at Beijing University for a year. The government quartered him, his wife, and their 5-year-old in an apartment building for foreigners. Their apartment was similar to the one I had in college, with a living/dining area, plus one small bedroom, a small kitchen, and a bathroom.

One time and one time only*, a man my brother became close to at work came over for a visit. When he entered their apartment, his mouth dropped open and he stammered, “This is like where the Party leaders live!”

He and his wife and their one permitted child* were assigned a single room in which to live. They shared a bathroom, sink, and small stove with the other families on their floor. This man was a professor at the university.

My brother was a professor here at home. He and his wife owned their home, which had 3 bedrooms, 2-1/2 baths, a large living room, a separate dining room, a spacious eat-in kitchen, a 2-car garage, and about 1/3 acre of yard and garden all around.

*He asked not to be invited again, because fraternizing with a foreigner would put him and his loved ones at risk with the government.

**One of the people living on the floor was responsible for keeping track of the women’s menstrual cycles and reporting on any mother who was late. The government then sent someone to take her down to a clinic for an abortion.


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