Have you ever watched a television show like MTV Cribs or any of the Real Housewives series and started to do the math? Have you dwelt on the realization that just one of Diddy’s mansions costs more than most people earn in over a decade of collecting a yearly salary, or that a Gucci handbag could feed six or seven people at a nice restaurant? The financial imbalances here in America are pretty outrageous, and when you factor in all of the people worldwide who go hungry on a regular basis, they become even more so.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it would cost about $30 billion per year to fund the necessary agricultural programs to end world hunger. That means that one person every 3.6 seconds and fifteen million children every year wouldn’t die of hunger.
Where can we find an annuity of $30 billion for this important mission? We can start by spending less money on perfume and other luxury goods. The Worldwatch Institute reports that people in the United States and Europe spend about $12 billion per year on perfume. Americans also spend $8 billion on cosmetics and, according to the New York Times, $1,500 per person per year on designer clothing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look and smell good, but if we all scaled back a bit on our luxury items, we might be in a better position to help out those in need.
Anyone who owns a pet understands the desire to lavish plenty of love and money on her bundle of fluff. That means big bucks for the pet-care industry; we spend about $36 billion per year on pet food, toys, grooming, and veterinary bills, according to MSN Money. Of course we need to provide food, shelter, and health care for our animals, but maybe if we all didn’t go overboard with the organic/natural/vegetarian kibble or with salon cut-and-style grooming—not to mention pet hotels and pet airlines—we’d easily find that $30 billion for hungry people around the globe.
War: What Is It Good For?
About $563.4 billion per year, according to EcoSalon. Sarah Irani, writing for the conscious-living site, reports that the United States devotes approximately $540 billion per year to global military and arms-trade expenditures ($1 trillion annually worldwide) and $23.4 billion per year to develop and maintain nuclear warheads. Congress has also approved $44 billion for Iraqi construction projects.
Regardless of whether you agree with the Iraq War, or with war in general, it’s hard not to notice a gross imbalance in finances here. Imagine what humanitarians could do with that much money.
The tragic irony about world hunger is that so many people, especially Americans, have too much to eat. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser writes that people in the United States spend about $110 billion each year on Whoppers and McNuggets. That’s more than we all spend on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, and music combined.
It seems we face a simple solution here: buy a book instead of a burger (or go to the library), and the whole world can eat healthier fare.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Money
Now that we all know smoking’s bad for us, there are a lot fewer smokers in America, but we’re still spending billions on tobacco products and their aftermath. MSN Money calculates that a smoker paying for cigarettes, dry cleaning (to get the ashtray smell out of everything), and health care could save almost $250,000 by age seventy just by quitting. Multiply that amount by the approximately forty thousand smokers in America, and it equals $10 billion, a third of the money necessary to end world hunger.
Smoking isn’t the only money waster out there, either. Forbes.com concludes that the average American spends about $15,000 per year on “soft” addictions, like drinking, smoking, drug use, and overeating. These are all hard habits to kick, but anyone who needs extra motivation can remember that she’s not just doing it for herself; she’s helping to feed hungry children around the world by ordering only one round of drinks.
You’ve Got the Money, Honey
There’s no shortage of money in the world. It’s all around us, but it’s distributed unevenly and spent on luxury goods, rather than on necessities, most of the time. Recognizing inequality and wanting to send extra funds to those who need them most isn’t socialism—it’s common sense.