Disparities of People and Pets
Judging from the ever-more accurate measurements of global disparities that flow from the world's leading humanitarian organizations - with the World Bank, IMF, WTO and OECD taking the lead - it would be no exaggeration to state that scholarly interest in this subject has now turned into a nearly unstoppable epidemic.
These estimates of global disparities still follow the established practice of comparing some characteristic, X, of economic development as it applies to people in rich and poor countries. Most commonly, X refers to per capita income. At other times, X refers to various indicators of the quality of life, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, adult literacy, or some combination of the previous three.
We need a different approach to the measurement of global disparities. The disparities between the rich and poor people are now so large, one has to ask if these comparisons make sense any more. When 25 million of the richest people living in the United States enjoy nearly as much income as 2 billion of the world's poorest people, one begins to wonder if the 'people' in the two groups are the same. It is likely that if knowledge of these comparisons became common, they could lead to the revival of old racist attitudes in the United States. Alternatively, they could induce feelings of deep despair among the world's 2 billion poorest people. And this could turn them into recruits for al-Qaida.
This is why I am proposing an alternative measure of global disparities. Instead of comparing X across people in poor and rich countries, I am suggesting that we make these comparisons for people in poor countries and mammalian pets in rich countries. In other words, economists at the World Bank, IMF, WTO and OECD should devote some of their resources to tracking how the economies of poor countries - especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia - are faring relative to the economies of pets in the rich countries.
I doubt if the world's leading crusaders for a better world will heed my call anytime soon; they are still fully committed to demonstrating that globalization, the greatest humanitarian project the world has ever seen, is slowly narrowing the gap between the world's rich and poor people - never mind how large the gap is currently. In the event, I will be so bold as to offer my own admittedly crude comparisons of the economies of the poor people and the pet economies of the rich. A sophisticated estimation of these disparities must wait until I can raise several thousand US dollars to pay for the proprietary data on the pet economies of the rich countries.
We begin this exercise by first establishing some basic facts about the pet economy in the United States. Lest this be taken as an indication of my latent partiality for this great capitalist democracy, I have to protest that I would just as willingly have used the European Union for making my comparisons. Unfortunately, there does not yet exist a European counterpart to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), which might have provided some of the basic data on which I base my analysis of the pet economy in the United States.
First, let us establish the size of the mammalian pet economy in the United States; we define mammals to include dogs and cats. According to the APPMA, the total US pet industry expenditures for 2003 were $32.4 billion. I assume that 90 percent of this total was allocated to the canine and feline portion of the pet economy; this gives a total expenditure on this segment of the pet economy of $29.2 billion. Although impressive, these numbers seriously underestimate the true size of America's pet economy.
To the figures provided by APPMA must be added the value of the time that dog and cat owners dedicate to the care of their pets. Caring for pets can be a daily activity. Naturally, the pets have to be fed daily; they have to be groomed; they have to be taken out for walks; they have to be taken to the vets for shots, worming, injuries and illnesses. And let us not forget that many pet owners, following the advice of holistic veterinarians, avoid ready-to-eat foods for their pets. Instead they prepare home-cooked meals for their dogs and cats. In order to guide them in preparing healthy pet foods, the National Academies published in 2003 a revised edition of Nutrient Requirements of Cats and Dogs, a 500-page report prepared by an international team of experts, providing a most comprehensive assessment of the daily nutrient and calorie requirements for dogs and cats.
But that is not all. America's cats and dogs are a pampered lot. According to the results of a survey of 1100 pet owners by American Animal Hospital Association in 1999, 100 percent of the respondents indicated that they give their pets a Christmas or Hanukkah present; 87 percent include their pets in holiday celebrations; 65 percent sing or dance for a pet; 53 percent take time off from work to care for a sick pet; 52 percent prepare special meals for their pets; and 44 percent take their pets to work. Clearly, a majority of pet owners in the United States bestow tender loving care on their mammalian pets.
In order to arrive at an estimate of the true size of the pet economy (mammalian section), we would have to add to the APPMA's estimate of expenditures on pet products and services, the value of the time that pet owners devote to their cats and dogs. We make the modest assumption that dog owners spend one hour each day on their dogs, and cat owners spend 20 minutes each day on their cats. At the same time, we assign a value of US$ 10 per hour to the pet owner's time. With 65 million dogs and 77.7 million cats, the value of dog-and-cat owners' time comes to $330.9 billion. Altogether, the value of total expenditures on dogs and cats in the US economy was $360.1 billion in 2003.
Judging from its size, this is no paltry economy. How does this pet economy compare with the poor economies of the world? To give the poor economies the greatest advantage in the comparisons, we will measure their size in terms of international dollars. By this metric, America's pet economy is 1.2 times larger than the economy of Pakistan with a population of 148 million; it is 1.4 times larger than the economy of Bangladesh with a population of 138 million; it is 2.7 times larger than the economy of Nigeria, with a population of 122 million; and it is 10.6 times larger than the economy of Congo (Democratic Republic) with a population of 34 million; and 24 times the size of the Albanian economy with a population of 3.2 million [To avoid any confusion the population numbers are for humans]. In other words, the US pet economy is larger than most of the poor economies in 2003.
How does the US pet economy compare with the world's poor economies on a per capita basis? In 2003, the 142.7 million dogs and cats in the United States enjoyed a per capita consumption of $2523. The per capita income of world's 2.3 billion people in low income countries (LICs) was $2190 in 2003 international dollars. This means that the average mammalian pet in the US had a considerably higher standard of living than the average man, woman and child living in the LICs.
The American dogs and cats enjoyed a much larger advantage in their living standards over many individual LICs. The advantage over Sierra Leoneans was 4.8 to one; 4.1 over Tanzanians; 2.8 over Nigerians; 1.3 over Bangladeshis; and 1.2 over Pakistanis. The average Indian had a small advantage of 1.1 over American dogs and cats. The Chinese had a larger lead of 2.0. It is heartening to note that these disparities are considerably smaller than the yawning gaps that emerge when we compare people in the rich countries against people in the poor countries.
One might think that these more upbeat comparisons give reasons for optimism for the world's poor. Given the smaller disparities between the poor people and rich pets, the poor people can at least dream that once the great humanitarian project of globalization begins to yield its trickle-down benefits to the poor, they will, in the not-too-distant future, be able to catch up with the dogs and cats in the United States.
Or is this hope only a delusion? That will depend on how fast the two economies grow: to what degree they benefit from globalization. The promise of globalization is to make the rich richer so that some of their prosperity can trickle down to their pets and the poor peoples. Although I hate to be a spoiler of this ingenious narrative - very ably modeled by Ivy League economists - with some trembling, I must vent some dark thoughts on this subject. I fear that the pets will come out better as globalization unfolds. As I see it, the reason for this is quite simple. The rich are much more likely to coddle their pets than the poor of the world, unless they employ them as maids, mail-order brides or au pairs. This is not because of any prejudice the rich have against the world's poor people. It's just that the poor people live in difficult-to-reach, mostly hot and humid countries, whereas the pets share the same living quarters with the rich.
Does this mean that if the poor people could be used as pets by the rich, this would greatly improve their chances of deriving stronger gains from globalization? If this is indeed true, we can confidently expect that the US delegate to the World Trading Organization will soon propose appropriate changes in the global trading regime to allow for the large-scale adoption of children from poor countries as pets by people in the rich countries. I have no doubt that this proposal will command unanimous support from all the civilized peoples of the world - who, thankfully, inhabit the rich countries.
M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. His political essays are now available in a book, Is There An Islamic Problem (Kuala Lumpur: The Other Press, 2004). He may be reached at [email protected] Visit his webpage at: http://msalam.net.
Topics: Economy, Pets
Br.Akram, let me try to respond to this one.
Hudd, you had initiated name-calling and personal attacks. We come to this site for an Islamic point of view of the current events and occasionally to make comments on the article in question. The free access to the Internet should not mean that we have the license to engage in personal attacks and insults. Your good knowledge of Islamic point of view is much valued - provided you refrain from using unIslamic language with words and phrases such as: stupid question, shallowness of mental capacities, get it through your head, living in a bubble, you talk bullshit ....
We all live here in a so-called democratic but definitely liberal society and people are free to do as they wish, as long as they do not harm, injure or deprive others of their rights. Many people come to this site to learn about Islam and the ways of an Islamic discourse.
That said; allow me to humbly reiterate the following points about the article in question:
The essence of this article is that humans are becoming in the view of some as less important than animals. There are myriad of people in this world who show more concern for animals, than they do for the lives of people. They place more value on an animal's life than the life of a fellow human being.
Somewhere our priorities have become perverted, and we have become too engrossed in the "me mentality" which is both arrogant and degrading. The "me mentality" and attitudes that life is all about how I feel, or about what I want, or about how I see things.
If that's not, misplaced priorities, than what is it?
I am writing all this in a positive vein, and it is not my intent to criticize your otherwise well written postings on this website.
"You didn't pay attention to the article ... a piece of advice, think before you decide to open your mouth". Sorry to say that, it is you who is living in a bubble ... and too uppity with your mumbo-jumbo? Read the article and the post and take your own prescription: think before you decide to open your mouth with rude and uppity edicts.
You're also forgetting that the US (not the government, the people) is the most generous country in the world because we care a LOT about the suffering and hungry. You can't hate us just because our standard of living is high. We work our asses off, and we're fortunate to have a stable government that allows us to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate our economy.
I understand how the wars look to other countries, and I know there's a lot our government does that is unsanctioned by the american people as well, but we're dying in iraq for nothing but the benefit of the iraqis now. We could easily pull out, but think of chaos and horror that power vacuum would bring, just as bad as when Saddam killed his muslim brothers by the thousands while he built castles from their money.
If only we cruel crusaders didn't spoil our pets, we could end hunger around the world! But no, we are simply too evil. Alam, tell me again what YOUR solution is to end world hunger? Where are YOUR ideas to create functioning economies and well-governed states? Why is it that your essays can only criticize the US, never any other rich countries? Why do you only criticize, and never offer up viable solutions?
What we are talking about is the spending on the luxury items and unwarranted stuff that the pets probably can do without. Pets are often better fed than two-third of the world's two-legged wretched creatures better known as human.
We should also be conscientious of the nearly two-third of the world population of humans - including millions in North America living in acute poverty. Should we not consider giving a portion of what is being spent on pets and other unwarranted stuff to the poor? As for the amount of money spend on wars and killing-machines - when more people will get their act together, who knows, maybe those at the Pentagon and other war-rooms that think of themselves as invincible could be thrown out. Until than, let's do what we can.
The question we need to ask is if we had the opportunity to save both of them (animals and human) ... which would you save first the human child or the animal?
Is it moral to spend money on clothing and fancy furniture for pets when so many human beings in this country live in poverty?
A person is judged by how s/he treats other human beings. The Americans are self indulgent and ignorant of the rest of the planet and of the plight of the people of this planet. There is a lesson to be learned from this article, and that is to wake up and look around the kind of sufferring they are causing to other peoples.
This is another hypocracy like the one in Iraq. Their president has killed more than 100,000 Iraqis in the name of spreading freedom since the start of the war, while dismissing these numbers as collateral damage. And yet they appointment this same loony as their president!
America have nothing to do with the world hunger problem.
Taking care of animals is, in fact, a merciful thing to do. I
recommend that people go to animal shelters and adopt
cats that are about to be destroyed. Don't worry: allowing
their destruction will not aleviate the pain of the poor. The
woes of the Muslim world are created by its corrupt
governments and their home-grown, Lexus-driving, vill-
living cronies who keep them in office. Making references
to the wealth of America as a cause of the world's woes is
another dose of morphine that numbs our bodies and
Besides, I'd rather not have any pets. They are a lot of work.
That is why I appreciate Islam so much, which teaches us to respect our parents and builds a healthy relation between children and parents.
I would prefer to wash the legs of my mother with water and drink that water even if someody were to give me $360.1 billion in comparision to it , the amount the US spends on pets.
Some Americans believe that those described as "poor" in the U.S. would be considered fairly well-off in Third World nations. However, the Citizens' Board of Inquiry into Hunger and Malnutrition discovered that in the U.S. more than 15 million suffer from conditions of malnutrition and hunger comparable to those found in Third World countries. The Citizens' Board reported that many American infants die within the first two years of birth because of starvation. Another study found that the premature-birth rate of the poor in the U.S. is three times that of middle-income people, and some 50 percent of the children from very poor families grow to maturity with impaired learning ability, while 5 percent are born mentally retarded because of prenatal malnourishment.
There is nothing satirical about the inequities. It is time to expose this exploitation for what it is - conscientious people like Dr. Alam deserve our accolade for doing just that.
1. Reports from the Nation