Since the 2009 World Development Report on \”Reshaping Economic Geography\” was published, I\’ve had the opening paragraphs up on the bulletin board outside my office door, as food for thought for those passing by.
\”Place is the most important correlate of a person’s welfare. In the next few decades, a person born in the United States will earn a hundred times more than a Zambian, and live three decades longer. Behind these national averages are numbers even more unsettling. Unless things change radically, a child born in a village far from Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, will live less than half as long as a child born in New York City—and during that short life, will earn just $0.01 for every $2 the New Yorker earns. The New Yorker will enjoy a
lifetime income of about $4.5 million, the rural Zambian less than $10,000. A Bolivian man with nine years of
schooling earns an average of about $460 per month, in dollars that reflect purchasing power at U.S. prices. But the same person would earn about three times as much in the United States. A Nigerian with nine years of education would earn eight times as much in the United States than in Nigeria. This “place premium” is large throughout the developing world. The best predictor of income in the world today is not what or whom you know, but where you work.\”
I think I work hard. Lots of Americans think they work hard. But when you compare the economic situation of modern America with the rest of the world, or with long-ago history, then (in a phrase commonly attributed to the old football coach Barry Switzer) we\’re all born standing on third base, congratulating ourselves for hitting a triple.